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Reality Bytes: Another Fisherman's Tale brings a whole new approach to its mind-bending puzzles

Catch of the day

Picking up a tiny model fisherman on a model boat in Another Fisherman's Tale
Image credit: Vertigo Games

Thrilling as it may be to swing a lightsaber or shoot a headcrab in stereoscopic 3D, the VR experiences I crave most are those which use the tech to fold my brain into entirely new shapes. 2019's A Fisherman's Tale was one of those. An unassuming first-person puzzler about a puppet fisherman living in a lighthouse, it dazzled with its incredible deployment of VR's unique sense of perspective and scale. It's the kind of game that, if it featured a psychotic AI and some cake memes instead of a beard in a yellow anorak, would have been heralded as a revolution in play.

It would have been easy to follow-up A Fisherman's Tale in the same way, make a bigger game with a few new gimmicks and a comedy lobster voiced by Stephen Merchant. But that isn't what developer InnerspaceVR has done. Instead, Another Fisherman's Tale bends your neural pathways in entirely new forms, offering a completely different kind of puzzling. The results are equally innovative and almost as interactively satisfying - although a lack of refinement in the latter category is a deflating puncture in the game's dinghy.

Being both a fisherman and a puppet is only possible in VRWatch on YouTube

The tale Another Fisherman's Tale spins sees its eponymous angler searching for Libertalia, the fabled pirate colony and "Land of True Freedom", which makes it sound like Telegram for people with scurvy. But alas! His rickety vessel is dashed upon the rocks, and our noble fisherman (who does precious little fishing in either game, incidentally) is marooned upon a desert island, and must pull himself together to survive.

That last point is meant quite literally. Unlike the first game, which framed its puzzles around a captivating Russian doll effect that involved manipulating the same model lighthouse at vastly different scales, Another Fisherman's Tale is all about dismemberment. I don't mean the Doom Eternal style of dismemberment, with all the blood and screaming; Another Fisherman's Tale has more of an Inspector Gadget vibe. For example, by pressing the triggers on your controller, your Fisherman can casually pop off both his hands. These proceed to scuttle along the ground like Thing from the Addams Family, and you can guide them using the thumb-sticks of your controllers.

And that's only the beginning. By pressing down the B and X buttons on your controllers, your Fisherman will hunch his shoulders, clench his neck muscles (or whatever animate wooden puppets have instead of muscles) and shoot his own head several feet into the air. Given this happens from a first-person perspective, doing this for the first time is quite astonishing, especially when you swivel your disembodied head around to see your headless (and possibly handless) body, which remains under your control at all times. Watching my own avatar like this is how discovered that I skulk around in VR like a velociraptor with back problems.

Piloting your puppet hand around a room you can't reach in Another Fisherman's Tale
Image credit: Vertigo Games

You use these oddball abilities to solve a variety of spatial puzzles. A simple example might see you shoot a hand through a shack window to unlock the door from the inside, but they quickly evolve into more elaborate contrivances. One of my favourite puzzles appears in the game's second chapter, and sees you navigate one of your hands through a ship's thrumming engine. Here, you must follow your hand around the outside of the mechanical maze to keep track of it, use the engine's pistons as elevator platforms, and even fire your head into the top of the machine to complete the final sequence. It's a wonderfully cartoonish contraption. All it needs is Raymond Scott's Powerhouse playing in the background to complete the effect.

Like Portal, A Fisherman's Tale's puzzles are more imaginative than they are complex. Some extra depth is added through different types of attachable hand, including a crab's claw for snipping ropes and a pirate's hook for climbing. Nonetheless, you're unlikely be stymied for any length of time. The fun is undermined by the controls, however. Constantly alternating between first and third person is always going to be a little confusing, but the problem is compounded by an overly sensitive snap-turn that seems to spin your character around at random, alongside strict limitations on where your head can "look" when fired onto designated observation points. Remote controlling your hands becomes especially painful in the game's third chapter, which takes place largely underwater. Consequentely, your hand goes from scuttling on a 2D plane to swimming in a 3D space, which is like piloting a model plane through a vat of treacle.

An unsettling underwater scene in Another Fisherman's Tale that appears to show many different fisherman puppets of different sizes
Image credit: Vertigo Games
Using a robot claw hand to pilot a crane in Another Fisherman's Tale
Attaching a crab pincer to your puppet hand in Another Fisherman's Tale
Image credit: Vertigo Games

These irksome control issues make some of the puzzles less fun than they should be. Fortunately, detachable appendages aren't the only lure in the game's tacklebox. Another Fisherman's Tale frequently recalls the grand sense of scale froms the first game. This is less mechanically oriented than before, although certain puzzles, such as one where you operate a massive crane with the movements of your own hand, could easily have fit into that original experience. More often than not, though these moments are narrative-driven. Looming above your whimsical seaborne adventure is a melancholy meta-tale that I won't spoil in detail, but it plays with the "real-life" locations where your puppet's model dioramas are really kept. As you explore, you'll occasionally see these areas from the fisherman's perspective, with stacked shelves and home furnishings visible in the distance like mountains.

On this point, it's worth noting that the storytelling of Another Fisherman's Tale substantially improves over the first game. It's less vague in its characterisations, and while both games have an emotional heart at their centre, the sequel is much better at communicating it. The writing and voice-acting remain generally decent, although the sheer number of hand puns in the script is borderline even for me.

Like the game that preceded it, Another Fisherman's Tale isn't the longest adventure, clocking in at 3-5 hours depending on how good you are at indirectly controlling your own hands. But what it lacks in scope it makes up for in sheer imagination. These games wouldn't work on a flatscreen, which is exactly what VR games should be doing. Couple that with a story that's lighthearted without being weightless, a pace that's relaxing without being dull, and a visual style that's pleasant without being saccharine, and you've got a catch that'll make for a darn fine supper.

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