Rule with an Iron Fish Review: A Lazy Fishing Afternoon
Rule with an Iron Fish is a casual comedy-fishing game from developer Kestrel Games that was recently ported to PC from it's original fishing hole on iOS and Android devices. Making the jump from mobile devices to PC can be a treacherous one, and not every game manages to make it out of this process unschathed -- with a lot of them seeming like nothing more than games with mobile depth asking for PC prices.
Does Rule with an Iron Fish escape this pothole and deliver a positive experience worth the new $10 price tag? Well, for the most part, yes.
Sit right back and you'll hear a tale...
Rule with an Iron Fish is the story of the eponymous pirate captain Ironfish (whose first name in my case was "Rulewithanne"), who loses his sister and ship to a massive storm and even more massive kraken. You must then build up a fortune through fishing and assisting a small growing community of pirates to eventually find and rescue her. It's a simple plot that really only exists to establish the setting and gameplay, but it does so fine enough.
The bulk of the gameplay in Rule with an Iron Fish -- as one might reasonably guess -- is fishing. Using a variety of seafaring tools you must visit a collection of different fishing spots and catch a variety of fish, all of which you catch by waiting for a colored circle to shrink until it's inside of a white ring and turns green, which varies in size and timing from fish to fish. As you fish more and more you gradually gain money that you can use to buy upgrades to your fishing equipment, such as better bait, hooks, bobs, and fisherman-enhancing cooking supplements in order to make your work easier and more profitable.
Fish and chips -- But mostly chips.
The presentation in Rule with an Iron Fish is, while not very grand in scale, very pleasant. The hand-drawn characters and backgrounds all feel cohesive and consistent with one another, and culminate into an overall cutesy-yet-grounded aesthetic, making the world feel the slightest bit fantastical while also being pretty real. The added detail of all the fishing spots being cubic like looking into a tank from the outside is a nice touch too, and looks pretty fitting on mobile.
This is also helped along by the admittedly small but nonetheless catchy soundtrack, which is heavy with acoustic guitar and manages to capture both the moods of high-seas piracy and lazy fishing trips rather well.
The game also has a consistently comedic tone all throughout. Characters you meet have silly pirate names, nearly every fish is a fictional creature whose mere existence is a joke, and there's a general air of jaded sarcasm in the dialogue laid on just thick enough to be funny without becoming obnoxious. Even if you don't find the general tone to be all that funny, with so many jokes on display in it's run-time, the game is still bound to make you chuckle a few times, and make you smile plenty more.
The whole game is tied together by a mission hub where you can keep track of everything you've done and what there is left to be done. All of your quests -- both story and side -- are handled back at your headquarters in Buccaneer Bay, where you can talk to the cast of characters you gradually build up along the way, receive and turn in quests, admire your aquarium of random fish, proudly gaze upon your trophies and so on. All of these details in the hub alongside the other presentation elements come together to give Iron Fish a strong sense of personality without being too overbearing.
However, while all of these additions to the game are a lovely thing to have, they also point to the game's biggest fault, and that's the fact that most of these things don't actually change up the core gameplay. Sure, they add a sense of immersion and investment to the experience -- both of which are positive elements you often don't get to compliment a mobile game for -- but they don't change the actual fishing.
Somebody's poisoned the water hole.
The biggest problems that Rule with an Iron Fish suffers from are simplicity and repetition. While the gameplay can often be fun, and there's plenty of little things to keep track of and tweak your play-style as you go along, the core gameplay almost never changes. Aside from the odd quick-time event of pushing arrows in a certain direction, or a simple fishing duel against some sort of enemy, the gameplay never really goes far beyond clicking at the right time to win.
There are better hooks to buy and upgrade yourself with, and swapping between different bait based on the fish you're looking for and how much money you have adds something, as do the handful of recipes that temporarily boost certain stats while you're fishing. But the fishing gameplay itself never seriously evolves.
The only noteworthy change in gameplay takes the shape of the aforementioned fishing duels. From time to time you will engage in brief one-on-one skirmishes with another captain, where you must through objects at their fishing line to stop them from landing a big one, catch fish out of the air before they can, and occasionally stop smaller forces from attacking your ship.
These duels can be very fun, and do make you prioritize something other than a shrinking green circle in a ring, but there's still not much more depth to them than the normal fishing. Maybe something a little more action-oriented could have shaken up the relaxed attitude of the constant fishing and talking to people.
An average duel in Iron Fish. These little scraps are a nice change of pace to be sure, but a more varied change of pace would have been even more appreciated.
On top of this I'm dead certain that these sections are bugged. On more than one occasion I very clearly won a duel and filled up my bar before my opponent did -- but the game still told me I had lost, even when I was more than half a bar ahead of my opponent. Sometimes it would happen twice in a row when I would retry, which is extra fishy. It wasn't that irritating, seeing how the duels go by so fast and don't penalize you for failing, but it's still an issue I shouldn't have had to deal with. Hopefully this can be patched in the future.
Should we throw this one back? Nah, it's meaty enough.
Rule with an Iron Fish isn't a perfect game by any means, and I wouldn't really call it a great game either, but I would still say it's enjoyable enough to check out if you enjoy comedy games or are looking for something casual but still engaging. The purely basic gameplay may turn some people off, and you could be easily forgiven for wanting to play something more complex or deep, but that doesn't mean that Rule with an Iron Fish isn't worth playing.
There's plenty to find fault in but there's a lot to like too. The gameplay is simple, but still stimulating and rewarding enough to be fun most of the time, and the general charm of the writing and pleasant presentation do a good job at making you want to continue playing.
Even when I found myself reeling in the same fish for minutes at a time, more-or-less grinding for better items, there was something almost therapeutic about the whole thing. It's a good time, if somewhat grindy and repetitive, and best suited for when you just want something relaxing to mess around with for a while.
Rule with an Iron Fish is available now for PC on Steam as well as mobile devices. The price on mobile is lower than on PC, so whether or not you think the PC port is worth the extra cash depends on how much you enjoy this sort of casual simulation experience, and whether or not you want it at home or on the go, and both versions are perfectly acceptable.
If a sale happens any time soon and you're looking for a lazy afternoon, then bait your hook, cast you line out, and reel in Rule with an Iron Fish.