Arguably the finest videogame based around a fishing rod, and with nary a big-mouthed bass in sight. A game that rewards mastery of a fishing line, but doesn’t actually involve catching fish in the conventional sense. What is this madness? I am talking of course about the slept-on Super Famicom treat, Umihara Kawase – the first title in a platforming series that has become a beloved cult franchise with import and retro game fans, spanning several consoles with adventures starring the pink rucksack-wearing protagonist, exploring a dreamlike world inhabited by aquatic creatures.
It perhaps comes as no surprise that it had never seen the light of day in PAL land up until now – the concept isn’t exactly an easy one to sell – but that is overlooking the supreme, highly original gameplay which is a nice break from bog-standard platforming fare. Sayonara Umihara Kawase – pleasingly given a title that respectfully retains the original Japanese – has been out in its country of origin for a while now, and it was great news to hear of a surprise, quietly slipped-out PAL 3DS port.
Gameplay has not evolved beyond the 20 year old original: the aim is to negotiate the quirky platforming stages, reaching the goal at the end, or employing other hidden exits that you can hunt down to warp through levels at an even brisker pace – there are always multiple ways to progress through the stages. The twist is in the employment of the fishing rod and line; like Capcom’s classic Bionic Commando, it is used as a grappling hook that can fix onto any solid surfaces – or the fishy enemies that patrol the landscape. You can then swing, catapult and hoist yourself to your desired destinations, as well as using the line to attack and “catch” foes by reeling them in for a points bonus. Mastering the physics of the fishing line is not easy and beginners will struggle to get to grips with it – indeed, there are YouTube videos and game guides from Japan dedicated to maximising graceful usage of the angling peripheral. It is extremely difficult to say the least, but very rewarding once you get to grips with the controls.
The difficulty will be too much for some players to contend with. As well as the complex level layouts, annoyingly placed enemies and difficult to grab hidden extra lives and exits, there are other obstacles straight out of platforming 101 – spiky things, pits, conveyor belts and slippery platforms, which lead to many undeniably fair yet soul destroying deaths. There are boss encounters which feature an emphasis on interesting use of the fishing rod, which break things up nicely – but they are granite tough at times. With each stage recording the number of times attempted, fastest clear time (with online leaderboards!) and number of deaths, there is a nice competitive edge to proceedings. You can even record videos on your 3DS of level run-throughs – although this is something of a missed opportunity given you cannot actually save them to your SD memory or share them in all the right places. But, y’know, it is a nice little quirk. It is proper old school and no mistake, and a title that requires concentration, dexterity and attention to how the deep physics of the fishing line propel your avatar around the many stages.
Aesthetically, the game looks pleasant with some nice cutesy sprites and a colourful palette informing the strange landscapes. Don’t expect anything too fancy from the in-game stuff or the bare bones front end, which does nothing to inspire the senses when you boot it up for the first time. The action is backed by some gentle, inoffensive muzak, which can be eventually traded in for some unlockable retro tracks from the 16-bit days and beyond, a nice touch given the previous lack of support for Umihara Kawase in the West.
VERDICT: Like its predecessors, this is most definitely an under-the-radar, cult title which is unlikely to be troubling the charts – which is a damn shame as it features a fresh take on how a platform game can be played, something that almost becomes an art-form in the right hands. It isn’t pushing the 3DS by any stretch of the imagination, but is terrific proof that there is still a place in this crazy mixed up world of ours for some resolutely retro fun.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.