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Umihara Kawase Fresh! (PlayStation 4) artwork

Umihara Kawase Fresh! (PlayStation 4) review

"Too Many Cooks"

The fourth mainline title in the Umihara Kawase series, Fresh! continues the escapade of the titular traveling chef who stumbles into unique worlds. For those unaware, Umihara Kawase features a succession of games known for their interesting take on 2D platforming, where you guide Kawase through labyrinth-like platform sets that are inaccessible through standard means. However, there's something that she has that proves to be very useful: a fishing lure with an extremely durable line! With this handy tool, you can have her latch onto various walls and ceilings, using it to swing across huge gaps, propel up a ledge, and even attack mutated sea life such as koi fish with feet. But the true challenge comes from the line itself, as you must carefully manage its sensitive swinging physics. Making one small mistake can result in falling to your death!

That platform tradition continues here, but along with it comes a slew of modifications and additions that drastically change the general flow from the games that came before. The most surprising change is the setting itself; whereas the first three games mostly took place within abstract, warped renditions of Japanese urban structures, this sequel places the returning protagonist into what looks like a standard fantasy setting. Here you'll encounter grassy platforms as far as the eye can see, cottage-style houses, a castle, and a community of anthropomorphic animals you'll converse with. "Talking?" Yes, Fresh! actually presents an in-game plot, a very basic one, where Kawase has brief text dialogue chats with others, before and after carrying out a task within each stage.

The general intention of each stage has stayed the same, whether it be reaching a destination or picking up a certain amount of items, with the latter being a new slight variation of the former. So more of the same, right? Not exactly. Umihara Kawase games usually have a range of 50-some stages per game, with each stage being a brand new layout. Fresh! does things differently in that stages essentially take place in one "open world." That in itself isn't an issue; in fact that sounds like a cool new inclusion for the series! But the problem lies in how this aspect is used by the devs, which becomes apparent when you spend just the first hour with the game. Essentially, subsequent stages reuse the same paths when heading towards a goal.

But that's to be expected for a game with an open world design. The real snag comes in the form of this being replicated en masse. A succession of stages will unfold in such a way: one stage will display a general direction, the following stage will go that same path with a brief extra chunk attached at the end, with the next stage likely making you backtrack said path. Afterwards, the game will direct you to another set of stages with a different path... where you'll repeat a variation of the aforementioned flow. Now imagine doing this for the game's 70-plus stages. What doesn't help is how the first 30-some stages are very easy; if you make a mistake and fall down a gap, there's the high likelihood that you'll land on a safe surface and make it back up to the same location a few seconds later.

This leads to Fresh! feeling more like work than a form of fun entertainment. Eventually the game does get challenging; later areas either have so few safe landings where you either fall on spikes or fall down great distances, channeling the difficulty of prior games. But along with this increase in difficulty comes a succession of oddities in terms of balance. One such weird example is how the flow fluctuates from one or two tough stages to suddenly swinging back to basic stages that take place in a prior area. They serve no purpose other than to introduce a new item you'll never use, or as an excuse to move the simple plot along. Like, stage 60 is used as a device to establish new enemies into the game's starting area. You... you can beat this stage in one minute on your first try.

Here's another bizarre aspect: arrow guides. Since the game is in an open world with no barriers barring you from free roaming, each stage has yellow arrows guiding you to the goal, with green arrows helping if you manage to get lost by accident. The yellow arrows are, as defined by the game, the optimal route. This is a lie. Once you've recognized most of the world's general layouts, you realize a lot of the main arrows are nonsensical. For instance, in one stage the yellow arrows want you to swing across a long bed of spikes. However in a previous stage, you also move in this same direction, except you just climb the area above and do simple platform swinging, completely bypassing the spikes. This happens a lot and it's irritating how blatantly artificial it is in terms of difficulty.

Speaking of difficulty, whereas other titles in the series have Kawase die in one hit, here you're actually granted a health and hunger bar. The reason for this is likely because the devs wanted to incorporate the protagonist's cooking skills into actual gameplay, allowing Kawase to consume opponents she's killed and other edibles littered throughout the world. The problem here is that, while you can collect items on the go, there's also a method to purchase them in a shop with earned currency. The latter is strange because items you've collected can be kept once a stage is completed and placed in your backpack with unlimited space. There's literally no reason for the shop and currency system to exist...

Fresh! is the most ambitious title in the series so far, but the game falls flat on its face with so many of these inclusions. Yet the problem isn't even that the game introduces so many new elements to the core, it's that they weren't implemented rationally. All of this, along with unnecessary padding, adds up to something that feels sloppy as a finished product. If this ends up being your first game in the series, then you might think, at the very least, that it's a neat filler experience; but be aware that it is not even close to how a typical Umihara Kawase title plays out. If the devs ever make another sequel and continue with Fresh!'s direction, hopefully they will refine the open world, objective-inspired template. If they don't, then it'll take the series towards a rather grimly dull path.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (December 14, 2022)

Never thought I would end up writing two Blackjack reviews for the site, but here we are...


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