I’ve always collected games, but the intention of it and dedication took an upswing a couple of years ago. I can’t pretend to own many rare or complete in box games, but I have enough to cover at least the ‘best’ games of most mainstream consoles. My real joy is finding and playing hidden gems, games that for whatever reason got buried at launch and haven’t caused many ripples in history. Much of the time, for an European collector like me, games will often pass me by because of its region of release, the Umihara Kawase series being a prime example of this. I first heard of the series last year whilst someone was touting the DS release (import) being a true hidden gem of the series. The concept is appealing in its simplicity you’re a girl with a fishing rod, you need to use it as a bungee grappling hook to get to a door.
Umihara Kawase was a series started in 1994 on the Super Famicom, SNES for us PAL region heretics. Outside of Japan the series has had a muted release here and there. Clearly bringing this perfect pick up and play out digitally on the Vita is a canny move for raising awareness in European PAL and the US regions.
If you’re looking for a deep story here then you’re sadly going to be at a loss, to go with the little I have understood of the series so far the basic idea is there is a school girl, Umihara, who’s world gets invaded by fish and eels. She breaks out the natural enemy of fish, a rod. You must traverse floating platforms swinging with your bungee fishing line a la Bionic Commando. Using the D-pad you need to point need to aim where you’re going to fire your sticky fishing line and then swing like Tarzan over insta-death drops into water. Each level should be able to be completed in a minute or two. With a looming clock counting up and numerous reminders of your time a clear thrust of this game is improving yourself and your times on each level.
The original game in the series had a wonderful sprite based pixel art aesthetic, obviously limitations of the system, but 20 years later that design still would have done the game well. Graphically the game has gone 3D and although the colours are still bright and the design is surrealist nightmare it doesn’t quite sit right, especially after playing the original which is included in full in this package. One place this game does stand out is it’s wonderful soundtrack. Every track, which you can unlock through playing and finding hidden back packs, is perfect for the world and chilled enough that when you’re getting stressed through constant failure.
Sayonara Umihara Kawase +is a good game that harks back to a 16 bit age that many of us miss. Unfortunately many areas of that era of gaming have been brought kicking and screaming into this Vita version that really should have been kept as a product of the 90’s; namely the controls. This game will only accept input from the D-pad. When a game requires precision aiming and I can only use the directional pad as opposed to the analogue it can only be described as irksome and, in a game that is already difficult, it becomes an extra annoyance when needing to send out your swing line mid jump. When you inevitably fail, whether from falling in water or climbing a ladder into an enemy, as I often did, you’ll have to return to the level select before jumping back in. In this generation of consoles, and to maintain the game as pick up and play, this should have been Hotline Miami style instant re-start.
In precision platformers like Sayonara Umihara Kawase + the game is broken up into two emotions, the first is the players constant frustration at the midway point where difficulty jumps to a level that can only be described as cruel, the other half of the game is spent with an exaggerated sense of skill that comes from the satisfaction of pulling off the jumps and defeating particularly awkward enemies that patrol the levels. One particular level contained a giant fish that I had to dodge, after numerous attempts I just couldn’t work out where I was meant to be or how to pull off the level making it to the exit door. Thankfully the game offers a “here’s how to do it” option where you can see how a developer went about completing a stage. Little touches like that and the multiple branching paths of levels, if you find a secret door, all come together to make this feel like a solid fleshed out product. The inclusion of the entire original game is icing on a cake that’s already full of interesting ingredients. Sayonara Umihara Kawase + should be picked up by anyone looking to expand their gaming experiences into early 90’s Japanese games, this is a solid and fun, if frustrating, remastering of a hidden gem in gaming history.