Umihara Kawase and its sequel Umihara Kawase Shun are two very innovative platformers that were sadly never released outside Japan. Which is a shame, because they make you wonder why later games do not emulate their realistic grappling hook physics. Alex Kwan said it all in his excellent review: |
"Umihara Kawase was a game on the Super Famicom [SFC, i.e. Super Nintendo] a few years ago. Its sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun, came out on 28 Feb 97 on the Playstation. It is a "cult game", a game with a small but very enthusiastic following. (It even has its own mailing list.) A "Second Edition" of Umihara Kawase Shun was released in Jan 2000. It is mostly the same game as Shun, with several extra stages and some bug fixes, and at a cheaper price.
This is a "rubbering action game", a 2D platformer where you control a girl equipped with an elastic rope with a fishing hook at the end. You can do many things with the rope: the infamous "Tarzan swing" across a pit is just one of them. For example, you can swing from directly under a platform onto it (called the "swing-climbing" technique), and you can swing to a platform very far away.
Don't think that you have played anything like this before (other than the SFC version). Because the rope is elastic, and you have free control of its length, and because the game uses basic Newtonian physics as its model, the capabilities of Kawase-san's rope are completely unlike that of any kind of grappling hooks or swinging objects in any other platformer. The "rubbering action" techniques carry no resemblance to the usual straightforward timing in most 2D platformers (especially American-made ones). The player needs to learn and master the various techniques, and apply them in innovative ways.
Kawase-san, for some reason, has to navigate her way through a difficult course. Fish and other seafood are in her way. The objective is to make her way to one of the doors in each field. Sometimes there is more than one door in a field, and they lead to different fields. There are around fifty fields in total.
There are no cheesy power-ups; the only items are the 1UPs. The novice player will, in early fields, come across an alternate door which seems inaccessible. Unlike some adventure-like platformers where you have to get a power-up item which allows access, here the player has to learn certain techniques in order to enter that door. For example, the second door in field 0 cannot be reached unless the player can do good Tarzan swings.
There is a replay feature, so you can review or share your attempts. There is no usual save game option, but there is a practice mode, which allows you to practice in any field you have reached. The best time for each field is also saved. There are no continues; instead, you get all nine lives at the start.
The graphics are much improved over the SFC parent and generally quite good, though you can easily find other PS games with better graphics. There are some stylish advertisement intermissions (starred by Kawase-san). The simple BGM is pretty good too (though again, you can easily find games with better music).
While all the fields in Shun are new, the game play is basically the same as the SFC parent. There are some minor differences, such as the rope having higher tension. The practice mode is also a welcome addition: you can now practice a difficult field, or play for "time attack" (popular among experts), without having to clear all preceding fields. Shun is also more friendly towards beginners: the 'basic route' (ending at field 30 and consisting of fifteen fields) is not that difficult.
A major problem is (seemingly) that the software does not handle "read errors" well. It often hangs up during disc accesses for an old Playstation, though it has never hung up on my new one.
Umihara Kawase, despite the cute graphics and characters, is a hard-core game. Highly innovative, but the kind intended to be enjoyed deeply by those who do find it to their liking, rather than generally by a large number of people. I'd say that, if you like usual 2D platformers but are getting a bit tired of their formulae and are looking for a change, you may enjoy Umihara Kawase Shun." If you enjoy platformers, especially innovative ones, these games are must-haves without a doubt.
Reviewed by: Underdogs