Wednesday
Mar022016

QCF: Umihara Kawase Trilogy

n a lot of ways, action platformers were the first-person-shooters of the 16 bit era. There were really only one, or two franchises that arguably hit it big though, and most of the others were… kinda dumb.

But, every now and again, one of them defied expectations and turns out to be something really neat. Umihara Kawase (Super Famicom), its sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun (PSone) and Sayonara Umihara Kawase (3DS) definitely fall into the latter category, but remained as Asia exclusive releases until their recent Steam emergence by Agatsuma (and subsequently, Degica.) So how does this classic platforming series stand the test of time?

The premise of Umiara Kawase and its sequels is pretty simple: The titular Umihara is stuck in an alternate dimension full of walking sea life. Using her trusty fishing pole, players can defeat enemy fish, grapple ledges and swing to other platforms.

The swinging mechanics are notable in that there are actually some pretty complex physics at play. Umihara's velocity while jumping, hanging and swinging can drastically change how she moves while grappled via her fishing rod. She can't jump especially high, which makes grappling even more important. Some platforms move as well, which can ferry Umihara to new areas when attached by her fishing lure. From there, Umihara makes her way to a door at the end of the stage, called a field, to progress to the next one.

As the game progresses, little tutorial demonstrations will appear between stages to give players hints on how to progress.

It may sound extremely simple, but Umihara Kawase is anything but. This is a game that's harder than most and going into it at first, it may not seem like it. Nevertheless, there's a very real reason that Umihara has nine lives; players are going to die a lot. There is definitely going to be some trial and error throughout the game, and at game over, it's back to the game start! With 45 stages, some with incredibly difficult physics-based platforming practically requiring atomic timing, there's absolutely a huge challenge to be had here, especially on just one life stock.

The learning curve for some of the more advanced techniques required to progress is pretty steep, but still somehow manageable. There are even hidden routes and extends scattered around the stages. There are also replay saves to review how stages have been cleared.

The sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun, takes the base work of the Super Famicom original and ups the ante with rebalanced physics that give the game a great sense of speed and momentum. A 2.5D presentation also makes the stages pop just a bit more. The hand-drawn sprites contrast fairly well to the stage elements, though a lot of the stages bits are often reused. With 50 more courses to be conquered on just a single life stock yet again, Umihara Kawase Shun is definitely another very steep challenge, though it feels much more manageable, especially with the ability to practice any cleared stages at will. Replay saves also make a comeback.

Finally, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is a port of the 3DS original, but lacking a bottom-screen map. Unlike the other two games, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is full 3D and has various save points, allowing players to indefinitely retry failed levels and to continue after taking a break—super handy. The physics are also, perhaps, the best implemented with controls that feel much, much more solid than the other two games in the trilogy. It all translates rather nicely to the new format and Sayonara is, without a doubt, the most approachable in the series, though it's still plenty difficult. There are also multiple characters to use in this entry, making it much more diverse than the other two titles.

All three games have a charming presentation that lends to its whimsical yet hardcore nature. Enemies are well designed, the stages are playfully littered with enormous vegetables and school supplies and the music is good-to-great, depending on the game, (my favorite is definitely Shun's OST.)

Recently, Agatsuma's closure led to these releases being unlisted from Steam, and it looked as if Umihara Kawase would no longer be available for fans to enjoy any longer. Well, that is until publisher Degica scooped up the distribution rights and relisted them! Those who purchased the games before could also re-download them without having to pay again.

I've always looked on the Umihara Kawase games from the outside in, having been initially exposed to Umihara Kawase on the Super Famicom via Game Center CX. I've always wanted to get into the series, especially on the Super Famicom, despite its hefty $100+ price tag. The Umihara Steam Trilogy is a great way to play all of these classic platformers for an excellent price; each game is between USD$10.00 and USD$15.00 but bundled together for about USD$30.00.

Not bad for what usually ends up being over $200 worth of retro games on eBay. For three awesome, cult-favorite games that should appeal to hardcore players and speedrunners, the Umihara Trilogy can do no wrong. For the more casual, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is definitely for you. Any way you slice it, the Umihara Kawase Trilogy is a fantastic collection that shouldn't be missed.

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