Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/31/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I absolutely love fishing games. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, honestly, but despite hating the actual act of fishing, I love fishing in video games. I especially love it when those fishing games are super arcade-y and have ridiculous or goofy fish to catch, and Ace Angler firmly checks both of those boxes.
Having its roots in the arcade, there are a couple of different game modes in Ace Angler, but the one I spent the most time with was obviously the adventure mode. The story is that you’re a novice angler/treasure hunter setting out with the captain of a boat you chartered, someone from an oceanic research institute, and two only-barely-disguised kappa (mischievous water yokai said to bring good luck). You start off simple enough – catching regular fish near a reef. About a third of the way through the game, things get extreme. About halfway through the game, things get a bit ridiculous. By the end of the game, things are completely insane in a way that only the Japanese could manage in a fishing game. If any of that sounded like criticism, it wasn’t; I loved every second.
Despite not being a AAA title, the game looks pretty good on the Switch. It definitely looks better handheld thanks to the smaller screen, but even blown up on a 65″ 4K TV, the game looks quite good. The fish models all look nice, and the water effects when you’re actually fishing look great. There are two ways to play – with the Joycons’ motion control (which the game makes clear is how you’re intended to play) casting with the left hand and reeling with the right or with button controls. Oddly, even with button controls as an option, the game does not allow the use of the pro controller; despite this, putting the Joycons in the grip works just fine. Generally, I preferred playing with the motion controls as they were just more fun, but some of the boss battles (yes, this fishing game has legitimate boss battles) can get long and a bit tedious with motion controls, so I tended to use the button controls for those.
The game’s sound design and soundtrack are great, but they’re honestly pretty forgettable with everything else the game has going for it with the addicting gameplay and the gorgeous visuals. As you complete missions in each of the game’s ten regions, you’ll get rewarded with money and materials both of which are needed to craft and upgrade new rods with better stats. You’ve got three basic “types” of rods – red, blue, and green. Each fish has a color affinity, and a rod of that color will be most effective against that fish. You’ll be alright using any rod against regular fish if you’re not trying to get an S rating on each quest, but you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re using the right rod for the bosses as they can easily deplete your stamina and defeat you if you’re not playing smart. The materials needed for upgrade bring me to my one main complaint with the game – you end up with WAY more money than you need but usually need a few key materials that can be obnoxious to go farm, so it would be nice if you had the option of buying materials at the shop. It would definitely take away some of the challenge, and I can absolutely understand why some might not like that, but when you’re sitting on over a million yen you don’t need and don’t feel like farming for a great white tooth so you can upgrade your rod, it would be a nice feature to have.
Ace Angler may not have quite enough meat on its bones to be a game of the year contender for me, but it’s absolutely a FANTASTIC game and just oozes wacky charm. It’s a shame that this game never got released in the West (not even digitally), but fortunately, the Asian physical release has full English menu and subtitle support. If you’re into arcade games, fishing games, or just silly games in general and have $60 or $70 you don’t need, check this one out. I wish Nintendo of America would at least release it digitally, but thankfully, the Switch is region-free and easy to set up accounts able to access different regions eShops, so you’ve got options if this sounds like your cup of tea. I definitely recommend it.