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Dredge Reels in A Delightfully Creepy Fishing Adventure

Dredge will keep you hooked.




Dredge Review

Developer: Black Salt Games | Publisher: Team17 | Genre: Adventure
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS5
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Do you dream of hitting the vast open sea and reeling in big fish? But then does that dream transmogrify into the swirling mist of an unsettling nightmare of cosmic horrors pulling you into the slavering maw of the endless sea? But you’re still having fun? If so, Dredge is the Lovecraftian fishing simulator your unconscious has been screaming for. 

Dredge is what is advertised on the box: a fishing simulator with horror elements. And when it comes to unpacking the experience, Dredge does not hold your damp hand while you explore its murky depths. This lack of general guidance generally adds to the overall charm and sense of slight disorientation, though it occasionally annoys, but overall, Dredge comes highly recommended if that unlikely gaming combo appeals to your wandering mind.

Image: Black Salt Games

Into the Depths

In Dredge, you are a fisherman who has been mysteriously dropped onto the slimy dock of an appropriately creepy village in the middle of the sea. The foreboding lighthouse keeper warns of cryptic things, the sketchy mayor implies some weird stuff, and the gaunt old fishmonger is talking to whispering shadows. Normal seaside village stuff.

‘Lovecraftian’ is its own roiling ball of cultural reference, but developer Black Salt has truly nailed that reference without over-fishing their spot. Dredge is rich with a delightfully bleak atmosphere and crawling creep, but it never takes itself too seriously or its source too far.

You hit the seas and you fish, which is how you spend most of your game. And outside all of the creeping horror, simply fishing can prove downright relaxing and fun. Other ports are places you pop into to upgrade, talk to variously creepy or creeped-out locals, and sleep off your requisite dementia. The bulk of exploration is at sea, where it and you belong. 

Image: Black Salt Games

Creeping Horrors and Fishy Friends

You hit the choppy waters in your rickety boat, find a frothy spot, and drop a line. The fishing mini-game at the heart of your bleak journey involves timed button presses along a spinning wheel that mimics your reel, which varies based on the fish species. It’s effective, engaging, and fun, and you’ll want to catch them all (especially their horrifying aberrations). In the rich pantheon of fishing sims, it lands as slightly more complicated than fishing in Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, but you needn’t ever have held a rod in your hand to grab hold of the tactics.

Image: Black Salt Games

The game works on a clock where a day at sea passes by in about five or six minutes, from dawn until evening. But when evening hits, that’s when the needle scratches and stuff gets extra weird. Stay out too late, and a frantic eye appears near your compass, misty shapes reach out for you, rocks careen out of nowhere, stuff slithers onto your deck, red-eyed crows come at you – again, just normal fisherman stuff. Do you stay late for that extra spooky fish, or do you rush to the dock and sleep it off?

Layered on top of this risk and reward loop is a very satisfying series of skill trees for upgrading your rod, engine, nets, hull, and so forth. You sell fish for this, but you also have to find the right upgrade parts at sea, where the game’s title creeps on board.

Image: Black Salt Games

Dive Deep

Some fishing spots are set aside for the eponymous act of dredging. As you dredge, you find materials for upgrades as well as trinkets to sell or that complete quests. In a brilliant inversion, dredging is the same fishing mini-game but visually flipped. Where you’re generally trying to hit little green marks on a wheel as you fish, you’re trying to avoid dark marks as you dredge, which kind of messes with your head. And when you mess up dredging, time passes extremely quickly. Again, risk and reward, and tonally perfect.

Special note must be given to the also-perfect little inventory system that holds it all together. Harkening straight out of Resident Evil 4, you have to properly Tetris together all of your fish, rods, and other engaging detritus onto a grid that resembles your deck. This creates a delicious feedback loop of always wanting to expand your storage, and it just feels right.

Image: Black Salt Games

A Quest for The Willing

This is all set against an expected array of side quests – find this spooky necklace, find this creepy fish, or most importantly, find a home for this very good dog – that sort of thing. Pushing you forward more broadly is a larger quest to recover sunken relics for a mysterious and shady man with a spooky and powerful book. Each relic is tied to a corner of the map that has its own harrowing and monster-laden sub-quest. And with each relic you return, you’re granted another double-edged power-up, like haste (which quickens your boat, but at the potential cost to your boat and/or sanity).

All through the journey, the presentation is excellent – the world is a stylized mix of moody mists and luscious sunrises, and it runs beautifully on the Switch. The thoughtfully mercurial music and constantly creaky trees are jump-scare super-spooky, the salty writing nails it, and the systems just plain work.

Each area of the map you’re pointed to for a recovery mission has its own “biome” feel that you’ll be equal parts excited and creeped-out to explore, from jungle-y to mountain-y. Deeper still, each area has a new requisite set of rods and tools you’re aiming for to maximize your catch-of-the-day. Just steer clear of that particularly large shadow lurking beneath the mountain bay.

Image: Black Salt Games

A Fetid Odor Beckons

Dredge comes recommended, but the one complaint is tied to its inherent inscrutability. As mentioned, there are some opaque moments, and little is over-explained. At best, this adds to the delicious sense of anxiety and existential despair.

Fish spawn in certain places consistently, which can be helpful. But fairly often, a quest requires a very specific fish to be caught, and you just have no real way to find it. There are some context clues, but sometimes you’re just stuck for an hour because you didn’t find that very particular spot or aren’t exactly sure what combo of equipment to try.

In other moments, you’re unsure if you should be pursuing an upgrade or hitting the sea. The push and pull of how far you can go into the night is unclear and sometimes unhelpfully so. It can all get a little frustrating. A somewhat wiser NPC or two and the ability to mark up your map a bit more would go a long way.

Image: Black Salt Games

A Cloak To Be Worn

Outside of that minor complaint, Dredge is a wonderful game and a great time that’s beautifully presented–the only other complaint is that you’ll want more. Black Salt is a small team, and they’ve crafted something unique here, and it absolutely deserves a look from all you salty dark souls.

If you are snugly occupied in that Venn diagram (that resembles a pentagram), which includes a love of fishing simulation and cosmic horror (a Venn diagram that hangs like an ancient cloak over this author’s head), get ready to fish and go get Dredge


A copy of Dredge for the Switch was provided to Goomba Stomp for review purposes. All photos were taken from the author’s gameplay.

Marty Allen is an artist, writer, and creative producer who lives in Brooklyn. Marty loves to write about video games, pop culture, and all sorts of things. He's written a pile of books and made a bunch of art and songs, but mostly he just plays Animal Crossing and eats watermelon.

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