Umihara Kawase PC Review
It’s been a recurring pipe dream that Nintendo would one day release their Virtual Console library onto PC, as plenty of Nintendo fans still indulge in playing classic titles through various (and technically illegal) means, going so far as to add the games as shortcuts on Steam with custom icon designs and controller-remapping software.
In that respect, it’s a bit odd to actually see a game that originated on the Super Famicom released on Steam, totally preserving its 16-bit aesthetic, whereas previous re-releases such as Square’s Final Fantasy games tend to dress up their retro graphics with more modern (and debatably inferior) alternative visuals. It’s also odd that Umihara Kawase would be released as a standalone title, when the game was previously included as an unlockable extra in the most recent game in the series, Sayanora Umihara Kawase, which also released on Steam a short time ago.
Originally a Japanese exclusive, Umihara Kawase was the first game in the series, which gained a small following in the West courtesy of the game being featured in Game Center CX (which in itself is also a Japanese series with a dedicated Western fanbase); it’s no coincidence that the Umihara games started getting localized following that episode, but it’s also an appreciated privilege, as these games still feature some of the most unique gameplay ever seen in a 2D platformer.
Umihara Kawase is light on the narrative (and remains that way throughout its sequels), but the gist of it is that players assume the role of Umihara, a young schoolgirl who unexpectedly finds herself navigating a series of stages featuring spiked death traps, moving platforms and a legion of grotesque walking fish creatures fresh out of Junji Ito’s Gyo. While that may sound like the premise of a Japanese horror story, Umihara Kawase is much more whimsical in nature, thanks to some colorful SD character designs (as pointed out by Game Center’s host, Umihara is surprisingly more well-endowed in her official artwork than one might expect playing this game) as well as some of the catchiest music heard on Nintendo’s 16-bit legacy console.
In typical classic 2D fashion, the focus is on the platform-based gameplay; players must find the door in each stage that leads them to the next area, and the main mechanic to navigate platforms is Umihara’s fishing lure, which acts as a Bionic Commando-like grappling hook. By aiming the lure in multiple directions, players can hook themselves to several platforms to propel themselves forward. What makes Umihara Kawase so innovative for its time is the focus on physics, as many areas require that players propel themselves just the right way in order to make many of the treacherous jumps. This requires a bit of a learning curve, but with enough practice the results are satisfying even after dozens of failed attempts.
True to its genre, Umihara Kawase is all about finding victory after many, many, many defeats; the limited lives plus multiple endings dependent on completion time will cause much frustration followed by much more extended play sessions. The Steam version includes online leaderboards and replay features, which is all the motivation hardcore players will need. The one caveat is the knowledge that this was originally part of a package that is now being sold separately. Whether the game is worth the asking price is ultimately up for each individual to decide, but sooner or later this is a classic game with a timeless mechanic that deserves a lot more attention now that it’s crossed over the pond and into digital distribution.