Review by Retro

"Thanks mom and dad!"

First impressions aren’t always right. You’re a kid who just happens to have parents that don’t always get you what you want for Christmas. They know which video games you would kill to have and which genres you enjoy the most, but they’re stubborn. They’d rather live their life through your eyes and hands. It’s Christmas season again, and in yearly fashion, they get you something you never asked for—something they know you probably won’t like. Platformers are your type of game, and the occasional fighting title or racing simulation is up your alley as well. Those are about the only types of games you play. But what do the parents decide to get you for Christmas? A fishing game.

That’s the story of my life—or at least one Christmas. Bassin’s Black Bass with Hank Parker would’ve never been rented or bought by me in a million years, but it was forced into my life by unyielding parents. It would be the last new title I played that holiday, but I would soon find out that I’d saved the best for last.

After choosing from select few characteristics to make up what your fisher looks like (sunglasses, hair, male or female, etc.), you’re taken to a graphically unimpressive and lame announcement of the fishing tournament rules, and you’re given a guide to take along as a knowledgeable buddy. Then it’s time to fish! The first of four levels, or lakes, in the game is pretty basic. You’re at the pier inside your boat with an overhead view at the start. You have nothing to do but drive around in the open waters. No motor problems, fuel shortages, or anything of that such will ever plague you (bump into enough things and your boat can sink, though). The beautiful partly cloudy sky is seen in the reflections of the crystal blue lake as you’re driving around wherever you want to, 360º. A laser-like sound is heard rarely in the open waters, but often under the shade of the trees, in the lily pads, reeds, and other places where you’d think fish are hiding. This sound is the sonar telling you a fish has just been detected underneath your boat.

You keep driving around, taking in the limited environment as if to memorize it. Your guide pops up to tell you that on a day like this, the lily pads would be the best spot, so you take his advice and stop on top of them. With the pressing of a certain controller button, a menu drops down. You decide to test your luck and cast. There’s a good selection of artificial lures to choose from. The plastic worm, minnow, and crankbait will prove to work well in nearly any condition and setting, while others, such as the frog, are more specialized. Yeah! That’s it! The frog. That would be the perfect lure for lily pads. Each lure can be used in either a bright or natural shade of color. Seeing that it’s 63º and cloudy, you decide to go along with the bright shade. Finally, now it’s really time to fish and you know it, because the bottom 1/4 of the screen (the top 3/4 is where you fish for fish) shows your character with a pole in hand, ready to cast. But which way should you cast your line and how far? For this reason, Hot B threw in the ‘mark’ option on the short but effective menu. With this, you move an X around the screen above the waters, searching for fish. Two fish are seen down below this X, and, being a normal human being, you greedily go for the fatter one.

On your right is a small, vertical grid of sorts. It’s now marked to indicate where you placed the X. There’s also a blue horizontal line that represents you, the fisher, and your strength. Finally, right below your fisher’s nose is an arrow, pointing in the direction of your X that marks the spot of your chosen fish. Casting is simple after a few tries. Let’s say that arrow I just mentioned is pointing to the right. Simply press down/left on the directional pad to make your fisher turn his body to the right. Then, press the A button and a red line begins to come down from the top of the aforementioned grid. Once that red line gets near or down to the horizontal line that represents your marker, press A once again to cast your line. As your lure is gracefully gliding through the air toward your target, you can move it a bit left and/or right. Then the lure falls into the water.

Using your fishing instincts that you’ve learned from past experiences in real life, you let the lure sink for a couple of seconds and then reel it in to the left just a bit, wait a few seconds, reel it in a little to the right, and so on. This is usually all it takes to have at least one fish biting your hook so hard you swear you heard it scream, but if a fish isn’t so enthusiastic, you can press B to make your lure produce a sound or hold it down to make it move in its own fashion (the frog will kick its legs and the jig & pork will flatten itself, for instance). All of a sudden a fish bites! Your free finger quickly flies to the controller, keeping a hold of the button to reel in the fish, never letting go.

Once the fish has been reeled up to the boat, your fisher dips a hand into the water to pick it up. Then a graphically attractive screen comes up, showing a lake with lily pads lying on the top in the background while you’re there holding the fish you just caught! Oh, man. It’s a 3.7-pound bluegill. That’s pretty big for a bluegill, but the only fish that are accepted in this tournament are black bass.

