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Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2022

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Switch Review - 'Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 25, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits brings the series’ arcade fishing experience to home consoles, featuring multiple modes including story, arcade, online multiplayer, party mode and more.

There's plenty of oddball arcade games that Japan gets that we only get to play in North America if we go to specific arcade conventions. The arcade version of Taiko no Tatsujin with the large taiko drum is a rarity. The rhythm game MaiMai, the one that looks jokingly like a washing machine, got more notoriety stateside when played on a SGDQ stream in 2021. We also never got the original Fishing Spirits, even though there was an English version for the Nintendo Switch released in Southeast Asia and renamed Ace Angler. To slightly make up for that, Bandai Namco brought out the sequel for the Switch, Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits. The most accurate thing that can be said is that you aren't really prepared for what this game is, even if you've watched a trailer.

Fishing Spirits takes place in a theme park called Marine Medal Mania. Supported by a cast of talking fish, it was supposed to be a place meant to be a celebration of all sorts of marine life. The main attraction is a large aquarium that houses all of them, but unfortunately, the park can't open because the aquarium has no fish there. As the first visitor to the park, you've been asked to help populate the aquarium by catching at least 200 fish before the public can visit.


The method for filling up the aquarium is unconventional, to say the least. Instead of going out to the ocean to catch the fish, you use a gacha machine to get a random chance to collect any of the 200+ fish out there. The selection of fish is limited to the region you initially selected, so you can't unlock some fish before you reach the region. To use the gacha machine, you'll need to use either tokens or gacha tickets, and there are several ways to get those. The easiest way with the least amount of friction comes from the park, which has tokens appearing on the grounds. There's a spinning wheel where you can get a random prize every 30 minutes. There's also the talking fish, who offer up quizzes for coins. You can keep answering the same question until you answer correctly, and there's no reward penalty, so that makes it quite easy. Otherwise, the main way to get anything for these gacha machines is to play the various game modes and get their related achievements for bonus coins and tickets.

Before getting into that, you'll need to create a character, and this is where the comparisons to Animal Crossing: New Horizons begin, as the character you create looks almost exactly like one that you'd make in Nintendo's latest life simulation game. From the body shape to the hair style options and stubby hands, what you'll find is a carbon copy of that game's character creation system. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, as the overall look of the characters remains cute and more inviting, but it is humorous to see how much Nintendo's system is starting to influence other titles on the platform.

Fishing Spirits features five game modes, and the main attraction for many is going to be the arcade mode, Ace Angler+. The mode is presented from a top-down perspective, and your goal is to catch fish. Unlike most other fishing games, the waters are teeming with fish, so it's easy to catch one on your line. Once you make contact, you'll concentrate on pulling in the fish until it reaches your net for a catch. To help you out, you can administer electric shocks to weaken the fish's resistance, but that isn't a guarantee that you'll catch the fish. Different fish give out different coin rewards, and the fish range from clownfish to tuna to more exotic things like sharks and octopus. There are even fictional sea creatures, like iceberg whales and devil sharks.


While you may be tempted to simply get the coins and deposit them in the gacha machine, you should spend those coins on machine upgrades instead. Each upgrade essentially gives you more variety, like better rods for catching tougher fish or more locales to catch different fish species. Some of the upgrades increase the likelihood of seeing rarer fish or golden fish, which give bigger payouts. Other upgrades include different game modes, like aiming for different fish species or going only for heavy fish. For fans of the arcade, having this variety on tap gives this mode plenty of life before you finally tire of it.

There are two issues that newcomers will have with the mode. The first affects the fishing mechanic as a whole: the lack of tutorial. You aren't taught about nuance, such as trying to prevent your line from snapping or determining the best time to administer an electric shock. You're told about the basics, and the game leaves it up to you to learn things on your own.

That would normally be a good thing, as it evokes the sentiment of classic games before tutorials were a thing, but it's a problem here because of the title's liberal use of coins. Before you can cast, you have to deposit the number of necessary coins to use a fishing rod. Having your line snap forces you to buy another rod. Each electric shock also causes you to spend a coin. You may not notice all of this if you're on a good fishing streak, since you'll always have enough coins to keep going, but get on a string of bad luck with line snaps or deliver a ton of shocks only to see your catch swim away. You'll start to feel that the game is sucking away the tokens.

The second major mode is Legend of the Poisoned Seas, which acts as the story mode. The narrative is that the world's oceans are being overrun with giant mutated fish, and it is up to a duo of researchers to find out why this is happening. As the angler appointed to help them, you're taken through a tour of levels that act as a condensed version of the arcade mode, with specific goals to be accomplished in a short time period and minus the coin drain. That gives you the freedom to cut your line if you've caught the wrong type of fish without incurring any penalty. Along the way, you'll catch trash from the ocean, which goes a long way to give you mega shock bonuses to catch fish. For newcomers who don't mind the presence of a bunch of dialogue boxes, this is a perfect way to learn the game's nuances. Additionally, failures don't drain you of funds and progress toward the main goal.


