Growing up, I was the lone kid on family vacations to a rented cottage that wasn’t all that into fishing. The after-dinner ritual was fun once or twice, but by Day 3, I was ready to chill with my GameBoy, Mario Brothers, and Pokémon Blue.
Dredge is about much more than the simple act of fishing, it’s far more exciting in my mind. This fishing, exploration, and mini-RPG lays an atmospheric trail of breadcrumbs I couldn’t help but follow. Sure, I was catching fish for hours and hours, but it was the larger, darker, and far more interesting world I was dredging up that had me….hooked (each and every pun intended).
Dredge Up The Past
As an unnamed, unknown, lone-wolf, silent protagonist fisherman, you find yourself looking for a new boat and supplies after crashing yours into the rocky edges of a town called Greater Marrow. The Mayor is nice enough to lend a helping hand with a new boat. All he asks in return is that you pay off the cost of the boat and provide some of your fresh fish to the townspeople. Done deal you say! Within moments of beginning Dredge, you’re out on the open, uncharted seas.
It’s a simple enough setup that also provides a ton of opportunities to explore, fish, and dredge at your own pace. Dredge is technically a fishing game, but the mechanics around how you fish, what you’re fishing and dredging (pulling up items or debris), and why are what make this game something worth playing.
Without giving away key plot points, the game will take you on a number of adventures across a sprawling map of open waters and winding rivers. Along the way, you’ll meet people who need a helping hand with underwater research, or sometimes just being transported from A to B. One individual, in particular, has a dark and mysterious presence you can’t help but explore further.
What really drew me in as I sunk hour after hour into Dredge, was some of the horror and thriller elements that swirl above and below the waters. Whether I was dropping my line hoping for my next big catch, or simply traveling from one island to another, there’s more than just fish and water moving about.
Dropping A Line Or Two
Dredge has a core mechanic of driving over unsettled waters, dropping a fishing line, and playing a brief mini-game to bring up your catch. Once you press “fish,” you immediately get a bite. It was nice to know that if I wanted to search underwater for an extra catch or two before the sun goes down, it’s a simple press of a button and a fun but simple time-based mini-game. There’s no waiting around for a nibble or bite like many other games have adopted.
Another major component is managing space in your boat’s hull; essentially inventory management. Normally, this would bug the hell out of me (ahem… most Resident Evil titles) but here it felt like it fit the bill, it made sense within the world, and sometimes it was, dare I say, fun! The hull is split into square spaces and can be upgraded, fitting larger rods, engines, and overhead lights that will all help in throughout the game.
Money is earned by selling fish and some items you dredge up from shipwrecks. At first, I felt like I was struggling to make ends meet. But a few short hours later I was flush with cash and my attention turned to the far more interesting aspect of Dredge, the people, and the dark world I was exploring.
The story flows through all aspects of the game, even when you don’t know it’s there. Prime example: the fish themselves. There are over 100 types and variations of creatures you can catch in Dredge. Most are a simple version of real fish like sturgeons, or catfish for example. But every once and a while, a satisfyingly dark chime will play when you pull up what’s called an Aberration. These are creepy, horror-inspired variants of common species. They range from a fish with three heads, to one with a skeleton on the exterior, or even one called a Medusa Octopus that is described as having “eight snapping mouths” on each tentacle.
I didn’t know why these creatures existed or how they came to be, but it was one of many hints (again, I won’t spoil anything), I thoroughly enjoyed discovering. Dredge did a great job of letting me be the explorer, not holding my hand, but also guiding me in certain directions when needed.
Dredge also has a day-night cycle. To start, I will say that it’s far safer to avoid the darkness and what lurks when the sun goes down. This is where many of the aforementioned boat upgrades really can come in handy. They don’t make you indestructible, but they help a great deal. I enjoyed how the game handled the sun-up-sun-down differences and how I had to manage my time. The clock only moves forward when you’re doing a couple of different things like fishing, or driving the boat. But, it takes away the stress of time and a constant ticking clock because it will hold when you docked at a marina or manage your inventory for example. It’s a small touch, but one that went a long way in making my experience far more enjoyable.
As a fisherman, you can also become too tired and stressed out if you don’t take a break every once and a while. This comes in the form of a “rest” at a dock where you’ll also be selling your catches, buying new and better equipment, and upgrading your boat. These RPG-like elements add a lot of depth to a game that could have easily just been a “go out and drop a line” kind of game.
I haven’t spoken enough about the tone and the feel this game provides. It’s quite creepy. I wouldn’t say Dredge is a scary experience, but I am confident in saying it made me feel unsettled and tense, like a good big-screen thriller. The game is not striving for realism, but the mix of realistic water effects and physics, mixed with a more surreal set of characters and creatures; works incredibly well. The creatures’ designs and character models are all wonderfully realized through a largely hand-drawn aesthetic I absolutely loved.
The soundtrack and score are also excellent. It’s hard to set the right balance between bombastic crashes of music and a melancholic feel, but Dredge accomplishes that very task. On top of that, there are dozens of satisfying sound effects. The sound of the waves, rain, the reel, the “ping” that plays when catching a fish, and even the gross “squish” when shifting and placing a creature into a new location; it’s all excellent.
Dredge may seem simple and quiet on the surface, but below the water is a dark thriller filled with imaginative creatures and a story worth unraveling. It has a great sense of adventure and mechanics that all work incredibly well and never feels tired or boring.
No matter what heavy hitters come across my digital desk in 2023, this is a game I anticipate talking about at the end of the year. I enjoyed everything it had to offer from start to finish.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Switch