Sometimes the best games you end up playing are the ones that you try out on a whim. About a month and a half ago I made my first purchase on Amazon.co.jp, a PlayStation Vita microUSB to Vita charger adapter and a copy of Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari. I'd heard about the Umihara Kawase series before in passing; I knew that it was a series of platformers revolving around physics and the Rubber Fishing Line/Grappling Hook that the series' titular character wields. Beyond that, I honestly didn't have a clue what to expect. To be frank, the only reason I bought the game in the first place was because I knew that the only way to get a physical copy was to import, and it was cheap + eligible for AmazonGlobal shipping at the time.
With all that talk about a "Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari" it's probably confusing that the title of the review only mentions "Umihara Kawase." Well, there's a reason for that. One of the added bonuses when Sayonara Umihara Kawase was ported to PlayStation Vita from Nintendo 3DS was the addition of the original Super Famicom title in the franchise. Before I even really dug my teeth into the newer title, I decided to check out the series' roots.
Much like its' newer counterparts, Umihara Kawase stars a character of the same name as she traverses through trippy environments. Using her trusty Rubber Lure, you attempt to traverse through a variety of different levels to one of the stage's doors. The platforming gameplay is heavily based around utilizing the physics of the Rubber Lure. In order to even clear some of the earlier stages in the game, players will have to learn how to lengthen, shorten, and swing the line efficiently. Later stages rely on players understanding how to gain and maintain momentum during split-second situations.
It's a very difficult title, and since each level has multiple doors that lead to different level paths, it feels very arcade-y in nature. A high-level player can potentially beat the game in around two minutes, though obviously it'll take a very long time for new players to make it to one of the game's various Ending Doors at all. It took me about a week of on and off playing to be able to clear only one of the game's possible sequence of levels—and that's with my heavy experience with precision platformers like Dustforce. Players start with only ten lives. Although you can sometimes find backpacks that give you a 1-up in a level, you're going to die a bunch your first few dozen attempts.
Even though it's definitely a very challenging, and at times frustrating, game, the title's surreal visuals and calm soundtrack help keep Umihara Kawase feeling relaxing even at its hardest. For a Super Famicom title, the game is especially impressive on a variety of levels. The soundtrack is fantastic, the game's artstyle is unique, and the physics simulations are so intense that it's pretty hard to believe this ran at a constant 60fps on the system. Trust me when I say you'll see what I mean when you play it for yourself.
I know I mentioned that the levels tend to ramp up in difficulty very quickly, and that some levels tend to have multiple exits, but I feel I should emphasize just how much I love this game's level design. It's clear that the developers absolutely understood the tools at the players' disposal. Watching a speedrun—TAS or otherwise—for the title shows just how many different sort of movements players can use to traverse each stage. An early stage introduces players to the conveyor belt system and tries to goad players to hook onto it for a vertical ride. Skilled players can instead drop below the game's viewpoint and hook on to the bottom of the conveyor belt, and if timed right, end up skipping more than half the level. The game is full of intentional skips like this.
Between alternative routes like this built with speedruns in mind, the addition of a variety of different routes to reach a bunch of different Ending Doors, 50+ levels to look out for and play, and the addition of a replay feature—Umihara Kawase is infinitely replayable. If you're at all into speedrunning, this game is for you. If you're interested in playing a different kind of platformer with a set of unique mechanics, look no further. More people need to play this game.
Although the original Super Famicom release didn't come to the West in its original form, players can still play this title in English. Although I decided to import the Japanese physical copy of Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari, the game is also available on the PlayStation Network in English as Sayonara Umihara Kawase+. As of the time of this review, the game costs $20, and obviously comes with the later title as well as the original Super Famicom release. Publisher Degica Games also sells English PC ports of all games in the franchise both on their own webstore and directly through Steam.
I still haven't played much of the actual game that's advertised on the title's box, but even then I feel like the original Umihara Kawase justified my purchase. I feel like many of the reasons that I loved Dustforce are the same reasons I find myself loving Umihara Kawase as well. It's truly a shame that the series didn't have any sort of presence in the West until quite recently. I feel like if the title had managed to grab an overseas audience, we might've seen even more titles from the developers besides the three games they did end up releasing over the last two decades. The series certainly deserved it.
Umihara Kawase was reviewed on a PlayStation Vita using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
It's truly a shame that the series didn't have any sort of presence in the west until quite recently. I feel like if the title had managed to grab an overseas audience we might've seen even more titles from the developers besides the three games they did end up releasing over the last two decades. The series certainly deserved it.