The original A Fisherman’s Tale is a little gem, and we love it. It’s a little on the short side, but in terms of conceptuality and presentation, it stands amongst the Quest’s very best titles and is a really good way to show off VR. I had no idea what to expect from the sequel, but I went into playing it for this review with high hopes.
ARE WE ROLLING, BOB?
At first glance, aside from the art style and the likeable narrator Bob, there seems little to link the first game with this one, at least in terms of gameplay. Instead of being confined to a series of rooms inside a lighthouse, Another Fisherman’s Tale is a seafaring adventure, with many different settings both above and below the sea. This time around, Bob is a marionette with string limbs who can detach his head and hands from his body.
His head can’t move around when separated from the body but can be projected to different viewpoints, acting as a third-person camera, and his hands and body can scuttle around independently of one another. Bob’s stringy, detachable hands can also be replaced with other things such as a crab’s claw or a pirate’s hook. As you can imagine, this leads to some unique and interesting puzzles; there’s something almost Nintendo-y about the playful and creative ways this is explored throughout the game, and the levels are never quite what you’d expect.
HERE’S THE THING
There’s great fun to be had controlling Bob’s body parts. No, not like that you filthy animals. At its best, such as when you’re sending one of Bob’s hands scurrying into an air vent to retrieve a vital puzzle piece, it can feel like the Addams Family game we all want and deserve. Some controls can take some patience and don’t always feel quite as intuitive or well-honed as they might. Rotating the detached hands with the controllers can often feel a bit of an unpleasant strain on the wrists; both of us who’ve played it here in the 6DoF fortress think that this particular aspect of the controls could use some work.
For the most part, interacting with the game is quite joyful, but this makes the things which aren’t quite as good stand out a little more than in other games which are just janky per se.
ARE YOU STANDING COMFORTABLY?
The first game was an original puzzle game which blended clever gameplay with a dose of armchair philosophy, and it did it very well. The sequel tries to inflate both these aspects in equal measure, but it’s only partially successful in bringing them together, and the result is uneven. Given the game’s short running time, I’m even more concerned about avoiding spoilers than usual, so I won’t go into specifics. I will say that the story explores themes of freedom, responsibility, memory and commitment, and some of it feels very heavy-handed and jarring, and really doesn’t marry up with the fun gameplay nearly as much as it should. Instead, the need to tell a meaningful story sometimes overshadows (if not interrupts) some really nifty, clever and fun gameplay. It really doesn’t work for me – imagine Super Mario Odyssey occasionally breaking off for a slideshow on the nature of identity. One of the game’s five chapters takes a detour into being an only vaguely interactive and quite poorly written musical, which actually left me wondering where the game had gone. The gameplay just does not support the narrative in a way that weaves it all together, or vice versa for that matter. Later in the game, it feels like two hugely conflicting forces are at play.
There’s some lovely and moving stuff in and amongst, but it is often undone by clunky realisation in other areas. Bob’s narration, delivered in what is clearly not the actor’s first language, is mostly charming in its delivery but has some moments when you wish the direction had been stronger for him. One actor is playing all the female characters in the game and her performances are extremely variable. The story tries to make points about childhood, memory and the effects of age; when the child in the game sounds this irritating and unconvincing, and the elderly mum has such a silly, put-on old lady voice, it just doesn’t work.
IT’S A BEAUTY
Let’s delve into some of the good stuff though. Another Fisherman’s Tale is beautiful. Sumptuous at times. It has a very strong visual identity and a lovely variety of levels. Some of the ideas and vistas here will make you gasp, and the way it initially seems like a slightly disconnected sequel but reveals itself to be directly related is very well done, and a treat for those who played and loved the original. The music is lovely but suffers from some quite obvious looping in places.
When the game is happy identifying as a platform puzzler it has some rewarding and delightful moments which you won’t find anywhere else, and make a very strong case for VR as a medium. Whilst I think the story and ponderous exploration of its themes ultimately bloat and harm the game, there are some genuinely touching moments in and amongst which still warrant a playthrough.
CATCH OF THE DAY
Another Fisherman’s Tale is an original game with a lot of heart, and some things about it will make you smile. Narrative stodge and unwieldy storytelling get in the way of both the gameplay and the tale it’s actually trying to tell. There’s a lot of what feels like padding in an already short game, and this is a shame as it will have some of us reaching for the refund button or simply not buying it at all. The fact is there are some aspects of Another Fisherman’s Tale which really should be experienced.
If there is a case to be made for Oculus providing a monthly subscription service with shorter experiences included to download and play, then Another Fisherman’s Tale makes it very strongly.