If there’s one thing I missed most in 2020, it was the great outdoors. Being cooped up in an apartment meant that I couldn’t head out to the woods or gaze out at the Atlantic ocean. Instead, every day was spent in the same sort of routine, as I moved from bed to chair to couch. Of course, like most people, that gave me more time to play video games. The more I played, the more the things I appreciated about games started to shift. Among Us made me grateful for the way games that could seamlessly fill social gaps in my life. Open world games like Ghost of Tsushima became less of an escape and more of a reminder of what it’s like to exist in nature. Then of course, there was fishing.
Fishing minigames have long been a staple of interactive entertainment for reasons that are entirely mysterious—developers simply love asking players to stop and fish in the unlikeliest of places. Last year, Fire Emblem: Three Houses asked players to take a break from kingdom warfare to cast a line. No matter how large the stakes are, there’s apparently always time to reel one in.
There’s something inherently comedic to the way fishing minigames have become so commonplace in even the biggest titles, but I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for the cliché. No matter what the digital world looks like in a game, fishing always offers a moment of calm. It’s a brief respite from even the most chaotic of circumstances. That’s true of fishing’s role in the real world, and since it was difficult to find those solitary moments with nature this year, fishing minigames were here to fill the void. Am I serious right now? I have no idea anymore, but come along, my seafaring friends, as we recap some of 2020’s best and biggest fishing mechanics.
We can’t talk about digital fishing if we don’t talk about the Animal Crossing franchise. Fishing has been a fundamental tenet of the charming life simulator since its inception. There’s no greater joy than reeling in a sea bass and no greater pain than learning it’s at least a C+. Animal Crossing: New Horizons only doubled down on the great art of fishing this year, giving players plenty of sea critters to collect and fish puns to groan at. The addition of the Joy-Cons’ HD rumble upped the tension, by giving more intense feedback the larger the fish on your hook is. Was there any greater digital relief in 2020 than feeling your controller rumble through your palms as a whole shark popped out of the water? That’s the kind of power fantasy that we needed.
Ah, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It’s an enormous open world game that gives players an overwhelming amount to do. You can pillage unsuspecting camps, assassinate zealots, and, yes, go hunting for eels. Valhalla’s fishing mechanics offer everything you’ve come to expect from the digital pastime. It’s a delicate dance between Viking and fish, where the player must mash buttons to reel in a catch while mastering the art of pulling their line in the opposite direction. In a game that was bloated with content and chock full of gruesome murders, this fine-tuned system provides a much needed break from the endless wave of beheadings.
In Hades, the whole premise is that you try to escape from hell over and over again, so it’s no surprise that fans connected with it during this hellish year. Much has been said about the roguelike’s fast, ever-changing combat, but let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that it features fishing. Yes, after slaying a Bone Hydra, Zagreus can just whip out a perfectly normal rod and drop a line in a pit of lava like it’s no big deal. So nonchalant! While the mechanic itself opts for the more basic “tap a button to catch” approach, Zagreus’ attitude is what sells it. A true fisherman will drop everything just to see what they can reel in. The fact that Zagreus is willing to break from his urgent escape attempts just to reel in a Knucklehead, just as my cousin foolishly defied safety guidelines to catch bass in Cape Cod, makes Hades one of the most accurate portrayals of fishing culture in gaming this year.
Overall, the year’s best digital fishing comes from indie game Spiritfarer. That’s no surprise considering that the bulk of the game takes place on a big boat. The mechanic itself is built entirely around rod tension; reel in a fish too quickly and you risk snapping your line. Patience is key here and that’s a universal takeaway, isn’t it? Throughout this year, we’ve been forced to practice immense patience in light of current events. Many have done their part to slowly complete this ongoing marathon, while others have tried to sprint right to the end. Spiritfarer teaches us that the latter is no way to catch a rainbow trout. We need to keep reeling, but know exactly when to stop and let the line loosen. This is only the kind of analogy that starts to feel profound when you have done nothing but play video games since March. I need to take a nap.
There’s plenty more fishing that wasn’t covered here, whether in Paper Mario: The Origami King or Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics. The four games covered here are but a small sampling of what’s out there in the wide ocean of fishing mechanics this year. Hopefully you can find the one that hooks you.