Ace Angler Party is the big multiplayer mode, and it may be familiar to those who played the first game on the Switch. There is a standard versus mode, where you and one other person can battle it out in a modified arcade mode to see if you can catch more fish or fulfill the given requirements of the match. If you're aiming for three to four players, you'll participate in minigames that are reminiscent of a Mario Party title; there's a shooting gallery, an opportunity to feed dolphins, catching tuna from a high-speed boat, and trying to outrun a rampaging shark. The games are fun, but novices should know that the AI players have no variable difficulty, and you'll lose to them more often than you'd expect. That becomes an issue if you're playing without a full group of human players, as the only way to earn coins in this mode is to reach first place. That makes it extremely difficult to use this mode to farm coins, unless you win every minigame every time.

Shark Fever is the fourth major mode with perhaps some very limited appeal. This is a simple coin pusher game, where you feed coins to the top moving layer of the board and watch as they hopefully fall to the bottom layer to push other coins down so you can score them. Having the coins land in a moving basket activates a roulette mode that gives you temporary bonuses, like having side walls appear so coins don't fall into the abyss or having the moving platform push everything out to the front to cause a coin tidal wave. The most important item is the shark ball. Score five of those, and you'll get into a fishing battle with a shark; netting it gives you 100 coins on the playfield. It's simple enough to understand, but it'll feel like a coin sink at the beginning — and after the platform pushes out all of the coins and leaves you feeding the machine in hopes of rewards later. It's a good time-waster if you have a bunch of coins and nothing else to do with them, but it's also a terrible way to score coins for your overall goal.

The final mode is online play, where you go up against three other players in the main arcade mode. You have the option to go for public rooms or create private ones if you want to play with friends. The good news so far is that the population is healthy enough, so matches with others can be created quickly, and bots will fill in the missing spots to ensure games keep going. Match times are lengthy enough, and the game has no lag. For those concerned about ranking, you can only go up, so there's no chance that a few bad matches will affect you. The bad news is that, like Ace Angler Party, wins are the only way to earn anything, so it isn't quite the best place to get coins for the gacha machine unless you can absolutely dominate at the game.


Once you start to populate the aquarium with fish, you'll notice that it's only a little better than what you'd find in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You can look at each fish swimming in its different environment, and there are some interesting facts displayed while they swim. The swimming areas are large, and there are several rooms that you'll need to go through to see them all. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that there's still a bit of load time when traveling from room to room. That's all you can really do, so it will be disappointing for those hoping to do more with the end goal attraction.

Even though the special Joy-Con fishing reel adapter isn't sold in North America, Fishing Spirits still sports a number of other methods. Handheld play is doable, as you can play most of the games with standard sticks and button presses. You can opt for Joy-Con play when in docked mode, either a single Joy-Con setup or a dual one. You can use motion controls this way, and it emulates the arcade setup quite well. Both the standard and motion control setups have their advantages and disadvantages; the traditional setup requires more presses to get a cast out, while there's less accuracy when moving the Joy-Cons around. There are some things to look out for with the controls, though. First, despite the ability to support traditional sticks and buttons, there's no way to play the game with a Pro Controller, even though it seems feasible. Second, the minigames can only be played with Joy-Cons, so unless you have some spare ones lying around, those playing on the Switch Lite will be out of luck.


The visual presentation is quite good. As mentioned earlier, the created characters are appealing, mostly because they've been tested before in Nintendo's game. The talking fish you meet look adorable, and the ability to see their textures is interesting. The park environment is bright, but there are areas that could use some work, such as with the smattering of low-resolution textures that are easily visible in frequented areas. The ocean levels look fantastic, and the level of detail in the fish rivals other games on more powerful platforms. The frame rate fluctuates in the right places, as actual gameplay is locked to 60fps and map traversal is locked to 30fps. The only exception to this is when you're looking at the larger fish; when you view them in detail, the frame rate starts to micro-stutter. As for the audio, the music is appropriately bouncy, and while there's some dialogue, it's only for the announcers for the fishing and some minigames. It's all in Japanese with no translation, so don't expect a fully voiced campaign.

Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits is strange. The fishing is easy to learn but difficult to master due to the lack of tutorial or feedback system. The coin concept is off-putting enough until someone has a surplus of coins to play with. The story mode does a better job of easing you into the game mechanics because it removes the token mechanic and provides focused goals. The minigames and online play are fun, but they're terrible for the overall goal of the game. The coin-pushing game is a very slow burn unless you get lucky. There is an audience for this type of quirky game, but you need to have enough patience to learn the system.

Score: 6.5/10



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