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VR puzzler A Fisherman’s Tale doesn’t live up to a brilliant premise

I’m not a puppet. I’m… three puppets, apparently. The first—the one whose eyes I can see through—has built a miniature replica of the lighthouse he lives in, complete with the orange shell he polishes every day, the rocking chair he falls asleep in every night, and a small version of himself that copies his every move. When I peer down into the tiny model, I see a mini me leaning over another, even tinier version of the room, and when I look up I see a wooden giant towering above, mirroring my actions.

Naturally, I spend the next five minutes waving at myself. I throw plates at myself, and drop a fork into the model lighthouse, which makes a giant fork clatter against the sink in my own room. I see what happens if I try to skewer myself with a miniature poker, but VR puzzler A Fisherman’s Tale, available on some of the best VR headsets, doesn't allow for that level of freedom. It has talking crabs and puppets that brush their teeth every morning. It’s cute and fun to spend time in, as evidenced by how often I ignore its puzzles and simply muck around.  

But it’s not, as I hoped it would be, an absolute must-own. Some of the puzzles are clever, but they don’t get progressively trickier or cleverer in the way the best puzzle games manage. Its story isn’t given enough attention amid the puzzles, and A Fisherman's Tale fizzles out just as it's readying a big end-game reveal.

To solve the puzzles in A Fisherman’s Tale, you pass items back and forth between the three versions of yourself, changing the size of the objects to match your task. For example, in the first chapter you enlist the help of a talking crab, but he’ll only come out of his shell if you find him a hat and a life ring. The ones in your room are too big, so you have to dip into the model lighthouse to find miniatures. And when he gives you a key that’s too small to unlock the door ahead, you need to grab a bigger copy by working with the wooden giant (that’s you) overhead.

In my favourite section, you need to build a boat from pieces you hook with an anchor, which is attached to a machine that controls a bit like the claw in an arcade toy grabber. The boat bits are tiny and far away, and at first I thought it’d be impossible to have aim precise enough to snare one. But then I saw a huge hook in the corner of my eye and realised that the giant version of me was also fishing from above. I used his hook (which, of course, was also my hook) to aim, and eventually grabbed the pieces I needed. 

But while A Fisherman’s Tale keeps coming up with smart ideas, each of its five chapters feel like steps sideways rather than forwards. After an hour passed I was constantly wondering when it was going to combine all the tricks from previous puzzles in an unexpected way, or introduce a mechanic that changed my approach to its puzzles. That never happened. It just leapt from one puzzle to the next, each a variation on a theme.

It’s also disarmingly short: I finished the whole thing in less than two hours, and the final chapter took me all of ten minutes. Short games are fine if that’s how long it takes to fully explore an idea, but A Fisherman’s Tale didn't. It needed a few more hours to dig into the potential of its intriguing premise with more complex puzzles. 

It also needed more time to flesh out its story. Just like the lighthouse you’re in, the narrative bends back on itself, and you’ll see most scenes twice—the second time from a different angle. You’ll watch a ship in a storm from above, for example, and then later you’ll be at the wheel, steering it through the waves. I like that the change in perspective isn’t always obvious, and it usually took me a while to realise I’d watched a scene play out before, at which point I knew where to look for the best view.

But the shifting viewpoints never revealed extra details about what was happening, which felt like a missed opportunity (why not put some key information inside the cabin of the ship in the storm, for example?). By doubling up every scene the story essentially unravels half as fast, and not enough happened to make me care about why I was a puppet trapped in an ever-changing model, which made the final twist feel underwhelming. 

In the end, I simply wanted more depth. More puzzles, more story, more locations to poke around in. In part, that’s a mark of just how good A Fisherman’s Tale’s central idea is, but this feels like a first pass at turning that idea into a puzzle game, rather than something that builds on it and contorts it into something that could constantly surprise me.