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Game Jam Combines Fishing And Horror Genres To Great Effect

Earl’s Day Off
Earl’s Day Off
Screenshot: Airdorf (Kotaku

Video game curators Horror You Haven’t Played recently tasked the independent development community on itch.io to create horror games with fishing as the unifying theme. This call to action produced seven games of varying lengths and styles, all of which do an excellent job of adding a sinister edge to life below the waterline.

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Fishing feels like something that’s intrinsically tied to uncles, right? I’ve never been fishing, but that just seems right. A pair of games in the Horror Fishing Jam, The Thing in the Lake and Fishing Vacation! tackle this cultural touchstone in very different ways. The former is a haunting adventure mostly told through text that deals with a familial curse, one that passes down from uncle to nephew like whittling or baseball cards. The accompanying pixel graphics really set the tone as well, at times vaguely hinting at the horrors lying beneath the surface before eventually exploding into full-blown visions of hell.

The Thing in the Lake (left), Fishing Adventure! (right)
Gif: chiropteram, Teebowah Games
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The most complete game in this group, Fishing Adventure!, walks the player through a fishing trip with sinister undertones in the style of a classic Game Boy game. It has a mini-game dedicated to digging up earthworms that pays off in a big way near the end as well as satisfying fishing mechanics that, while simple, divert your attention away from spooky shapes flitting between trees in the woods and the eyes watching from the water. The basis of the Fishing Adventure! story is also based on Inuit myth, an underrepresented area of inspiration that the game uses to tie up its chilling conclusion.

The demo for Earl’s Day Off adopts a style much like Sega Bass Fishing, following the lure into the water as you cast it from your rickety boat. The eponymous protagonist is in search of his missing wedding ring, and it’s up to the player to guide him through the lake behind his house in search of the fish that likely swallowed it. Watching the lure under the murky water puts the player right in the thick of the creepiness. I found myself spotting strange shapes in the Nintendo 64-inspired graphics long before Earl’s boat started to be trailed by a shadowy figure from below.

Brine Flow
Brine Flow
Screenshot: Blood Machine

My favorite of the bunch, Brine Flow, is much more minimalistic in both tone and mechanics. The player is put in control of an unnamed fisherman and told to “bring him his parts.” This mysterious command gets even weirder when you begin to dredge up human body parts: first a head, then a torso, and two arms and legs. Along the way, the player finds fish that are described as “majestic,” “hauntingly beautiful,” and “cursed,” which seems like a sort of hot-cold scale for finding body parts. Once the bits and pieces are placed on an altar located at the top of the island’s only hill, the broken man is resurrected.

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I do not fish, and after playing these games, I never will.

Staff Writer, Kotaku

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DISCUSSION

Real life fishing is its own horror.

The strange folks you meet by the riverside are often... a bit off.

I once met a pair of fellows who were high and drunk. One was paranoid and pulled a knife on me, because he thought I was going to call the cops. Well, I explained patiently I didn’t care that they were using drugs, and we all fished together for a few hours.

Another time, I met a homeless Gulf war veteran who was bipolar. He was so excited that someone was friendly to him that he jumped off the Wells Street Bridge in the Chicago Loop just for kicks. After he swam to shore, he showed me his bullet wound scars, explaining he only had one lung and jumping in the river maybe wasn’t a great idea...

More recently, I met a young man who claimed to be from the Hatfield clan. And that he was secretly dating a McCoy, and his family would kill her if they found out. This was spoken in the far western Chicago suburbs. He just would not spitting tobacco juice on my fishing line.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatfield%E2%80%93McCoy_feud

Then there’s the Chicago harbors.

Lincoln Park Lagoon they recently pulled a body out of. A few months before, they pulled body parts (!!) out of Montrose Harbor—this was novel and new, since Montrose usually has whole bodies pulled out of it.

Occasionally, a big wave will sweep someone off a Chicago pier and they will drown. A few years back some teenagers threw a guy into the lake as a gag, and he drowned.

The Chicago River has so many bodies pulled out of it that I snagged an old winter coat on my heavy fishing rod.  A crowd of 30 people gathered, because they all thought I maybe snagged a body.  I’ve seen more than one body dredged out of the river just a little downstream closer to Union station.