Already at risk of being criminally overlooked, Sayonara Umihara Kawase playfully bounded onto the Nintendo eShop with little fanfare.
The Umihara Kawase series was first conceived for the SNES some 20 years ago, although has never made it westward in that time despite successive releases on PlayStation, PSP and Nintendo DS. The advent of the Nintendo eShop has therefore changed history, allowing Agatsuma Entertainment the chance to localise the title and get it into the hands of an entirely new audience without the need to produce retail copies.
The core gameplay concept has changed little throughout the history of the series, placing players in control of a young girl who must run, jump and clamber her way through a dream-like world segmented into separate stages. That will already sound like other platformers that you’ve traipsed through, but it is the game’s fishing hook that will reel you in like no other.
With orchestrated precision you can cast the line and hook the lure to any surrounding surface, whether that be walls, ceilings or the odd human-legged fish that wander around, shortening and extending the line as you see fit. This introduces a stronger puzzle element to each stage beyond mere platforming, players having to carefully calculate precisely when to use the fishing hook and where to swing themselves toward. Your eventual goal is a door at the end of each stage, and this mechanic is responsive but undeniably punishing in untrained hands. That’s evident through the stage select screen noting how many times that you’ve failed as well as succeeded, and it goes without saying that it’ll take time to master.
A ‘Time Stop’ ability looks to ease this, letting you temporarily freeze time to line up your next hook, although some may feel that it disrupts the game’s flow. Concentrate your efforts and you’ll soon be catapulting yourself around like anyone’s business, your best Clear Time records being shared through online Ranking information. Backpacks hidden around each stage leverage additional challenge for those that wish to seek it, although they’re increasingly discovered in baffling locations.
If you’re ever flustered as to how to complete a stage you can turn to tutorials that demonstrate how each should be bested, and you can record replays of your own efforts for posterity or to show off your fishing hook prowess to friends. Multiple characters are available, whether that be young or adult Kawase Umihara, her childhood friend Emiko, and undercover time-travel policewoman Noko Yokoyama, although these fail to differentiate the experience.
It is in the aesthetics department that Sayonara Umihara Kawase lets itself down significantly, belying not only the premium price tag but the solidarity of the game’s design. You’ll take delight in the wacky world around you and the chirpy soundtrack, but there’s a lack of effort in the environments and accompanying stereoscopic 3D effect.
Still, taken as a whole, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is platforming perfection, and genre fans will be gratified in finding a deceptive level of challenge to put their skills to the test considering the game’s cutesy exterior.