The worst day of fishing beats the best day of working, as the old adage goes, and Rapala has certainly been at the forefront of trying to get people to feel the same way on the digital lakes over the years. If a platform exists, there’s a Rapala-branded game available for it and this latest attempt—Rapala Fishing: Pro Series—seems to trim things back a little over their more recent efforts, with the focus being on providing an approachable and fun day on the lake.
A handful of relatively large bodies of water are on offer, ranging from Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota through to the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees in Northeast Oklahoma. You start with a small handful of dollar bills and must attempt to work your way through an incredibly short career mode until you’re a bona fide Rapala-sponsored Pro fisherman. Each session starts in the same way. You’re plunked onto the lake in your boat and have free reign, so you can drive anywhere to find a decent place to cast your line and bag some fish. To assist you in finding your fishing spot of choice, a digital fishfinder lives at the bottom right of the screen, showing the depth of the water and whether or not fish are in the area. Practically invisible collections of bubbles on the surface indicate hot spots, as do fish leaping into the air. These are important, as finding the best spot is key to progression since the lakes rarely give up anything but tiny catches if you’re not in the exact right place. That’s partly why it’s such a problem that they can barely be seen amongst all of the glints and glares coming off the water.
Getting your location right first time is massively important too, as the events on offer don’t give you a great deal of time with which to work. You’ll get 10, 15, or 20 minutes to get the job done, and that includes driving to and from your fishing spot. If you’re late to weigh-in, you’ll suffer a penalty. The tight time limit is mitigated slightly by the fact that fish are pretty much so desperate to get on your hook that they’re almost forming an orderly queue to take a nibble at your lure.
Despite there being a couple of dozen varieties of fish to catch and even though you can upgrade your equipment and select from a stack of Rapala-branded lures, this is far from a simulation. In terms of realism, Pro Series isn’t a million miles away from the arcade classic Sega Bass Fishing. You cast your lure into the water using the sort of power meter you’d expect to see in a golf game, and it sinks to a set depth that removes any judgment or knowledge from the equation. Then, you input the four directions required by that lure to make it move in the most attractive way possible to your target fish. When a fish bites, you press up to hook it, but the time that you have to do this is often absolutely minuscule, to the point that the game will likely be unplayable by anyone without hair-trigger reflexes. That’s a problem, given that the target market is likely not going to be the FPS crowd. At times though, you can just spam the hook command and get away with it as you’ll somewhat ludicrously get three or four bites within two seconds if you’re fishing in a well-stocked area.
When you do manage to get a fish on the hook, the first thing you’ll notice is that no matter how small the fish, it always manages to swim out to a range of about 20 meters away from the boat before you can fight back. That’s a real pain when you’re in the final minutes of a tournament and just want to grab a close catch to round out your total. Nevertheless, the actual battle is simplicity itself. You just need to use the left stick to keep the fish inside a target box on the screen while using R2 to reel. Do well enough, and you’ll earn a “reeling bonus” that lets you yank the fish a few meters closer. Your catch is automatically and instantly hauled in once it gets to within 2 meters of the boat. It’s very, very simple and usually quickfire stuff, with the only thing you need to watch being the line tension. Bigger fish can pull harder, which can snap your line. When the line turns red, and the controller vibrates, you have to stop reeling until the tension eases. Battles with larger fish that last for five or six minutes are not out of the question and can feel somewhat rewarding when you finally net your catch.
The fast-paced and simplistic gameplay that Rapala Fishing: Pro Series provides doesn’t mesh particularly well with the limited amount of competitions in which you can take part. The career consists of just six events that range from 10 to 20 minutes each. You will probably need to upgrade your rod along the way, but if you get lucky in the first couple of tournaments and earn enough money to allow you to do that, you could conceivably complete the whole thing on your first attempt. Outside of that, the only multiplayer play on offer comes in the form of well-intentioned daily leaderboard challenges, but their complete lack of popularity means that there’s little point in trying them. Even with the game only just having gone on sale, these contests are devoid of players, to the point of me being able to buy out the entire lure store with my prize money after winning one by default.
All of this isn’t to say that Rapala Fishing: Pro Series isn’t entirely without merit. Though even at its budget price, any fun you’ll have with the game will undoubtedly be short-lived. The gameplay is accessible enough and initially suggests that it has potential to provide a fun arcade experience with a touch of simulation, but ultimately is far too simplistic to the point of being uninteresting and repetitive. Combine that with a lack of reasons to push past that and become the best, and you’ve got a game that has serious problems. Unless it somehow convinces you to go after the “legendary” fish that exist in the game, you’ll more than likely find that it’ll only take a few short jaunts out onto the water before you’ve had your fill.
Rapala Fishing Pro Series review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.