A Fisherman's Tale is a small game by most standards but it achieves more than some games that are much longer or come with big budgets. The experience it crafts is an intimate affair in story and scope that nonetheless bursts with innovation and charm, taking advantage of its virtual reality gameplay to cleverly immerse players in a thoughtful and entertaining adventure.
This game by InnerspaceVR (published by Vertigo Games) unfolds like a fairy tale, recounting for the player the story of a fisherman's puppet that existed inside a model lighthouse. The narration is told with effective amounts of awe and sentiment conveyed by a strong script and skilled voice actor, and accompanied by an art design that is simple, playful, colorful and endearing.
The prologue doubles as a training level, introducing players to a few intuitive actions that will provide the basis for the core puzzle-solving mechanic. On Oculus Quest, locomotion uses standard controls: Flick the thumbsticks right or left for respective snap turns, or move them in the direction of a point on the ground to teleport. Squeeze the grip or trigger buttons to grab an object, and use the X or A buttons to extend your hands.
Movement, targeting and hit detection are very good, enabling easy interaction that proves important in a game that effectively plays out like a series of escape room challenges. Finding itself trapped inside successive model lighthouses one day, the puppet must make its way to the beacon and light it in order to save a fisherman at sea in a storm. This simple premise sets up clever puzzles based on perspective.
Players regularly have to use objects found in the puppet's room that they find themselves in, or in the replica model-size room that they both overlook and inhabit, sometimes transferring items between the two. Reach into the model, and a giant version of you reaches into your room. The effect is akin to playing with Russian nesting dolls or losing oneself in an Escher illustration.
The scenarios present unique challenges that are both unusual and entertaining. Objects will need to be opened/closed, lifted/placed, or fetched for strange but endearing companions. Scale and perspective can shift in the process. The design of each area, which is beautifully rendered in a kind of storybook fashion that captures childlike wonder and a seafaring life at the same time, facilitates experimentation and problem solving.
Explaining the puzzles in any greater detail risks spoiling the central gameplay hook and the joy of discovery that helps make A Fisherman's Tale such an engaging experience. The puzzles in general are well designed to take advantage of the medium without being too demanding, though I did find the final puzzle a little frustrating in relation to its execution as opposed to its design.
But this could be related to my own skill or even the ingenuity of incorporating multiple perspectives in puzzle design. The game took me only 2-1/2 hours to complete but that time was spent enthralled by the distinct puzzle challenges and the fairy tale context. The bizarre gameplay was set up by appropriately surreal story elements that remind of Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid while crafting its own appealing tale.
InnerspaceVR in fact has crafted an entertaining fairy tale in its own right. The story is enchanting, dialog and voice actors inject personality and humor into charming characters, the score is lyrical and appropriately whimsical, settings are beautiful and dynamic, animation is fluid and responsive, and the core gameplay is clever and intuitive, taking full advantage of the virtual reality platform.
A Fisherman's Tale is both a delightful narrative and a captivating interactive journey that is a rare combination in a video game let alone a virtual reality experience. The short playtime is nonetheless rewarding and well worth $14.99. For the price of a movie, players get an immersive VR adventure that will transport them to an engrossing storybook world that's a thrill to visit.
(This post was based on a review code of A Fisherman's Tale for Oculus Quest. The virtual reality game released November 27 on that platform, and is also available on PlayStation 4 and Steam.)
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