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Umihara Kawase (SNES) artwork

Umihara Kawase (SNES) review

"Every puzzle game I have ever played on the SNES has sucked. First there’s the standard billion and one mahjong clones the Japanese consume like so much Pocky. Then there’s your fifty different Tetris games, and digitized versions of the old standbys – picross, crosswords, things like that. You can look through almost every one of the 6,766 roms in the last released SNES romset, and you will not find one single puzzle game that does not totally blow. Then someone introduced me to Umihara Kawase,..."

Every puzzle game I have ever played on the SNES has sucked. First there’s the standard billion and one mahjong clones the Japanese consume like so much Pocky. Then there’s your fifty different Tetris games, and digitized versions of the old standbys – picross, crosswords, things like that. You can look through almost every one of the 6,766 roms in the last released SNES romset, and you will not find one single puzzle game that does not totally blow. Then someone introduced me to Umihara Kawase, which I was told was a non-shit SNES puzzle game. What I expected was something along the lines of Link to the Past. What I got was a bunch of horribly awkward controls and a game that bases itself entirely around a simple physics engine – and doesn’t even do that right.

Umihara Kawase is the story of a young girl by the same name who must fling herself across large bodies of water and hordes of killer fish to reach a door that marks the end of the level. Her only weapons are her extremely bad jumping skills and a fishing pole with a high-tension rubber line that is capable of grabbing onto walls and floors. There are a whole bunch of techniques the fishing pole is capable of pulling off, the simplest of which is casting it at a wall and then reeling in the line to pull Umihara over a gap. There are more advanced techniques too, and this is where the problems start.

Before playing Umihara Kawase, I had played Worms: Armageddon and Worms: World Party, both of which had a weapon which was functionally identical to Umihara’s fishing pole – the ninja rope. The ninja rope is used to grapple onto the ceiling or walls of the level in order to get your worm across obstacles so he could rappel down from the ceiling and plant a stick of dynamite or grenade on an unsuspecting enemy. While on the rope, you could swing, climb up, and climb down, each allowing you to reach areas you normally could not. Whatever you did with it, the ninja rope’s controls were extremely fluid. Even a completely new player can easily master use of the rope.

Umihara’s fishing pole is the polar opposite of the ninja rope. Not only are the controls behind it clunky and awkward, but after several hours of gameplay and achieving one of the game’s multiple endings, I still did not feel like I had mastered the controls. The first major problem is the controls used to reel/slacken the fishing line, which either pulls Umihara to a wall or pushes her away from it. Rather than using the logical control set for such an action, which would be pressing Up to pull Umihara closer to the wall she’s dangling from and Down to push her away, the developers decided to do the exact opposite. Needless to say, this resulted in many pointless deaths where I accidentally pressed the Up button and wound up slackening the line and swinging into an enemy or going too far into the water and drowning.

Of couse, that’s not the only annoyance with the controls. There are several spots in the game where you are required to use the fishing pole like the grapple beam from Super Metriod – attach the hook to a ceiling, swing forward, then release the line and fire it again while in mid-air, moving you horizontally across the ceiling. This is all fine and good, until you realize that Umihara is incapable of actually aiming the fishing pole in mid-air, and that there’s a huge delay between when Umihara releases the line and when she can cast it again. To make matters worse, whenever Umihara swings on the line, she bounces up and down like an amphetamine-fueled chimpanzee. Sadly, this random bouncing is usually the element that makes or breaks your next shot.

Then you add in the intended difficulty of the game. Enemies spawn and despawn seemingly at random, oftentimes getting right in your way as you are in the middle of making a complex jump. The only way to get rid of said enemies is to have a direct line of sight to them, hit them with your fishing pole, and then hold Down to reel them in for points. This system becomes extremely annoying when there are a dozen snails crawling around the platform you want to land on and you have absolutely no way of killing them off except for waiting for them to arbitrarily despawn, all the while wasting valuable seconds on the level timer.

Also extremely annoying are the several boss fights, all of which were handled poorly. Take the first boss, a giant tadpole. You start at the right side of a long platform, the left side of which leads into a death pit. The giant tadpole will jump at you, and when it has reached the right side of the screen, spawn several frogs and charge to the left. The boss fight consists of waiting for the frog to do this several times for the door on the right to open up. Every time the tadpole spawns frogs, it moves faster. The only way to not die horribly is to hang off the edge of the level with the fishing pole. Even here, the controls get in the way. In order to hang off the ledge, you must cast at the floor, then sit perfectly still holding Up until Umihara slackens the line enough to allow her to jump off. This usually wastes several precious seconds and the final jump is made only a few pixels ahead of the tadpole, when if the game allowed you to slacken the line and move at the same time, you would have several extra seconds in which to kill the small frogs and jump off.

What makes Umihara Kawase even worse is the extremely bad soundtrack. Now, I understand that SNES games had a very limited amount of space and that sound files take up much of that. The problem is that Umihara Kawase has only four different songs making up the entirety of the background music. The songs aren’t even mixed up, and generally you’ll find the same track being re-used over and over again on consecutive levels. Apart from that, there are virtually no sound effects at all – apart from a bouncing noise that is used both for Umihara pulling an enemy into her backpack and for enemies jumping around, a sure sign of developer laziness.

Honestly, it’s hard to see how anyone could like this game. I suppose it has the “random Japanese craziness” value to it, but that gets old quite fast when you realize that the game reeks of poor design and blatant developer laziness. Umihara Kawase goes for a whopping $80-90 on EBay, and is definitely not worth it (not that it will play in your NTSC-U or PAL SNES anyway). Because of all these flaws, it would be impossible for me to give Umihara anything higher than a four, and so that is what I give it.

timrod's avatar
Community review by timrod (July 05, 2008)

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aoeu256 posted February 07, 2010:

All I can say is umm learn to play?

First of all,you probably beat the game using the 30 minute rule, there is a lot more stuff around.

Pressing down shorten the line because the line isn't usually meant to be used vertically, its used for all kinds of techniques.

The bouncing isn't random it follows a pattern if you look at it.

Yes you have to wait for the line to retract, deal with it.

About spawning:
The enemies don't despawn arbitrarily, they one lap on the platform then despawn. Also you can move your character above a spawn point to stop a spawn, climb up on the roof to avoid the spawn area, attack & catch using short ranged attacks to get rid of cool down time, etc...

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zigfried posted February 07, 2010:

Those kinds of techniques are why I really like the game. It seems simple but there's a lot of skill involved. Someday I hope to review it myself.

Have you played the PSP port, by chance? Just wondering how it is.


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