Just sittin’ on the dock of the bay.
I am always amazed by the powerful range of physical and emotional reactions games can inspire. I have experienced real adrenaline rushes, actual tears (Suikoden II *sigh*), and even limp-inducing bruises from the harsh mistress that is Dance Dance Revolution. After careful consideration, though, I’ve settled upon one reaction that should always be off-limits. It’s not boredom, because even the best games can have excusable yawn spots. .. it’s sleep.
[image1]But it’s not like I was fishing the waters of River King: Mystic Valley at the end of a 48-hour bender. Sleep came from mid-day excursions fueled by afternoon coffee, and yet, the caffeine did nothing. The hushed tones of the landscape, the birds chirping in the trees, and the rhythmic clicking of the reel all played a part, but mostly, it was the waiting. River King tries to capture the thrills of real fishing in the net of a pocket-sized adventure. Unless you’re strapped to a yacht and battling a blue marlin, or riding the rapids with Burt Reynolds while playing a banjo, real fishing isn’t all that thrilling.
As my dad once said, “Fishing isn’t about the catch. It’s about spending time with friends and family.” Such words of outdoorsman-ly wisdom might pose a problem for little Senri. His sister fell asleep and won’t wake up. He pokes her, shrugs his shoulders, and does what any man would do – he grabs his rod and heads to the water. Fishing just isn’t right without a buddy or a cooler of brews for company though. Then again, a fizzy soda might be more Senri’s style. So far, I can’t tell if he’s an orphaned child or an adult stuck in Natsume’s trademark state of eternal prepubescence.
Genetic conundrums aside, Senri doesn’t seem too concerned about the well-being of his sibling. It’s only after dipping his hook into the water a few times that someone tells him of the River King – a mythical fish whose scales might hold the power to wake his sister. Like Shadow of the Colossus, albeit without the grandeur and epic battles, Senri embarks from the pond on a down-river journey to capture what no man-child has captured before. I’m just surprised that no one thought to call a doctor.
[image2]You won’t have to study the waters or inspect the depth-finders to locate the fish. You can see their silhouettes lurking just below the surface. All you have to do is cast your line off to the side, so as not to scare them away, and wait for a hungry mouth to meander over, which could take a while. Sometimes the fish will simply ignore the tasty treat dangling in their faces, sometimes they swim away, and sometimes there won’t be any fish to begin with. It gets easier as you accumulate enough points through catches to buy better equipment, but the first five hours or so are as rough as they come.
You’ll have more fish than you know what to do with after a few upgrades, but that’s when Senri’s adventure poses a new problem. While traveling downstream, Senri runs into a cast of characters like Ren, the obligatory rival, and Manato, the fishing ninja. Some have advice to give and sell, or challenges to meet, while others just relish getting in your way. Of course, no DS game would be complete without a few pets to raise. Nourish them into adulthood and the fuzzy monsters of the forest will aid you with a range of special abilities. Unfortunately, all of your newfound friends and pets want one thing – more fish.
Not just any fish will do. They want certain types, lengths, and usually in multiples, but it’s not like you can walk up to the water and tell which fish is which. All you can differentiate from the silhouettes are big, medium, and small sizes. One early mission called for collecting five Seema, so I grabbed the proper bait and hit up the known hot-spot. Fifteen minutes and eight fish later, I managed to catch one whole Seema. Are you catching on to the problem here?
[image3]Even reeling in a fish is an exercise in monotony. At first, I treated them like strategic battles of man vs. nature. Just like real fishing, I alternated between pulling the rod and reeling the line, and even gave the fish some extra line to wear them out. In truth, all you have to do is keep reeling with the stylus, stop for a second when the line gets tight, and continue reeling. The saddest part of all might be the underwater views you get during these sequences. I’m still trying to decide whether the fish look more like low-res scans from a campground newsletter, or rolled up newspapers with fins glued on the side.
I like the concept of River King, the endearing characters, and even the tranquility of the landscapes, but the focus is way off-target. Most attorneys spend their days pouring over paperwork and doctors fill the hours with routine checkups, but look what a little creative liberty did for titles like Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center. There is nothing technically wrong with River King: Mystic Valley, but standing on the shore and performing routine actions for hours on end simply isn’t fun.