Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#83 – The Black Bass

Bag and behold the biggest black bass believable!

The music is much better than I expected.

To Beat: Reach #1 ranking
To Complete: Reach #1 ranking and finish the season
My Goal: Be #1 on the final day of the season
What I Did: Met the goal
Played: 4/27/18 – 5/8/18
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: The Black Bass Final Tournament

I am not interested in fishing. At least as an adult. I fished a few times when I was a kid just because you’ll try lots of different things at that age. Dealing with the hooks, live bait, and the caught fish was all handled for me when I was young. Thinking of doing that now almost sends shivers up my spine. Just let me stay inside with my video games, please! Despite my attitude about it, fishing is still a very popular outdoor activity. If you consider it a sport, it may well be the most popular sport in the world. It’s no surprise then that there is an NES fishing game. If I have to go fishing, I’d much rather do it this way!

The Black Bass first released on the Famicom in October 1988. It was published by Hot-B and developed by Another Ltd. This is the same developer who made Championship Bowling. The NES release came to North America in September 1989. This game is actually a sequel and is known in Japan as The Black Bass 2. Japan’s original The Black Bass game first appeared on the MSX computer in 1986, followed by the Famicom release in 1987. The title screen of the NES version calls the game The Black Bass USA, which is how this game is sometimes referred to in Japan. There have been many games in The Black Bass series since these games, including the NES sequel The Blue Marlin.

The Black Bass is a fishing game with no story. Your task is to enjoy fishing for Black Bass in several tournaments. There is a ranking system that scores you on how well you performed during the tournament. If you do well enough, you can go to different lakes in later tournaments that have bigger fish to catch. The ultimate goal here is to achieve #1 ranking out of a pool of 200 contestants.

You better do what the man says.

There are twelve tournaments you will play in The Black Bass. The tournament season begins in June and ends in September, despite the manual claiming it ends at the end of October. Each month has three tournaments, always on the 5th, 15th, and 25th of each month. There is a clock system in the game denoting the start and end times of the tournament. Each one begins at 6:00am, but the ending time varies depending on the calendar date of the tournament. Early season and late season tournaments have shorter durations than the ones in the middle of the season.

After the title screen, you have some selections to make. First, you enter your name in. This is six characters long consisting of just A-Z. The cursor points to the first character and you have to scroll through the list of characters with Up and Down for each and every character. Press Left or Right to position the cursor to the next character and input that one from scratch. Press A to lock in your name choice. Now you have three more options. You can begin a new game as a new player. This puts you at Lake Amaya on June 5th for the first tournament. The other two options require a password. You can either continue a game mid-season, or just see your stats. Passwords are 16 characters long consisting of A-Z and 1-5, also with the long entry method. This system is tedious, for sure. Also, be careful of zero, O, and Q which look a lot alike. If you choose stats, you see a screen with your information and then you go right back to selecting another option. You have to put the entire password back in if you want to continue a game with the same password after checking stats, so it’s really not worth it.

Once you start a new game, first you see a screen from I guess the tournament director. This shows the lake you are on, the date, and duration of the tournament. The next screen has even more information. Again, you see the lake, date, and timeframe of the tournament. You also see your ranking, which begins at 200th place. Next is the weather conditions. I have seen Clear, Cloudy, Light Rain, and Heavy Rain. You also see the temperature outside and the depth of the lake. Next up is the map screen. This is an overhead view of the entire lake. A small blinking boat shows your current location. You can use the D-pad to move the boat around and choose where you want to start finishing. This screen also shows the current time. Press A to choose your location, and finally it is time to start fishing!

You can boat to whatever spot you want instantly.

The fishing mode starts with your character at the bottom of the screen. There is a white cursor that you can move with Left or Right. This is the direction of your cast. When you decide on the direction, press A to begin casting. This starts a power meter at the bottom of the screen that grows and shrinks. When it lines up with the power you want, press A again to cast out your line. The screen will scroll vertically a long way to keep up with your lure, but it does not scroll sideways. If you cast off the sides of the screen, you lose your lure and have to cast again with a different one. It’s best to shoot it straight up the center most of the time. You can also press and hold B while in the air to try and hit the brakes on your cast and stop it short.

