Fishing Vacation is a retro Game-Boy-style game that answers an intriguing question: What happens when you cross the wholesomeness of a retro fishing game with the gothic horror of an abandoned cabin in the woods? Created by Teebowah Games with open-source GB Studio software and originally published on Itch.io in 2020 as part of a “fishing horror” game jam, Fishing Vacation is now available to a wider audience on Nintendo Switch.
April 20, 2022
In a short cinematic opening sequence, you learn that your friend’s uncle sent him a key to his cabin on the lake, where the uncle once lived with his wife and daughter before he got divorced. Your friend just quit his job, so the two of you drive out to the cabin for a relaxing three-day weekend of fishing.
The cabin is more than a little creepy. The refrigerator is filled with fish heads. There are odd stains on the walls. The floorboards occasionally emit a hollow creak, and there’s a triple padlock secures the cellar door. Still, you and your friend are determined to make the most of the long weekend.
Fishing Vacation mainly consists of four screens: the cabin, the backyard, a bit of bare earth where you dig up worms for bait, and a beautiful lake in the forest. As in RPG adventure games like Link’s Awakening and Final Fantasy Legend, you’re free to walk through the cabin and its yard while interacting with various objects that catch your attention. After a brief prologue that teaches you the simple fishing mechanics, you have three days to reconnect with your friend and test your skill against the denizens of the lake.
The cabin contains a journal in which your catches are logged with humorous text, but you’ll quickly learn that Fishing Vacation doesn’t take the concept of “fishing” too seriously. You’ll bring up everything from catfish to clownfish to sharks to sunfish, an incredible diversity of species the game declines to comment on. It’s also worth noting that Fishing Vacation isn’t overly concerned with the reflex-based triggers and button mashing common to many fishing minigames, so the player’s skill at casting and reeling have little impact on the story.
Instead, the goal of Fishing Vacation is to solve the mystery of what happened at this terrible cabin in the woods. The vibes start to get really spooky when your friend invites you to go night fishing on the evening of the second day. I highly recommend wearing headphones to get the full effect of the ambient noises during this sequence—there are no jumpscares, but the sounds of the forest at night (both natural and unnatural) are deliciously eerie.
Perhaps you, like your character’s friend, will start asking questions. Does the child’s sneaker that caught on your line during the prologue have a twin? Why are there so many worms in the bare patch of dirt behind the cabin? Why is the door to the cellar locked? And whatever happened to your friend’s uncle…?
What intrigued me about Fishing Vacation wasn’t necessarily its atmosphere of creeping horror, but rather how its story provides a critical perspective on the fantasy of “getting away from everything to live in nature.” During the prologue, your friend jokes about having quit his job, but there’s a sense of unease to his cheerfulness that’s later reflected in his nightmares. I imagine that many people harassed by the pressures of a prolonged economic recession have experienced similar anxieties. Perhaps many of us have entertained a similar fantasy of dropping everything to disappear into the woods as well.
Fishing Vacation initially seems to humor this fantasy, but it forces the player to confront the unpleasant consequences of cutting yourself away from other people in order to engage in self-indulgent and antisocial behavior. In the end, you may love nature, but does nature love you back?
Like many other retro horror games, a significant amount of the content in Fishing Vacation is locked behind the path to the true ending, which involves finding three keys to open the cellar door. I wasn’t able to trigger the appearance of the third key during my first playthrough, but multiple guides have been posted online if you’d like a few hints to help you explore everything the game has to offer. A single playthrough takes about half an hour, and I found each of the four endings to be delightfully gruesome and upsetting.
Fishing Vacation offers atmospheric horror complemented by ensnaringly simple gameplay, allowing you to immerse yourself in the warm water of retro nostalgia cut with a chilly undercurrent of murder. The game is available on Switch, Steam, and its native Itch.io at a bargain price, and I’d recommend it to any horror fan (or fishing game fan) interested in how retro aesthetics can enhance an unwholesome story about the good old days gone very, very bad.