Unwieldy peripherals are nothing new to gaming, but now they’re being cranked out at such a clip that every mini-game imaginable will eventually get its own accessory retroactively—there’s already been a bowling-ball controller made specifically for seven Wii games, including Wii Sports. But do these hunks of plastic heighten the sense of immersion in a game, or merely sacrifice practicality in favor of looks? In The Strike, the first foray into gaming by mega-fishing store Bass Pro Shops, the included fishing-rod controller makes the case for the latter: After the first hour of angling for catfish and trout, the well-meaning but unresponsive rod will sit discarded and apologetic. But it’s hard to tell whether the rod was intended as a way to hook gamers further into the experience, or just to keep up with the Joneses: Mega hunting-store Cabela’s recently released a hunting game with a sawed-off-shotgun controller. Yes, really.
And in much the same way that the shotgun controller will never be mistaken for a real firearm, the cast-and-reel controller simply isn’t up to the task it was supposedly designed for. Gunning the motor on your boat is quizzically mapped to the reel, while snapping the rod back substitutes for reeling. Once you make peace with this, the true learning curve emerges: learning to fish at all. As it’s made by a company that knows about fishing, Bass Pro Shops: The Strike assumes you do, too, and it initially makes recreational fishing a daunting series of menus: Selecting just the right reel, tackle, rods, and other minutiae for the job hardly feels user-friendly when information about them is withheld. Once you’ve mastered the menus, it takes a solid hour of frustrating trial and error to make casting second nature.
But after that much of a time investment, wouldn’t it just be easier to really go fishing? Perhaps. The Strike provides what real-life fishing can’t: the ability to transport yourself to 10 North American lakes (or their blocky facsimiles) without being exposed to the elements. You’ll earn the right to pass from one to another by placing in demanding 20-minute tournaments, but the change of scenery doesn’t change the core experience. But then again, that core experience doesn’t change much after you get over that initial hurdle. Tiny moments like the tribal-music score that perfectly captures the adrenaline of wrestling a fish ashore won’t be enough to convince anyone who doesn’t already own a boat that it’s worthwhile. The Strike is about as good a substitute for the real thing as the rod that’s included.