Our review of A Fisherman’s Tale, developed by Vertigo Games. Available now for Oculus Quest (reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, and Windows Mixed Reality.
WHAT IS IT?
A VR puppet simulator, and you’re the puppet.
IS IT GOOD?
It will bring a smile to your face, and a bend to your mind.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
A Fisherman’s Tale is practically the definition of VR showcase: bring your friends, bring your family. Turn on the hint system.
A few years into the VRnaissance, it’s clear that developers are still trying to figure out what, exactly, to do with all this new technology. The obvious things – lightsaber simulators, Matrix simulators, haunted houses – have all been done. They’re a lot of fun, yes, but they also feel like the easy options, the risk-averse options.
And risk-aversion suggests, though not always, certain limitations on creativity. Where are the quirky or truly novel ideas? The mind-blowing interactive journeys for non-gamers? I’ve swum with virtual sharks and soared to virtual stars, now I want something that will throw me a curve ball.
A Fisherman’s Tale isn’t quite that – for better or worse, it feels very much like an early-gen showpiece for VR – but it is quirky.
Immersion. It’s the word you hear all the time about VR. The feeling of being immersed in an alien environment, of inhabiting an unfamiliar body. The best VR experiences trick you both into relishing the fact that you’re doing something impossible, while also making you feel as if you are, in fact, doing that impossible thing.
In A Fisherman’s Tale, you are a puppet. You don’t control a puppet, in the traditional video game sense. You simply are one, experiencing a puppet’s world from a first-person perspective. Extend your hand in front of you, and in VR you’ll see a floating, wooden marionette hand relatively where you’d expect it to be. Walk forward – I mean, physically walk forward, so make sure you have plenty of space – and you walk forward in-VR as well. Try not to bump into any furniture, virtual or real, along the way.
A Fisherman’s Tale is a puzzle adventure. Like others of its ilk, it’s not particularly long, clocking in at about three hours. Your puppet character is a lighthouse keeper, with most of the game taking place in a claustrophobic, cluttered cabin. You pick up objects, duck under desks, press and pull and twist things until you solve one puzzle and move on to the next. Throughout, your efforts are accompanied by a sometimes snide, sometimes encouraging atrociously faux-French-accented narrator. (He’s cute, but he’s also obnoxious.)
The puzzles in A Fisherman’s Tale are neat, and obviously the product of a team that knows this genre well. A few puzzles really lean into the strangeness of VR, and those are the best by far.
There are two other things that A Fisherman’s Tale really gets right.
First is the feel of being in an environment: if it looks like you can touch it or move it, you probably can. If you want to lean in and get a closer look at something – for example, the model lighthouse prominently displayed on a desk – you can do that too. A few minutes of this, and you’re immersed.
Second is the sense of wonder that can be elicited by virtual reality. I laughed in delight at some of the novel developments over the course of my Tale. And while it’s true that the game starts fairly slowly, much less interesting than, say, that other 2019 Lighthouse, it gets a lot better as the story progresses.
I don’t often laugh in delight at any game. That should tell you something.
FISH IN A BARREL
A Fisherman’s Tale is short, sweet, and quirky. Its puzzles are fairly basic, and its in-game hint system is a great aid to non-gamers who might be willing to give it a try. It’s also got enough twists and turns to make it worth fully exploring. That’s especially true with the later chapters, which modestly break out of the confines of your keeper’s cabin, and expand the experience in some interesting ways.
Still, I can’t help but slightly fault this Tale for being a bit too conservative. For all its moments of whimsy, there’s never really any subversion of expectations. Once you understand what’s going on, it’s pretty much a straight shot from Point A to Point B.
As I said at the outset, it feels exactly like the kind of tech demo you’d want to showcase VR on. It’s so much fun – I really cannot emphasize this enough – but it’s very much a product of the early VR life cycle.
As for the future, I can only hope that A Fisherman’s Tale 2 doesn’t just break out of those confines – I hope it blows them out of the water.
Visit the official page for A Fisherman’s Tale here.