Umihara Kawase is an interesting platformer puzzle game. You play as a little girl with a fishing pole. The original game was released in 1994. In 2015 the game was reworked and launched on Steam. The game dealt with some legal issues, and after a change of developer, the game is ready to be played. This review will be for the Steam edition of the game, but of course, I can’t really talk about that without touching on the original game, as well.

First off, this game is incredibly difficult. You must complete 10 level chunks with a total of 8 lives. If you run out of lives then you start back at the beginning. The Steam edition has changed a handful of levels throughout the game. These changes seem more about smoothing out the difficulty curve than about anything else. The starting levels of the Steam edition definitely ease you into the control scheme and concepts of the game; more so than the starting level of the original title.Umihara Kawase

You use your fishing pole in two ways: You can either attach it to enemies and “reel” them into your backpack (accomplished by simply running over them) or you can attach it to walls and use it as a grappling hook. This is your main way of traversing the level. There are definitely routes you can take that require intricate maneuvers with the pole, which I have yet to master. There are also slower, safer routes. However even these sometimes require precision grappling in order to get through.

One thing that I feel is unnecessarily difficult to pull off is flipping yourself up onto solid ground while hanging from a ledge. At times it can be pretty arbitrary whether or not your character actually succeeds, or just limply dangles…flopping around just like the fish you prey upon. Numerous deaths were wasted on trying to make a jump, only to be caught on an edge rather than anything solid; then dropping into the water below instead of pulling myself up. This is the one area where the controls don’t feel as responsive as they need to be for this kind of precision. This was an issue with the first iteration of the game that wasn’t really fixed in the Steam edition. In all honesty, this more than likely won’t be an issue for experienced players. But for someone casually playing, this is definitely an area of frustration.Umihara Kawase

The weakest area of the game is the boss fights. At the end of 10 levels, you fight a boss. The fights tend to be heavily reliant on trial and error. With limited lives and one-hit kills, you can quickly get a “game over” without figuring out anything. This, however, is mostly mitigated by one of the game’s best features: a practice mode. Once you’ve reached a level in the main game, you can jump over to practice mode and replay that level again and again until you’ve got it down. The result of adding in this practice mode means that you have to go through these training sessions to figure out these unforgiving levels. This means smoother runs through the main game and fewer lives wasted on figuring out what’s going on. However, the downside to the practice mode is that the game gets away with not adding important context clues in the level design to help you navigate an area. It will occasionally throw you to a level that may take you several attempts to figure out. Again this is a pretty small complaint, since trying the level a few times in practice mode isn’t a big deal. You can pretty much figure everything out after a few attempts.

The updated art style in Umihara Kawase is really nice. They took great care making the game look like its 1994 counterpart, but with modern touches to really make the retro look work. All the fish look weird and wonderful. The colors make the whole world vibrant and the random stuff lying around the levels, like giant carrots and school supplies, add a lovely hint of the bizarre. Umihara Kawase has its flaws to be sure, but it’s still a lovely little experience; given you have enough patience for it.

-Jordan Kamm-

Umihara Kawase

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