Once your lure is in the water, you have a different set of controls to move it around. Press Left or Right to move the lure sideways. You can press Up to move the lure toward the surface of the water. Press and hold A to reel in your line. If you hold down both A and B at the same time, it will pull the line in all the way back to the boat automatically. This is useful if fish just aren’t coming or you get your line caught on something. The bottom of the screen shows how deep the lure is in the water, and this is also expressed by the same red bar used for casting. The idea of fishing is to move the lure around in such a way to make it attractive to fish, as if the lure is struggling. Sometimes a shadowy fish will appear from off screen and approach your lure. The fish can either bite or leave, and if he bites you try and catch it. If you’re like me, you probably won’t even hook a fish the first time, so we will come back to this later. You are done for now once you reel in your line all the way.

The menu screen should appear next, containing a bunch of different options. You can select the lure you want from a list on the Select Lure screen. Each one is named along with the number you have. Press Up or Down to select the lure, and press Left or Right to change the color between Red, Blue, and Silver. The quantity depends on color and lure type, and you don’t have every option at the start of the game. Choose the one you want and press A to select it. Some lures float on top of the water, and others sink. Each one has its own feel for how you move it around in the water, so feel free to experiment with different ones to find those you like.

By the end of the game, you can use any lure you want.

The next two screens are informational. Select Data For This Point to see the map of the lake. There is a message on the side of the screen that either says “Here is nice bass point” or “This point has little bass” depending on where you moved your boat. You want to fish only at those nice bass points, so you go to this screen to see if you are in a good spot for fishing. Press A to advance to the next screen. This shows the current time, current weather conditions, and the end time of today’s tournament. Press A again to go back to the menu screen. The Your Results So Far Today screen gives you exactly what it says. It shows three at a time the ten biggest fish you caught today, including the kind of fish, its weight, and which lure you used to catch it. The final screen displays the number of bass caught today and the average weight, plus the number of bass caught total and the average weight over all tournaments. Go back to the menu with A.

The final three options are Move, Casting, and End. Move brings you back to the map screen to reposition your boat to a new fishing spot. You go from that screen right back to fishing. Casting sends you back to fishing at your current location. End is used when you are completely done fishing for the day. Only use this option if you are sure you are satisfied with today’s catch or you don’t have enough time remaining to catch any more fish.

Now we are on to the good stuff. You’ve casted your line and attracted a nice fish that bit your lure. Now its time to try and reel it in. The bottom of the screen now shows a picture of a fish. This indicates the strength of the fish, and over time as you fight the picture changes to a more pathetic looking fish. This goes all the way down to an image of fish bones once you get the fish very tired. You also see the depth of the fish in both numeric form and red meter form. Press the A button to reel in your line. You can use the D-pad to try and pull the fish in a certain direction. The B button is for thumbing the line. This essentially acts as a brake by holding your thumb down against the line to keep it from moving. It helps if the fish is trying to swim away. If you decide not to try catching the fish, you can try pressing Select to let it go. This doesn’t always work and you only get one try to free the fish.

If it’s not a black bass, it’s not worth your time.

There are several scenarios where the fish can get away. While you are fighting the fish, you also have to manage the strength of your fishing line. There is a shrill ringing sound you hear whenever the line is close to breaking. You need the sound on while playing The Black Bass to tell since there’s no on-screen indicator. You can cool the line down by letting go of the buttons, but this also allows the fish to recover his strength too. You have to find your technique to manage both of those things so that you can successfully catch your fish. If you reel in too hard for too long, the line will break and you lose both your fish and your lure. This can also happen if the fish gets too far away from the boat or if it travels off the sides of the screen. At random, the bass can also leap out of the water. This can cause the fish to come off the line, either by taking the lure with it or letting it all go completely. Often enough the fish will stay attached and you can continue the fight. What happens seems to be completely random, so it’s not your fault if the fish gets away this way.

