With the impending release of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, fans across the internet have been scouring every frame of promotional videos, trying to determine exactly what features are new and which elements have been brought in from previous games. Former Mayor Tortimer is nowhere to be found, for example, but the player character does now have the power to landscape their island with a magic shovel and pole vault over rivers, so it might be worth it. However, there’s one mechanic I’ll be keeping an eye out for when the game arrives on the Switch in March — the fishing mechanic.
Fishing minigames are the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I thought the idea of a fishing video game was really cool — half the appeal of visiting the Apple Store at the mall was to play Flick Fishing on their vibrant 3.5 inch iPods. I had no reason to think fishing could be anything other than fun and relaxing. I’d spent a lot of hours fishing at a local park with my dad, and even more hours playing the Ice Fishing minigame in Club Penguin. However, I would soon learn that the real world (of video games) was not so pleasant.
When I first began playing Stardew Valley, the acclaimed farming simulator, I had a bumpy start. I wanted a relaxing experience, not plagued by the monsters that would come from choosing a Wilderness Farm that was not as basic as the run-of-the-mill Standard Farm. I ended up picking the Riverland Farm as my base environment, a farm with criss-crossing rivers and lots of fishing opportunities. As soon as the game gave me a fishing pole, I raced back to my farm to try and fish in my own backyard.
Whatever hope I had for my cool, waterlogged plot of land evaporated. While the water looks cool in the game’s signature pixel style, I am completely useless at the game’s fishing mechanics. It seems peaceful at first: The player builds up strength and casts their line out into the enigmatic blue water, patiently waiting for a bite. That part I’m great at. It’s when a fish finally tugs on the line, prompting a terrifying meter to pop up, that things fall apart. The idea is to keep a small green rectangle in line with a bouncing, struggling fish icon through frantic clicks or button-presses. I just can’t seem to do it, no matter how many times I’ve tried, and suddenly a whole portion of the game is blocked off to me. I can clear level after level of slime monsters in the mines, I can patiently collect precious gemstones for the local museum, but I can’t seem to collect a single fish for my collection in the community center, turning my peaceful rural escape into a stressful aquatic nightmare.
Animal Crossing is also meant to be a relaxing game, with a realistic 24-hour system that prevents the player from advancing too far in one day. The player can do whatever they want in the town they live in, whether catching bugs or playing the stock market. They can also fish — and in a town surrounded by water, it’s hard not to. Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s fishing mechanic involves tracking down the shadow of a fish in the town river and strategically placing a line at its eyeline. If the player is lucky, the fish will nibble — once, twice, maybe five times — until it finally bites and the player must quickly reel them in. This can be stressful too, especially with my more twitchy tendencies to hit buttons before I mean to. In a way, this mechanic teaches patience. You have to stress out to truly relax, and get the perfect catch.
However, this lesson requires the player to occasionally fail, which is especially frustrating in a game that encourages the player to catch rare fish for their town’s museum. When the mobile adaptation Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp came out in 2017, I was thrilled to discover the fishing mechanics were watered down. When the player drops their line in front of a fish — a much easier task than in New Leaf — the fish bites almost immediately, and the player is given plenty of time to react. Gone are the days of yelling in frustration at too-quick or too-slow reflexes, and the player can catch as many fish as they want without a hiccup.
New Horizons seems to incorporate Pocket Camp’s camping elements and build upon the features introduced in New Leaf, but I wonder after which game it’ll truly take. I love being able to catch as many fish as I want on mobile, but gone are the lessons in patience from the flagship series. Sometimes, Animal Crossing’s weirder, trickier mechanics are what make it special, like how you have to navigate a personality quiz to be assigned a new hairstyle. In the mobile game, you can pick whichever hairstyle you want, no strings attached, but in the console games, you learn by trial and error (or looking up a guide). While I still hate fishing minigames with a passion, part of me hopes New Horizons doesn’t fully embrace the lazy convenience of its mobile counterpart. I still believe that every game could benefit from a simpler, easier fishing mechanic (as I’m sure anyone who played the 1998 game Sonic Adventure would tell you), but maybe there’s a happy medium between frustration and relaxation.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.