There are several kinds of fish in Bassin’s Black Bass. Catfish, walleye, bluegill, crappie, and more will take up much of your time, but the various breeds of black bass (largemouth, spotted, etc.) are the only ones that count. The rules for each level are simply that you can only keep five fish in your livewell and that the tournament ends at a particular time. Eventually, you’ll be able to see the fish from overhead in the water and know instantly what kind each one is, but not at first. But the non-bass fishies aren’t your only obstacle. Weather is always unpredictable, even for meteorologists. No tornadoes or hurricanes are ever around in this neck of the woods, but it can change from clear and sunny to cloudy and stormy in a heartbeat. For a nice realistic touch, there are casting hazards as well. Your line can get tangled at times when casting; hitting sturdy hazards such as reeds or rocks can bust your lure or boat; fish can prove to be so strong your lure is stolen.

A level of Bassin’s Black Bass, if played nonstop, lasts about 30 minutes to an hour (fortunately, you can quit the game at any time and your progress will be saved). At the end of a day of fishing, your 5 heaviest fish are weighed and, if you’re in the top 3, you progress to the next level. The four levels don’t change a whole lot, but their differences don't go unnoticed. Whereas level 1 seemed like it had a sampling of the most basic fishing hot spots, level 2’s aquaculture is most concentrated around the dangerous rocks, and there aren’t as many different kinds of spots (reeds, lily pads, etc.) in level 2. The other two lakes have new places to fish. If it’s too hot for your comfort, go relax under the bridge for a few minutes as you kick back, waiting for a bite. The dumps aren’t for the faint of heart, with their stacks of smelly trash and toilet bowls (lol) seen floating on top of the water. But if you think you have a strong stomach, go right ahead. Even moreso, however, the levels get tougher, but never impossible. The bass more than triple in size (keep an eye out for those 27 + pounders!) and it becomes harder to convince them that it’s lunchtime.

Visually, Bassin’s Black Bass will give you mixed impressions. The crowds of people at the announcements and weighings have rather poor animations and drawings. On the other hand, the screens that show you a fish you just caught and the overhead views of your surroundings while you’re driving around are pretty impressive. The fish, whether staying in place or swimming about, are believable in their movements and looks. I particularly like it when you have a fish on hook and it jumps out of the water or sticks its head out and then shakes it from side to side a few times before going back down underwater. When either of those occurrences take place, you know you’ve got yourself a bass! It’s also neat how a fish lights up and begins to swim around faster, letting you know it’s interested in what you have to offer!

Bassin’s Black Bass’s sounds are just like the title of the game reads: cool. From the various splashing effects, to the murmur of the crowds, to the nice roar of the motor, the sounds are cool and realistic. The music is almost like that heard in a typical Atari 2600 game, nonexistent, except for a track or two in select places (like the ending). Finally, the controls are right on target, but they’re not quite a bullseye. You’ll mainly be doing two things with the controls: driving and casting. It’d be better if the boat could turn just a bit more swiftly, and sometimes you'll hit a rock or other obstacle, but appear to miss it. Casting couldn’t be much easier, though.

You'll take a break from Bassin's Black Bass once you beat the game, but playing the game all over again will always be stuck in the back of your mind. Not only is it boat loads of fun (no pun intended), but there are a couple of things about it that make it even more addicting. Each level holds a hidden lure somewhere that can be found by luck, and best of all, the game keeps track of records. How heavy was the biggest largemouth bass and northern pike that's been caught? Who caught it? Go find out anytime you want!

Bassin’s Black Bass couldn’t be a much better fishing game than it is for the time it was made. It’s an easy title to pick up, learn, and play, and it’s always fun to do so. It was the perfect game to introduce me to the world of video game fishing, and it still proves to be a timeless, challenging, and very enjoyable experience to this day. My only big complaint is that it's only one-player. A two-player, split-screen, head-to-head fishing competition would've made the experience even better.

Some may accuse me of enjoying this game more than the average fisher just because it was my first, but I don't think so. To this day, Bassin’s Black Bass with Hank Parker is the only video game that I’ve seen my mom, dad, and stepdad play extensively. None of them have played more than a handful of video games for more than a few minutes in their lives. That should tell you something. I share their love for Bassin’s Black Bass. I’ve never been big on fishing video games, but this one is the exception. Even though I’ve played deeper, and possibly even ‘better’ fishing simulations, Bassin’s Black Bass remains my favorite. If I never extensively play another fishing game in my life, I’ll be at peace that this one showed me how much fun could be had with the genre.

A big thanks goes out to my stubborn ass parents for introducing me to a new genre with an extraordinary game!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/22/01, Updated 12/30/03

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