Hooked On: Creatures of the Deep

Fishing is rubbish. You spend hours slumped on a riverbank with only your dad and/or a tin of maggots for company. If it rains, you're a good 20 minutes away from your car's dry interior if you pack everything up properly (which you have to). And worst of all, you end up rarely catching any fish.

Like we said: rubbish.

But hang on, fishing is brilliant. You get to jet around Costa Rica and Thailand. Winning tournaments brings you global renown. And if you're really lucky, you might catch a great big shark, or the Loch Ness monster.

Like we said: brilliant.

Contradictory? Nope. Real-world fishing is, indeed, pants, but playing Creatures of the Deep on N-Gage is excellent. Not just because you don't have to wait hours for a sniff at a fish, but because it's done the seemingly impossible and grafted a role-playing game mechanic onto a fishing experience to create something new and wonderful.

We'll explain. You start with a boat and a basic fishing rod but everything you catch earns you experience points, just like an RPG. Once you get a certain amount, you level up, just like an RPG. You can also buy and earn new items along the way to help, just like an RPG. And you regularly come face to face with giant dragons and axe-happy orcs, just like… Fair enough, that last one doesn't happen here.

But it's Creatures of the Deep's RPG-like aspects that make it stand out. You'll start by catching relative tiddlers, but the quest for experience will soon lead you into deeper waters looking for bigger and more valuable fish.

The actual fishing part is simple: hit '5' to cast using a simple power bar, and then '5' again to reel in your line until you snag something. Then, it's just a case of holding the key down to pull it in, while letting go if your line is in danger of snapping. There are many dozens of different fish to catch, along with less useful items, too (discarded lifejacket, anyone?).

As your skill level increases, you can get new stuff from the in-game shop – rods, lines, reels and bait. Meanwhile, every so often you get the chance to enter a tournament, which sets a challenge – catch certain types of fish – in a time limit. As your experience points mount, you also unlock useful tips on the Costa Rica location you start off in, guiding you to the best spots.

There's more RPG influence floating about. For instance, every so often you can go on a quest for a local, which usually involves catching a specific item or fish and bringing it back to them, earning experience points or special items as a reward (a depth tool, say, or an implement to cut your line when you realise you're reeling in a dud).

The fishing is fast-paced, but the game takes its time to unfold. As an indication, we were playing for several hours before getting those special items, while the ability to move locations – to Loch Ness and Thailand – takes even longer.

The downside of this approach is that there were a couple of points where the game felt like it was grinding a bit – with too long a gap in between level-ups. The upside is it holds your interest, presenting a new challenge when you do move up and start hunting for Nessie.

Even in a review rapidly approaching its wordcount limit, we've only scratched the surface of this game's charms. The graphics are excellent, with the fixed view from your boat allowing some sumptuous scenery – particularly the sunsets. It also showcases the N-Gage's landscape gaming mode, not least because you can use the soft-keys above your N81's screen to play, clutching the phone like a mini PSP.

Then there's the N-Gage Arena aspect, with online rankings covering your experience points, total fish weight caught and tournament points. The game itself keeps track of a comprehensive range of statistics, as well as a photo diary of your big catches, and a bestiary of the fish you've landed.

Despite our enthusiasm, we'll readily admit Creatures of the Deep is something of a niche title, which may well not appeal to gamers craving more console-like action on their handsets. However, it deserves to sell well, undoubtedly for the craft and detail that's gone into its development, but also for the way it brings those collecting and connected dynamics to the basic fishing action, with remarkably addictive results.

It hasn't persuaded us that real-world fishing is anything other than rubbish, but when its virtual counterpart is this brilliant why would you ever venture outside? With Nokia's offering of a free trial demo and one-day pass for all N-Gage games means you've no excuse not to give it a try. If you're anything like us, it'll absolutely reel you in.

Hooked On: Creatures of the Deep

Simplicity reigns in the core fishing part, but wrapped around it is a glorious amount of depth with both excellent offline and online elements