Tuesday 16 October 2012

Sega Bass Fishing

The frightening tales of Dreamcast Collection for the Xbox 360 come to a close with Sega Bass Fishing, the game everybody wanted.

But hey, hold the phone, Dreamcast Compilation actually contains a Dreamcast game? We must climb up to the rooftops to sing! And then we can jump off, because Sega Bass Fishing should never have been included in the package. Who'd have thought such a release could qualify as one of the top four first-party Dreamcast games ever made? Oh yes... nobody! because it isn't.

Be in no doubt of Sega Bass Fishing's brilliance, but in its Xbox 360 form, the brilliance is best described as "misplaced". Originally released in 1997 for Sega Model 3 hardware (making it older than the Dreamcast itself), Sega Bass Fishing is one of many arcade games of the late 90s with an emphasis on interaction. Faced with challenges from the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, arcade games were forced to immerse players with complex cabinets and unorthodox control schemes to differentiate themselves from their button-loving console cousins. This approach led to plenty of fantastic and unique arcade games, but not so many fantastic arcade ports.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, emulating arcade games was all the rage amongst home consoles, but by the end of the century, top games were expected to transcend the arcade experience to justify their £40 price tags. The science behind it is rather simple - there was a push to make arcade games shorter, and a push to make home console games longer. A long game in the arcades risks losing income and a short game on a console represents poor value for the consumer - the two ideas aren't compatible.

Put simply, Sega Bass Fishing never truly belonged on the Dreamcast. Despite the injection of extra content, most saw the western launch as filler - to keep people occupied before the next wave of hits. Yet it's difficult to say Sega Bass Fishing wasn't "solid" filler - some may consider it mediocre, but this is Dreamcast mediocrity, and that's still a step up from dross on other systems.

I like Sega Bass Fishing, but I am fully aware others don't share my view. Today, the industry is widely considered to be risk averse, flushing out annual wartime shooters in the hope that the target audience doesn't wake up, but Sega Bass Fishing is different in that it had no recognised audience, with its 1999 Dreamcast port on a mission to find one. Experimentation is good - sure the results may not always go your way, but society as a whole can benefit if it do. Too bad nobody experiments anymore - if you're not shooting things nobody cares.

Sega Bass Fishing achieved many of its goals. Not only is the game easy to find, but it went on to spawn several sequels and ports, the vast majority of which have kept up the high standards of the original. Sega Bass Fishing quickly became a classic, and although never reached the dizzying heights of Sonic Adventure or Crazy Taxi, is a game fondly remembered by Sega fans, despite offering little on face value.

A good chunk of Sega Bass Fishing's success comes from the use of specially designed Dreamcast Fishing Controllers, bundled with the game at launch. Again, it's inconceivable that a major video game company would produce special hardware for a game like this, but doing so led to the first fishing simulator to be taken seriously by both the public and developers alike. These sorts of situations are rare today, but Sega Bass Fishing stands as living proof that even the most dullest of concepts can make for an entertaining video game. The fishing controllers also turn Virtua Tennis into Wii Sports - so it's clearly advantage Sega here.

And we can sleep safely in our beds knowing that Sega Bass Fishing will always come paired with fishing controllers to recreate that magic. It's as guaranteed as Bashar al-Assad's free and fair democratic elections for the Syrian people - these things are a given, because without fishing controllers, there is no point in Sega Bass Fishing. Similar to the idea of bringing Super Mario Bros. to a console without buttons, failing to supply fishing controllers for Sega Bass Fishing would be ignorant and stupid and those responsible should lose their jobs.

And yet, Dreamcast Collection comes in a standard DVD case with no plastic attachments in sight. There are plenty of Dreamcast games out there which don't require special peripherals, but some braniac at Sega of America thought it was perfectly acceptable to bring this game, controller free, to modern systems. Nothing quite says "catching fish" like L and R triggers, but don't worry, I'm sure the 1997-spec graphics will more than make up for these shortcomings.

It's a worry. Despite immense amounts of faith being put into Sega Bass Fishing back in 1999, the game still didn't deliver as hoped - fishing games today are just as rare as they were last century, and people are still reluctant to give Sega Bass Fishing a go through fears of tedium and ridicule. So the idea that a bare-bones conversion generate revenue in 2011 is frankly laughable - it's this sort of executive decision making that makes me struggle to care when offices close.

Nevertheless Sega Bass Fishing is an excellent arcade game and an unloved hero on the Dreamcast, so even though this port spends its days vomiting fifteen-year-old polygons onto your screen, it's still possible to catch a glimpse of the brilliance beneath the multiple layers of stupidity. Unfortunately though, incompetence rules the day on this one - if you're fine with stretched graphics and gimped controls you'll be satisfied, but for the rest of us, the Xbox 360 port of Sega Bass Fishing is dead in the water.

So in conclusion, I don't like Dreamcast Collection. I don't like it's attitude towards the games of my childhood, and I struggle to endorse any studio which knowingly releases bad products. But despite my overly negative comments, there's an important not-fish-related catch to consider - buying these games separately through XBLA will put you back 2800 MS points (£23.80, $35 USD) - with Dreamcast Collection's current £6.95 asking price at Amazon (£2.95 for the PC version) you'd be foolish to think it didn't represent good value for money, particularly when you note Space Channel 5: Part 2's PlayStation 2 outing alone costs upwards of £30 or £40 second hand.

So yes, buy this if you don't already own the games, but don't let it get comfortable, as it's really capitalism that's our saviour, not Sega of America and their warped views on marketing. The situation could have been handled with more finesse and it certainly doesn't forgive the fact the company continue to pollute XBLA to this day, but at least it isn't denying acts of genocide.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this game. I still have it for Xbox 360. I always wonder what the biggest fish in the game is.