Vlambeer, it seems, is on a rise, and their ascension appears to have no peak. The small Dutch studio run by Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman has an impressive and influential catalog of releases that they’ve somehow managed to cram into a mere three years of existence. The one you are most likely to recognize is Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, an RPG set in the world of Serious Sam, which is as outlandish as it sounds. But they’ve also got Super Crate Box, Luftrausers, and Yeti Hunter under their belt, all titles you may recognize as being pet favorites among the general games press.
And now there’s Ridiculous Fishing. It certainly looks a bit like past Vlambeer titles and certainly sounds like past Vlambeer titles, but that’s most likely because you associate quality with the name. Continuing the tradition of rather straightforward game titles, Ridiculous Fishing is about a fisherman named Billy who fishes in a rather ridiculous way.
When you tap the screen, a lure drops off the side of Billy’s boat and into the ocean. As it descends, you are to avoid making contact with any sea critters so as to reach the darkest and deepest corners of the colorful seas. When you either run out of line or you inevitably snag a fish, you’ll start to ascend, at which point the entire game reverses its design. You now are to collect as many money-earning fish on the way to the surface (while you avoid the cash-destroying jellyfish). When you reach boat-level, all the things you’ve hooked will be launched into the air and you pull out a pistol or minigun or orbital ray to kill and cash-in on the fish. Pretty ridiculous, right?
It’s an immensely satisfying and fascinating loop of gameplay that can either go for a few seconds if you’re not paying attention or a few minutes if you’re really on your game and using your powerups effectively. Two phases are diametrically opposed while handling mostly the same (by tilting), but the fact that you still have to avoid things while a portion of your lizard-like brain is dedicated to only pursuing and collecting everything really tickles that complex, multitasking part of your mind.
Then the shooting is as big of a changeup as if you threw an angry cat towards a very surprised and a soon-to-be mauled batter, but it is a necessary change of pace. Not only does your entire mentality of how to interact with this game on a mechanical level change, but your physical handle on it does as well. You shift from a sturdy two-hand grip on your iPad or a single wrench grip on your iPhone and immediately and rapidly apply your finger to the screen as you attempt to blast everything in the sky that doesn’t have tentacles to smithereens.
What really makes the mechanical gameplay bits work is that Ridiculous Fishing is ridiculously responsive. The tilt controls are among the best (if not the actual literal best) I’ve ever used. Dodges that I thought were impossible in the moment were totally possible in that one-second hindsight where my internal monologue briefly gets to say “HOLY SHIT I MA—OH FUCK JELLYFISH.” And the shooting is largely unexplained by the moment you start tapping away, it makes such incredible and intuitive sense. The screen tracks the lowest money-earning fish, but as you shoot each one, either it is destroyed or buoyed higher, at which point the screen moves up and tracks the next lowest one. It just makes sense.
It’s also super satisfying when you manage to reach what feels like the moon as you zoom higher and higher with each fish you catch in the air, but it’s also conversely terrifying and stressful when you just can’t seem to manage to get a handle on your haul so all you get to see are the splashes as each creature lands back in the water and you futilely dump round after round into the air. It’s fantastic.
The meat is a perfectly medium rare steak wrapped in bacon, but the veggies are just as good. The visual style, as I said before, just screams Vlambeer, but it’s still wholly unique. It has that pixel veneer that the studio is known for, but Greg Wohlwend—you know, the guy behind games like Hundreds, Gasketball, and Puzzlejuice—pushed that Vlambeer Play-Doh through a 45-degree thatched mesh and made an inviting yet aggressively angular visual environment for which you to do all your ridiculous things. And then Spelunky and Hotline Miami soundtrack contributor/composer Eirik Suhrke has crafted yet another chippy, thumping, addictive, and occasionally otherworldly set of tunes for this game.
What really shines through, however, is the perfectly designed progression system. When you collect enough money, you can spend it in a store where you can get a longer line (natch) to reach the deeper and deeper seas (which you unlock by catching more and more species of fish) or buy new, more powerful weapons, but you can also buy a toaster to attach to your lure so you can continue to descend after hitting one fish. Or you can upgrade your lure to be a chainsaw so you can plow through school after school of fish without worrying about dodging. Or you can buy a nice hat.
It goes without saying, but you want it all. I mean, I know I did, but each thing you truly want is often trumped by two other things: 1) it is, at the moment, way out of your price range, and 2) there’s something totally within your price range that seems super-duper awesome. Each categorical upgrade (line, weapon, lure, etc.) has at least one thing where in each location seems like the thing you have to have, but just one notch below is something that could be purchased right f’ing now rather than after seven to eight more outings. And of course, the new thing helps you earn more money which will help you buy the thing you actually want earlier and so on and so on. It’s an absolutely sublime sense of progression. And get this: no in-app purchases.
Then when you grow weary of being an über fisherman, there are the little, more esoteric bits that keep you interested. There is what appears to be a totally absurdist story told through a Twitter lookalike called Byrdr, a service that Vlambeer also set up to be an ARG leading up to Ridiculous Fishing‘s release. The fishopedia is rife with funny and helpful descriptions (it will give hints as to when and where you need to be fishing to catch the more elusive creatures) that just drip with character. And the little battery indicator on your fake smartphone even mirrors your actual, real device’s battery charge.
There are so many things about Ridiculous Fishing that I could write about for what seems like eternity, but much of it is best experienced through playing the game rather than being told by a fellow with a keyboard and some jeans full of holes. Much of it is exactly what you need to believe that little mobile arcade experiences can thrive at a non-free/non-99-cent price point against a marketplace of lesser clones. And much of it is best summed up by what is guaranteed to be your reaction to the game.
“Wow, that was ridiculous.”
+ Fantastic, charming, and unique art and music
+ The store and area unlock progressions are pretty much perfectly tuned
+ It handles so well that you will now judge all tilt-based mobile games by it
+ Reading tweets from actual birds
+ Fish that become hats
Final Score: 10 out of 10