To catch the fish, you need to pull it down to the bottom center of the screen. You can do this by wearing out the fish completely so that it is easier to draw in, or sometimes you can catch a fish quickly by hooking it close to the boat. Once you get it all the way in you will see the fish go into a basket. Now you get a celebratory screen of your catch! The most important factor is the weight of the fish you just caught. You get to see the weight tick up from zero pounds and it’s exciting to see how high it goes whenever you reel in a big one. You see the time of day the fish was caught and how long it took you to bring it in. You also see the type and color of bait used. Then you go back to the menu screen.

The tournaments go on for quite some time, but eventually they all end. As soon as your reach the end time, fishing ends abruptly, even if you are in the middle of a fight. You can also choose to quit prematurely with the End option from the menu. This brings you to one more menu. Choosing Ceremony shows your end results from the day, including your new ranking. You also get your password for the next tournament. If you rank well enough, you advance to the next class and get a nice little ceremony to celebrate your accomplishment. If you don’t think you did well, you can choose to Go Back Home from the menu, sending you to the title screen. You can also view your results from today and your overall results from the season.

It’s big indeed!

The ranking is determined on how many bass caught, the biggest one you caught today, and the average weight. Other fish caught such as trout or pike do not factor into the ranking at all. The rank you can get also depends on which tournament class you participated. The starting class is Class C which is for participants ranked 101 through 200. Class B is for places 51 through 100, and Class A is for 1st place through 50th place. The top five in each class advance up to the next class, while the bottom five go down a class. It seems counterintuitive, but it is not a huge loss to go back down a class. Twelve tournaments are a lot, and you can rise up from 200th to 1st place in three tournaments if you are really good. Rankings are also based on the current tournament and are not driven on cumulative results over the entire season. When you advance to Class B, you compete at Japan Lake. At Class A, you alternate between Lake More and San Lake. The lakes at higher classes contain larger fish, so not only is the ranking standard higher, but the difficulty of landing heavier fish also increases.

The ending condition for The Black Bass is up for debate. The game does not end officially until all twelve tournaments are completed. Since the goal of the game is to get the top ranking, that is what I chose as the minimum for considering the game beaten. I don’t think it’s fair to say you beat the game by participating in all tournaments dead last. On the other hand, some say you need to both get 1st place and finish the season, since you don’t get a real ending if you don’t complete the season. My personal standard is to do both things, but I took it a step further and insisted on finishing the final tournament in 1st place.

This was my first time playing The Black Bass. I had no intention of playing this game until the very end of the project, since a long game of all fishing seemed very unappealing at the time of compiling my game list. I picked the game up in an eBay lot for a few bucks. The game falls in the middle of the pack in collectability as a semi-common game costing around $5-$10.

Now I have him right where I want him.

The Black Bass is a long game and I made it longer by not figuring things out right away. My first day of fishing was just figuring out how the game works on a basic level. I finished right where I started in 200th place. The next day I bumped up to 143rd place, but the following day I stepped back to 156th place. At this point I thought there was no way I would improve from here, so I started over. I failed to understand that rankings are only for the day of the tournament, and past days do not factor into it at all. The manual didn’t really explain it clearly, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect it to. The other thing I did was put in a special code listed in the manual to help out. If you input the name “HBMAX” the meters change. Cast out your line and the display where it normally shows the depth of the lure now displays a number of the desirability of the lure to fish. Now you can see if how you are moving the lure around is helping you out or not. You want to get the value at or above 6.0. Once you are fighting a fish, this number switches over to the tension of the line. Once it hits 10 you get the chiming sounds, at I think at 12 is when the line breaks. I think it’s useful to try it out once or twice to ensure your technique is solid.

