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Sayonara UmiharaKawase + (Vita) artwork

Sayonara UmiharaKawase + (Vita) review

"Sushi, anyone?"

I am never going to finish Sayonara UmiharaKawase +, the enhanced Vita port of last year's Yumi's Odd Odyssey.

That's not for lack of trying. I've reached most of the game's 60 stages, thanks to the map's many branching paths. I've died in them. A lot. Like, a lot. In the last stage I gave up on, I've died 43 times. I know this because the game is kind enough to keep track of your many failures and few successes. It would be easy to get frustrated with Sayonara UmiharaKawase + if it wasn't so much fun.

Sayonara UmiharaKawase + (Vita) image

The Umihara Kawase series has been around in Japan for more than 20 years, but the 3DS version of this game was the first to reach North America. (The Vita version contains a port of the original game, which is an especially nice bonus for Western players.) The game you might be most tempted to measure it against would be Capcom's classic Bionic Commando, but that doesn't quite do it justice. While both games feature a grappling hook as their central traversal mechanic, Bionic Commando is for tiny little babies, while this game about a girl and her fishing pole will separate the men from the boys.

The key difference is that the fishing line is more like a grappling hook on the end of a bungee cord. It can be sent out a reasonably long distance in eight directions, and can be used to swing or fling your character every which way. The physics allow for a lot of freedom, and the line is exceptionally elastic. Jump and hook onto the ceiling and you'll bounce up and down as you hang. Attach it to the floor and back up a bit before quickly reeling it in to send yourself flying forward like a slingshot. Jump towards a platform and catch the edge to swing under it before jerking on the line to send yourself back, up, and around so that you land safely on top of it.

Sayonara UmiharaKawase + (Vita) image

It takes some getting used to, but once they click, these physics are incredibly fun and stylish. Speedruns of Umihara Kawase games are a sight to behold. There's usually an obvious path through every level, but with just the right spin, you can fly through the air, around obstacles and corners, to reach the end in seconds. That's easier said than done, of course. There are plenty of enemies, pits, and spikes to avoid. It's easy to completely lose control of your trajectory, or miss the next target for your fishing rod, and land in the sea.

There are enemies around, in the form of giant fish that you can catch and reel in with your fishing rod. This is mostly a game about movement, though, which makes the few existing bosses all the more annoying. They are few and far between, but the bosses in this game feel unnecessary and, unlike the ultra-difficult platforming, they're not much fun at all. The series staple tadpole boss, especially, is an exercise in pattern recognition more than anything else. Maybe someday game designers will learn that their movement-focused games don't need combat (I'm looking your way, Mirror's Edge).

Sayonara UmiharaKawase + (Vita) image

Bosses aside, the game remains fun, even when you're drowning a lot, but a few little tweaks to make it easier wouldn't ruin the experience. Only specific playable characters can use checkpoints, for example, and each checkpoint can only be used once. You'll re-spawn at your last checkpoint when you die, but if you die a second time, you'll have to restart the whole stage. Just letting you restart from checkpoints as much as you need to wouldn't ruin things for more skilled players. The mark of a good player is a low clear time, and someone who doesn't die at all is going to outshine someone who dies and uses checkpoints, no matter how many times they have to restart. It also doesn't seem necessary to send the player back to the world map when they die. In some stages, which are tough right from the start, you might spend more time entering and re-entering the level than actually playing through it.

Some gamers hate to fail, and those people should probably stay far away from this whole series. If you enjoy a challenging platformer with lots of freedom to experiment, though, you should be playing Sayonara UmiharaKawase +.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 03, 2015)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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