Review by Retro

"Entertaining fishing at its most basic"

I haven't ever been a gamer that was a huge sports fan (yes, fishing is a sport), but I always enjoyed most of Atari's tries at the genre. At first glance of the back of Fishing Derby's box almost two decades ago, I was impressed by the graphics at the time, and the game looked like it would be fun. But, I didn't have the money to purchase it and my parents wouldn't subside to my whining, and I never saw the game on a store shelf again.

After many uneasy years of dying to play Fishing Derby, I finally got my wish once I played a PlayStation compilation called Activision Classics. I wasn't as impressed with Fishing Derby as I thought I would be, but I was still impressed nonetheless. While at a local flea market a few weeks ago, I spotted an almighty cartridge named Fishing Derby for only half a dollar, so I decided to pick it up. Upon reaching my thirty-minute journey back home and dusting off about a year's worth of dust mites from my Atari 2600 console, I finally got to play this, the original game.

The object of the game isn't really original, but it's a nice little idea for a fishing game. The first player is in the form of a man wearing purple clothes and a black hat that is sitting on a three-legged black dock on the left side of the screen. On the right side of the screen is player two, who looks exactly like the first player, except that he's dressed in green. I guess these two guys are identical twins because they look exactly alike, and they're even sitting in the same posture.

Unlike most fishing titles in which you get to use your fisher and select a lure, cast, drive a boat around an area, etc., you will be doing nothing of the such in Fishing Derby. The only duty you have to worry about in Fishing Derby is literally controlling the end, or tip, of your fishing line. There's not a live worm, minnow, or an artificial lure present at the tip of your line (if there is, you can't see it), so I'm assuming that there's just a stinky smell that wondrously attracts fish to take a bite.

The fishing line will be under the water at all times. You just have to move the joystick in any direction, which moves the end of the line around in the deep blue sea below you. Swimming around in the cold-looking waters are a fair number of yellow fish, and an ever-menacing shark that acts as a top water predator.

Getting one of the sun-colored fish to bite your line isn't that difficult. All you have to do is move the tip of the line close to their mouth, and they usually bite right away. Once a fish does latch on, you just have to keep hold of the button on the joystick to reel the lunker in. It's not quite as easy as it sounds. All of the fish fight (some more than others) once they get hooked onto your line, by frantically moving left and right. But that's not anything. No matter how hard the fish fight, you can always reel them in without much of a problem.

The only problem is that there is a shark that stays at the top of the water that moves back and forth at differing speeds. This shark cannot bite your line in half or plow through the dock like JAWS to eat your fisherman, but it can wait for you to bring your catch (the fish) up close to his preying grounds. If the mysterious solid black shark touches your fish, it instantly devours it whole, leaving you with an empty line and a waste of a few seconds of your life.

Winning a game of Fishing Derby can be pretty challenging. You and your opponent both fish simultaneously against each other. There is a barrier that won't let you move your fishing line too far over into your opponent's side of the water. There is no time limit; it's a race to see who can get over 99 points first. Once a player gets over 99 points, the screen freezes, ending the game.

The game's scoring ways are easy to interpret. The deeper the fish, the more points it is worth. Fish at the top of the screen are only worth two points, ones below the top are worth anywhere from three to five points, and the bottom-dwellers are worth an eye-popping six points. Once you catch a fish and take it to the top of the water, the points will be awarded to you, and then you just have to catch another fish and keep repeating the process.

Fishing Derby possesses a mixed bag of graphics. The fishers themselves look a bit more detailed than your average stick figure; the shark has decent animation and detail, but nothing spectacular; the fish and docks are simply drawn, and the water is just a dark shade of blue. But the game does have a good variety of colors, and in typical Activision fashion, the top of the water seems to be rolling over to produce the effect of a lake's moving fluids, which is a nice effect.

If there's one category that Fishing Derby just plain sucks at, it's the sound. There are only three sounds in the whole game. There is the sound of a fish biting (which just sounds like somebody thumping something), an effect for the shark eating a fish (blahful), and the sound of your score increasing when you catch a fish (your everyday beep). The sounds aren't terrible, but they could've been better, and there definitely should've been a bigger variety.

The controls are real simplistic and responsive. All you have to do is move the joystick in any direction, 360º, that you want to move the tip of your line, and once you catch a fish, just move left or right as you keep hold of the button.

I must admit that Fishing Derby isn't quite as fun as I anticipated it to be all those years ago, but it is a solid title nonetheless. It's always fun to play a two-player game against someone you enjoy playing video games with, and playing a one-player game against the computer is fun too. The only thing about playing against the computer is that it's real tough because the computer has a knack for catching fish faster than most professionals could dream to. Also, it lacks variety. There are no variations at all; no invisible sharks or fishes, no changing the speed of the fishes, etc., which really hurts the game (and brings the score down from a 7 to a 6). However, if you're a fan of Atari 2600 games, or if you simply like games that are fun and entertaining, I recommend adding Fishing Derby to your library.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/10/02, Updated 03/28/03

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