I started completely over from here. My other sessions allowed me to find all the good bass spots and I was able to advance to Class B on my first try. The next day at Japan Lake did not go well and I got bumped back to Class C, but then I went on a winning streak. I won Class C, Class B, and both Class A tournaments, one at each lake, all in a row. That put me halfway through the season in first place. I wanted to speed my way through the other tournaments just because it was taking at least an hour to do each tournament. My goal was to see how few bass I could catch and yet do well enough to stay at Class A. I had a couple of failures, but I managed to finish most of the remaining tournaments in half the time it should have taken. I wanted to finish the last two tournaments both in 1st place to show off the final tournament in my gameplay video. In the penultimate tournament I thought I did well but ended up 6th. It took me three tries to get first place at the last tournament, mostly because it is the shortest tournament and therefore more restrictive in time to catch enough big fish. I think it was worth it to end up in first place at the end of the season. My biggest catch in my video was a 16-pounder, and my biggest overall was 18.1 pounds. I know there are 20+ pound bass in the game but I wasn’t fortunate enough to bag one.

Some of the bass spots have many obstacles.

Here are several tips if you want to play this game yourself. Each lake has five locations good for catching bass. You can check the Data for this Point screen to see if you are in one of those spots, but there’s a better way to check. All poor fishing spots are in empty, dark blue water. If you are fishing anywhere else, then it’s a good spot. I found the type and color of the lure really didn’t matter much. It may have some effect on either the visibility or desirability, but not much. The pencil bait is the most responsive bait to control so I used that one the most. I switched over to the plastic worm for the middle of the day because it seemed more helpful in getting fish to show up. You have to be able to tell roughly the size of the fish you want as it is approaching your lure so that you can back out quickly if it’s not one you want. My luring technique was a quick move left, a quick move right, a quick move up, and repeat. A good technique is to try and hook fish near your boat so that you don’t have to reel them in as far. You can also try landing a fish in front of a rock or something solid to give the fish a harder time to get away. To catch bigger fish, you need to wear them out. My philosophy is to always keep the fish moving. Thumb the line with B when they are moving away from you, and then start reeling once they stop moving. Ideally, you want the fish to be at least one notch below full strength before your line starts to fatigue with the warning chime. Then it’s a matter of managing your line while keeping the fish from straying too far away. It may take some time, and they can always jump and get away anyway, but eventually it will wear out all the way and then you can finish the job. Finally, try and release any fish if it’s either not a bass or too small. It might not always work, but it never hurts to try. It’s always successful to let a fish off during Class A tournaments.

The Black Bass was more fun than I expected. I would say the graphics are average, but the music is good and a lot better than I would have guessed. There’s a good variety in both lakes and prime fishing spots. The mechanics are sound and have some nuance, which makes it difficult to start playing but becomes more engaging later on. The biggest negative is that the gameplay can become very sluggish. Some lures are very slow to move and it takes a long button press for the lure to respond to your movements. This gets worse when a fish enters the screen. There doesn’t appear to be a lot going on and yet there is some significant slowdown. Your lure can get stuck in some environments and it is especially frustrating when a huge bass bites and you can’t move it at all. Password entry is tedious. The season is long, and the gameplay gets repetitive. I still don’t like fishing, however, even with the issues this is a fun fishing game.

The developer Another Ltd created the only NES bowling game, Championship Bowling, and here they made one of two fishing games on the console. I don’t know if working on one-off NES games like this was something that was planned or not. Championship Bowling is a solid bowling game, and The Black Bass is an equally solid fishing game.

#83 – The Black Bass (1st place)

#83 – The Black Bass

Posted In: Finished
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comment : 3
  1. Jay Blue

    That’s Helluva review for an 8 bit game. Thank you.

    Also I remember as a kid Black Bass and Kid Icarus were rare games. We would always try to find those but never could, before internet lol.

    Is this game not rare?

    • arnpoly

      Thank you for reading! I enjoy the deep dives into these old games.

      Neither The Black Bass or Kid Icarus are rare games, they just may not have been readily available in your area. I did have a Kid Icarus growing up but don’t remember seeing Black Bass at all.

  2. Peco de Guile

    I learnt something!

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