In a sea of ad-based gaming, currencies upon currencies, and premium purchases, it's fun to find a game every so often that abandons that entirely. Sometimes, a game itself is a premium purchase, bestowing everything, from content to opportunities, with reckless abandon. It's a model that isn't exactly popular with each passing year, but one that still exists -- and the developers of Rule with an Iron Fish [$3.99] have executed it wonderfully.

Fish 1Let's set the record straight -- Rule with an Iron Fish isn't going to set the world on fire anytime soon. It's a fishing game, don't get it twisted. A relaxing, idyllic fishing game, sure, but it doesn't try to be much more than that. It's a big "if," but if that's what you're looking for, you'll find hours of entertainment, perfect for long binge sessions or short bus rides. Because where Rule with an Iron Fish really nails it is its delivery. Instead of just plopping players into a world and saying "go fish," there's an elaborate setup involved that encourages people to keep on no matter what.

After choosing between a male or female hero, you're shipwrecked on an island with a ragtag bunch of misfits, all with their own personalities and services. They're actually fun to talk to and don't feel merely like power-ups, or an excuse to sell you more things. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that you'll get attached or will remember every detail the next day after playing, they're engrossing enough. Most of them will provide you with quests, which are basically akin to challenges in other mobile games (capture [x] amount of fish, and so on). But they're done with just enough love where they don't feel tedious. That, and the game actually rewards you with substantial upgrades, new areas in the hub zone, and more aesthetic gear choices for finishing them. It's a perpetual cycle of positive reinforcement.

Fish 2

Sure it might feel repetitive to go to a new fishing hole every 30 minutes or so and work your way up to new equipment, but it's consistently enjoyable. Plus, the control scheme is very responsive, and it's easy enough to flick your rod into a specific area of the body of water to go for what you really want (which is especially useful for the flashing "rare" fish that pop up occasionally), or reconfigure your line to another zone with a few quick taps. That last bit is key, because I've played many fishing games that limit your movement. Since Rule with an Iron Fish isn't the most technical out there it's not even a requirement, and its inclusion is appreciated.

Things get a little more exciting once you start rescuing NPCs and bringing them back to the island with short combat sequences (in essence, fishing competitions where you sabotage a competitor's line), which in turn reap even more benefits. The upgrade process is extremely linear, in that you'll predictably earn a better fishing rod that can catch bigger fish, and so on, but again, the method in which all of this is distributed is easy going and well crafted. It's especially enthralling to pick up pieces for a new ship bit by bit, or uncover a unique item in a latent treasure chest.

Fish 3The writing has the tendency to be a bit on-the-nose and off-putting at times (there's such a thing as too much wit), but given the sheer size of the cast it's forgivable. Well, that, and the art style is adorable, complete with character models that actually stand out from one another and lush landscapes. The only real holdup is that despite the fact that there's no IAP at all in the game (and thus, no power-ups to buy or currency that's held back to invite players to spend money), it does get a tad grindy after the first few hours. Mid-game as it were can slow to a crawl, leaving players catching the same types of fish for too long, with sprinkles of progression.

Once I reached a goal and unlocked three more interesting quests though, and stood near my aquarium, admiring my catches, that feeling mostly faded away.  Yes, Rule with an Rule with an Iron Fish doesn't do anything wholly new in the fishing space, but it does just about everything right. Even after finishing my first quest I decided to make a new character and slowly go at it again. For a game that costs a few bucks and can be played anywhere, that's a pretty good barometer of success.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Anova

    Been playing this for a few days and loving it. It's about as close as you can get to "harvest moon fishing". The core game is fun, the quests are balanced well and there is tons of really fun dialogue and character development amongst all your crew. I've been surprised how many times the idle chatter changes every time I tour the island.

  • Tonk Montana

    Totally deserved 4 1/2 stars. One of my favourite games this year. Oozes with charm. Haven't enjoyed the characters in a game this much since hero emblem.

    • sickbigbrother

      Aww Hero Emblems. My absolute favorite iOS game ever - Best match 3/RPG hybrid, no iAPs, 20-30+ hours for a playthrough, tactical intelligent combat, a lot of extra stuff to do, etc. Just loved the game.

      Alas too many casual gamers thought the game was too hard. But that's what I loved about the game that you need to pay attention, apply certain tactics and don't get too much hand holding.

      So much hoping for a part 2 but devs said sales stayed under their expectations - And they installed a casual mode with an update so it seems a lot of gamers have issues with games where the difficulty is ramped up a bit (or you can't pay to win) - So I probably shouldn't get my hopes up.

