Dubious lure of two fishing video games

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — If someone gives you a copy of "Rapala Pro Fishing," throw it back.

Try as I did, I couldn't get hooked on this new Activision simulation, which is available on all kinds of formats.

I tested the PlayStation 2 version and found several unpleasant features that made me want to cast it into the drink.

The trouble starts with the boat, which you're supposed to drive in search of a good fishing spot.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't let you see more than a few hundred feet ahead of the bow, which means you risk running aground if you drive too fast.

The fishing guide who accompanies you on the boat is an annoying little weasel you'll want to chuck overboard.

"I'm getting bored here," he sang out at one point, and he wasn't asking permission to pick up a rod and reel himself.

Hey, this is fishing. Show a little patience!

By my first catch — a 4-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass from Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota — I was ready for something more relaxing, like playing "Mortal Kombat."

Not only weren't the guide's comments helpful, but some of them were downright moronic.

I don't know how many times I hooked a fish and my bait-for-brains guide said, "Wow! A fish of a lifetime!" Maybe he was hoping I would quit, go home and never fish again.

Other elements of "Rapala Pro Fishing" give this game the allure of spoiled sushi.

When I moved from Minnesota to the raging Kenai River in Alaska, I discovered that the river didn't rage as much as I thought it should. In fact, there didn't seem to be any current at all.

The same was true when I was fishing. My lure just hung there, as if the flowing water was merely an illusion.

When an animated fish starts to move toward your lure, the camera pans away so you can't see what is happening. If a fish gets close to you, digitized sides of it may come apart, a sign of sloppy programming.

And when you try to read a description of a lure, the words crawl up the screen very slowly, as if the game developers think fishermen can't read faster than third-graders.

"In-Fisherman: Freshwater Trophies" from Bold Games is a lot more fun, partly because it's so simple.

There are no complicated underwater camera angles. Once you cast, you see the lure drop into the water, and you can always see the lure.

It's easy to tell what the fish are doing and anticipate when bass, walleye or any of a few dozen other species will strike.

As with "Rapala," it's easy to lose a fish, especially by having the line break. But I felt I had more control in this game.

"In-Fisherman" has better underwater graphics. And when you are driving the boat, you can actually see where you're going.

But the driving portion of the game still leaves a lot to be desired.

The boat has just one speed and cruises without generating any wake. The turning system is laughably unrealistic; you can use the arrow keys to make the boat pivot in the water without revving the engine.

Some of the above-water graphics are equally low-rent.

As you approach the lighthouse at Lake of the Woods in Minnesota, its island literally rises out of the lake. The top of the lighthouse materializes before its base.

When it comes to actual fishing, there is no guide — obnoxious or otherwise. You're free to enjoy yourself in the solitude of the lake, assuming you turn off the music, which is less annoying than the "Rapala" soundtrack.

"In-Fisherman" has a navigation map and fish sonar to help you find a good spot. Like "Rapala," there are lots of lures to select and plenty of locations to fish from.

But some players may think "In-Fisherman" is too simple.

Casting is no challenge. A click of the right mouse button lets you designate where you want your lure to drop. Clicking on the left button automatically puts it there.

Sometimes the process of reeling the fish in is amazingly — and perhaps disappointingly — fast.

The first fish I landed was a carp. I set the hook by rapidly moving the mouse forward and backward, kept the left mouse button pressed to start reeling it in, and an instant later, the fish was in the boat!

The weather in this game changes just as rapidly. During one cast, it will be sunny. By the next, you'll be flicking out the line in a downpour.

Does time really fly like that when you're on the water?

"Rapala Pro Fishing" is $30 for Xbox and PlayStation 2, and $20 for the PC and GameBoy Advance. "In-Fisherman: Freshwater Trophies" is just for Windows and costs $20. Both games are rated "E" for everyone.

Gene Emery is a columnist who covers science and technology for Reuters.