In the 16-bit age, it was common for games to get a Japanese release then never see the light of day elsewhere, much to us Westerners’ chagrin. Thankfully, those days are–for the most part–over. One game series that may have gone under the radar of all but the most well-informed gamers is Umihara Kawase, originally given popularity in the west due to being featured in an episode of GameCenter CX, a Japanese television show featuring retro gaming challenges. Perhaps its cult following online could in part account for the newest offering, Sayonara Umihara Kawase+ on the Vita, getting a world wide release.
At its heart Sayonara Umihara Kawase+ is an unforgiving platformer with a heavy focus on exploration. Most of the game is inaccessible to you unless you have the skill to explore outside of the obvious path the levels want you to take. In fact, it could be quite easy to mistake the game for being short if you didn’t explore enough, mostly due to the credits rolling after you defeat the first boss; a feat that can be managed in just a few hours.
Even giant rubber ducks play some part in this strange tale.
The story is practically non-existent, something you would expect from a game with one foot in the 16-bit era. The main character Yumi is a 20 year old girl armed with a pink rucksack and a fishing lure on a rope. Yumi, in an attempt to collect the most delicious sushi ingredients, is unfortunately trapped in a world of monstrous fish mutants and she must use her wits, jumping skills and her fishing lure in order to make her way to mysterious doors that lead from one level to another.
While simple in premise, the gameplay itself is far from simple in practice. The game takes a lot of skill and training in order for you to become proficient enough to progress. The main element of the gameplay is the rope physics you need to use to travel through the levels. Yumi’s lure can be thrown into walls, floors and ceiling; this all works quite intuitively once you get used to it and before too long you’ll be swinging your way through the main path of all the levels. More advanced players will find secrets dotted around the levels, unlocking goodies such as new characters or music and access to harder levels that open up the true length and depth of the game.
Multiple characters means you can be mauled by a giant crab as a multitude of young Japanese girls.
With such tricky platforming an intuitive, accurate control scheme is a must, and Sayonara Umihara Kawase+ delivers on this front. The lure can be easily fired both on the ground and in mid air by using the circle button combined with a direction, with the shoulder buttons used to make it easier to pull off those diagonal shots. When hanging from the rope attached to the lure you can swing, release and then shoot your lure out once more to reach platforms you wouldn’t be able to reach by jumping alone. Given time, patience and luck you’ll find yourself reaching the most devilishly hidden secrets before too long.
Visually Sayonara Umihara Kawase+ paints a dreamlike world full of bright but bizarre creations; desks, road signs, sake bottles, tanuki statues and more litter the brightly coloured disconnected platforms that make up the levels. Populating these strange, unreal levels are equally strange enemies in the form of mutated fish. These include koi with legs, enormous puffer fish, electric eels that spit projectiles your way, tadpoles that somehow give birth to small frogs and more.
Overall, Sayonara Umihara Kawase+ is an excellent game, but if I had to say anything negative about it then it would have to be the repetitive music that plays throughout the levels. Also, some of the more challenging routes can require a bit too much luck, which can be a little frustrating. But these are minor issues, none of which significantly impact the experience.
The original Umihara Kawase pulls no punches.
All this being said, the game is not for the faint of heart, so if platforming isn’t your thing then this definitely won’t be your cup of tea. If you’re a glutton for punishment or have fond memories of the intensely difficult platformers of yesteryear then this is right up your alley. The inclusion of the original SNES version of Umihara Kawase is an added bonus makes the new game feels like a warmup, given the original’s much harder learning curve.
An exceptionally odd odyssey for Yumi on the Vita.