Certain VR games offer players a magically new way of thinking and are more concerned with concept that completion. A Fisherman’s Tale is a new indie VR title with a magnificent recursive concept at its core, offering a mind-expanding but lyrically quaint and approachable interactive fable that seems mechanically daunting at first, but never fully delivers on its promise. It’s well worth checking out, especially at a discount, but feels lacking in content and diversity of activity.
You start the game by waking up and brushing your teeth, observing the nice little virtual lighthouse cabin around you. As with most any VR game, the player’s hands are separated from their body, which amounts to little more than a bust like torso and an angular bearded face. Interestingly, this isn’t due to a pared-down sense of detail in the character design — you actually play a lighthouse keeper puppet in a model of a lighthouse cabin. Except, well, in the center of your room is another model, with its own puppet, while you yourself are in a model, with an exponentially larger puppet looming overhead, all of whom move simultaneously.
This reveal — and it’s sadly unfeasible to discuss the game without spoiling it, though there are a few more gasp-inducing instances beyond it as well — is enthusiastically strange and wonderful. Using it as basis, A Fisherman’s Tale sets about crafting some ingenious puzzles around object manipulation in and out of the model. There’s also plenty of time to simply play and goof around in there, like dropping an object into the space to make a massive version hit the floor right next to you, or throwing something up in the air and staring at the recursive mirror world cascade above you in response.
Unfortunately, the game has some very noticeable control problems, at least in its incarnation on PlayStation VR. There’s no proper mechanic for ducking down, a common VR issue, which the game corrects somewhat by letting players extend their graspable hands out then retract them with a single button, turning them into a kind of quickfire toy claw machine. While this is decent in theory, it’s highly spotty during play, and objects trigger plenty of wonky collisions as a result. The game then corrects this chaos by returning objects back to their previous location after a set amount of time has passed...which also isn’t something you’ll always want to happen. One of the very first tasks you’re given is to fill a stove with a log, which actually might take longer than some actual puzzles in the later game.
Speaking of that later game, the entirety of A Fisherman’s Tale can be completed up in two hours or less. For most non-VR titles, this would inspire pitchfork-waving, but it’s a reasonable length to be strapped into a sensory-depriving helmet. Still, of the game’s six chapters (two of which are extremely short, the Prologue and the Epilogue), there tend to be very few puzzles to sort through. Breeze through a few of them, and you’ll find that you’re unintentionally speedrunning this content, though there’s probably one or two that may take longer. Some solutions are so outlandishly simple, or have absolutely nothing to do with the brilliant recursion mechanics, that they feel like tacked-on busywork which fails to make use of the game’s reason for existing in the first place.
Beyond the activities available, there’s also a kind of ongoing narrative that churns along as you merrily teleport through each small level area. The voice actor speaking those lines is quite good, but he’s also responsible for almost every voiced character (or characterization) in the game, which lends it a clearly intentional storybook feel. If you don’t particularly like that performance — and it’s excessively precious and saccharine, on the level of the narrator in Amelie — you’ll tire of his constant musings. Here’s a quick tip: if you’d prefer to hear him less often, just go ahead and turn off hints in the options menu.
It remains a sincere performance, though, and the story is somewhat interesting, but fails to reach the complex wonder of the central mechanics in the game. Sadly, so does the game around it, and while the noteworthy puzzles are absolutely genius-level, the standards of the rest give the procession of events a weightless quality. There are a few characters to encounter, some terrific visual moments, and then the game’s completely done. In terms of value, it could provide a lot more, and never reaches the narrative heights of a storytelling-focused game like Déraciné or the satisfyingly physical puzzle clockworks in Transpose, two slightly more expensive games on PS VR that feel exponentially richer in content. For example, there’s a pearl-finding mini-game that’s never really explained at all, and has no bearing on the story or gameplay whatsoever, merely existing as a bauble to be thoughtlessly picked up by trophy hunters.
As a VR toy, it’s surprising what A Fisherman’s Tale allows players to do, and it’s entirely possible that the majority of a playthrough will consist of simply experimenting with its physics and rules. That certainly counts for something, but the fantastic concept deserves much more than the game ultimately provides. As a module for showing off your PlayStation VR’s wonders to family and friends, even non-gamers, it makes a fine choice, but players whose imaginations will be rightfully lured and sparked by its dollhouses-within-dollhouses routine will feel shorted by the time the credits roll.
A Fisherman’s Tale is out now for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. A digital copy for PlayStation VR was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.