Fishing games have gone to the next level now, with incredible graphics, deeply immersive gameplay, and online multiplayer capabilities. But the inescapable charm of retro fishers is still appealing, especially with many retro emulators on the market. And the clunky graphics and 8 bit music of many fishing games belie strategy and complexity that lurks below the surface. Let’s take a look at three of the best retro fishing video games (and hundreds of the worst fishing puns).
Fishing Derby (1980)
To truly appreciate the roots of fishing in video games, we must venture back in time more than 40 years.
“Fishing Derby,” released in 1980 for the Atari 2600, is one of the earliest fishing video games ever created, with a simple premise and minimalistic graphics, rendered in striking, 8-bit primary colours. The action circles around two fishermen seated at opposite docks, with a lake full of fish to hook and reel in — the aim of the game is to land 99lbs (that’s 45kg) of fish before your opponent.
Sound easy? Well, hang on, because for some reason this lake contains a shark — the type of shark isn’t actually specified, but presumably it’s one of the few freshwater varieties that exist. The shark is hungry and wants to eat your hooked fish before they reach the surface. You can use the joystick button to reel the fish in quicker, so timing and reflexes are of the essence.
Due to their relative difficulties to catch, fishermen will find 2lb fish near the surface, 4lb specimens in the middle, and the heavyweights at the bottom, who hit the scale at 6lbs each. While “Fishing Derby” may lack the depth and realism of later fishing games, it serves as a historical artefact that showcases the humble beginnings of fishing in the gaming world. And despite the primitive gameplay it serves as an inspiration for games way up until the present day: enthusiasts can find realistic fishing games available on iOS and Android, multiplayer options on consoles, and if you like fishing and flutter, you’ll find the fishin frenzy slot game combines the simplicity of casino games with the fun of hooking a few of the ocean’s inhabitants.
The Black Bass (1986)
It took six years for the first truly iconic fishing game to emerge on the scene, and it came in the form of “The Black Bass”. Originally released in 1986 for the MSX and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Japan only, it set the gold standard for fishing simulations during its era, and when it hit the rest of the world it captured the market hook, line, and sinker (sorry).
The overall objective is to advance through a series of bass fishing competitions, which run from sunrise to sunset on 4 different lakes. To advance to each competition, the intrepid angler must catch a sizeable quantity of bass with a high average weight — other fish, such as pike and trout can be caught too, but they won’t affect the player’s score
The top-down perspective and pixelated graphics instantly transport players back to the ’80s, but you’d be fooled if you thought the game was simple. What sets “The Black Bass” apart is its meticulous attention to detail and emphasis on strategy. Success in this game isn’t just about casting a line; it’s about selecting the right lures, practising patience as you wait for the fish to strike, and exercising Zen-like self control as you reel it in, otherwise your line will break.
While “The Black Bass” has spawned several sequels over the years, it’s the original NES version that remains closest to the hearts of retro gamers, and still surfaces in fishing best-of lists.
King Salmon (1991)
It didn’t take long for the mighty Sega to notice the rising trend of console fishing games, and take a bite with their own hall-of-famer title. King Salmon was released for the Genesis / Mega Drive, and much like The Black Bass, players compete in a tournament. Except, guess what? This time they’re fishing for salmon in the scenic (even when rendered in glorious 16 bit) locale of Vancouver Island. There is also a Kenai river level, a derby tournament, and a world record challenge to undertake. Players pootle around a big map in their boat, seeking out a spot to fish in. Helpfully, a prompt gives you an idea of a likely area to catch a big’n, or let’s you know if the place is completely devoid of fish.
Then you’ll hone in on a smaller map, where you scuttle around (again), searching for the right place to cast your line. Again, there are various lures available (six to choose from), and each is suited to a particular set of circumstances. In fact, this is the part of the game that separates King Salmon from its contemporaries — weather conditions dictate which lure you should choose, and how long your line needs to be, as salmon dwell at different depths, depending on the weather and the roughness of the sea or river.
As if that weren’t enough, players also have to contend with roguish crews of fishermen who roam the waters hogging the best spots and driving the salmon away. To make it more difficult, once you’ve cast your line and caught, or not caught, a salmon, you can’t fish in that area for 45 in-game minutes. King Salmon is a great, old-school fishing game, and one that drew in many new players, anglers or otherwise, with its RPG elements, storyline, and daft music.
There are more great retro fishing games that perhaps deserve an honourable mention, The Blue Marlin, Championship Bass, and Reel Fishing to name a few. And while cutting-edge games may be the catch of the day, and people might still find fishing titles unfathomable, these old-school titles still have an uncanny ability to reel gamers in.