      • forsakenxe

        I really do not want to start a long argument here, so I will leave it at this one comment, but your generalizations are really awful. I am very much so inclined to give a comment about non sense elitism of some gamers, but I am not going to so it. Maybe you should learn to take other perspectives into considerations.

        Although I totally agree that hero emblems was a really great match three experience especially for a premium game 🙂

        Also really glad that this game got a review, iPad version is in the works, maybe something that should be in the review. 🙂

      • sickbigbrother

        You can't really argue with the fact that the mobile market is mainly a casual game market. That's no generalization just a fact - Everybody has a smartphone so it's best for sales if a game is easily accesible and not too deep.

        There's a reason they put in a casual mode, I went through plenty of forums where people complained that the game is too hard. Sure you have to be patient with the game but once you get the hang of it it's a nice challenge. But nothing impossible. Seems the reason for the casual mode was that many people lacked this patience so I stand by my assessment.

      • cenn

        used to work with the dev for Hero Emblems, though not very close with them personally.

        they are definitely working on a sequel, as affirmed by a response on their facebook in March.
        just wanted to chime in to give a heads up on that.

      • mc355

        I agree with the assessment about Hero Emblem. Played it to death and been searching for another game that drew me in like it but haven't found anything even close. You must built a boat comes close but doesn't have Hero Emblem's charm.

    • Sterling Archer

      I LOVE Emblems, a ton, but I actually skip through the story because I just can't handle it. The writing for me is just so off.

      I loved Crashlands, Space Miner, even Momoka, but Emblems just didn't seem to click at all for me.

      Gameplay is great. It is harder than your average Match 3, but it's grindable so I'm fine with that. I do hate locks, those little rodentia suck.

  • sickbigbrother

    Really liked the game.

    One sidequest took me about two hours because the rare fish I needed 10 times didn't show up a lot. But the fishing mechanic is fun so that wasn't too tedious.

    The only thing that bothered me a bit though was that I already hit the max level cap (Level 15) after about 1/4 into the game. Took some of the motivation away.

    I still loved the game and played it through - And that's something I can't say about too much iOS games lately.

  • Qaioud

    Enjoyed the review, but really struggled with the game. It just seemed entirely... brainless? Skill-less?

    I played for somewhere over an hour (and fished out the first two islands). But... yeah. Didn't feel challenged at any point, or tempted to fire it back up again. It was just a bit like watching a passive screen, occasionally tapping an undemanding button, in order to progress to new bits of banal scripting.

    The dev seemed charming and responsive on the TA thread, though. Which stopped me commenting on a thread that, otherwise, surprised me with the enthusiasm of its reception.

    • kestrelgames

      hey Qaioud! sorry you weren't happy with the game (thanks for the support and civility though!). we're always open to suggestions and constructive feedback which could help with future projects, so please feel free to contact us over the forums, twitter, fb, email etc and let us know what you think might have helped 🙂

  • Nycteris

    I am looking for games I can play offline - does this fit the bill?

    • Nycteris

      Oh I guess he did say "play anywhere"

  • Repulsa

    Love this IAP free gem. A fine example of mobile done right

  • Dethedrus

    This is everything right and awesome about iOS gaming.

  • Doctor Malcom

    This definitely feels like a F2P game without IAP, which is actually kind of great.

    My only issue so far is the bait levels: the description makes it sound like it will make rare fish show up, but it seems like that isn't the case and it's really more about helping you snag rare fish that are already there.

  • mdemy8

    So far this has been a very good game that have enjoyed playing quite a bit more than I thought I would. The controls are food and I like the leveling of equipment. I have hit a wall with this game,i am at level 15 and can no longer earn XP. Also I have come to a portion in the game where I can no longer progress. Currently have the Lava stage open and all quest request are for levels that are not open with no clue on how to open them. Good game, but could use a little more direction on some things like pets and their function.

    • mdemy8

      The controls are food that would be great....good

    • kestrelgames

      hey mdemy, come drop us a line with more details about your being stuck on twitter or facebook @kestrelgames 🙂 (or on the forums) have you gotten components for all your ships?

      • mdemy8

        Have gotten all the components just not the plans for the ships. I skipped building one of the ship because I had the plans and components for the next better one. Do you have to build all ships to progress?

      • kestrelgames

        hey, you should have information in the quest log (the scroll) if you're in need of a ship 🙂 which ships do you currently have? (also, level 15 is the current max level so you're doing really well there).

Rule with an Iron Fish Reviewed by Chris Carter on . Rating: 4.5