Umihara Kawase and its sequel Umihara Kawase Shun are two very innovative platformers that were sadly never released outside Japan. Which is a shame, because they are both unique and highly innovative game that will make you wonder why later games do not emulate their realistic grappling hook physics (actually fishing line in the games). Alex Kwan said it all in his excellent review:
"Umihara Kawase was a game on the SuperFamicom [SFC, i.e. Super Nintendo] a few years ago. Its sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun, came out on 28 Feb 97 on the Playstation. It is a "cult game", a game with a small but very enthusiastic following. (It even has its own mailing list.) A "Second Edition" of Umihara Kawase Shun was released in Jan 2000. It is mostly the same game as Shun, with several extra stages and some bug fixes, and at a cheaper price.
This is a "rubbering action game", a 2D platformer where you control a girl equipped with an elastic rope with a fishing hook at the end. You can do many things with the rope: the infamous "Tarzan swing" across a pit is just one of them. For example, you can swing from directly under a platform onto it (called the "swing-climbing" technique), and you can swing to a platform very far away.
Don't think that you have played anything like this before (other than the SFC version). Because the rope is elastic, and you have free control of its length, and because the game uses basic Newtonian physics as its model, the capabilities of Kawase-san's rope is completely unlike that of any kind of grappling hooks or swinging objects in any other platformer. The "rubbering action" techniques carry no resemblance to the usual straightforward timing in most 2D platformers (especially American-made ones). The player needs to learn and master the various techniques, and apply them in innovative ways.
Kawase-san, for some reason, has to navigate her way through a difficult course. Fish (and other seafood) are in her way. The objective is to make her way to one of the doors in each field. Sometimes there are more than one door in a field, and they lead to different fields. There are around 50 fields in total.
There are no cheesy power-ups; the only items are the 1UPs. The novice player will, in early fields, come across an alternate door which seems inaccessible. Unlike some adventure-like platformers where you have to get a power-up item which allows access, here the player has to learn certain techniques in order to enter that door. For example, the second door in Field 0 cannot be reached unless the player can do good Tarzan swings.
There is a "save replay" feature, which saves your play in an entire field so that you can watch it later. (Yes, I do enjoy watching good plays for this game.) There is no usual "save game", but there is a practice mode, which allows you to practice in any field you have reached. The best time for each field is also saved. There are no continues; instead, you get all 9 lives at the start.
The graphics are much improved over the SFC parent, and in general pretty good, though you can easily find other PS games with better graphics. You see fish walking on two legs, and there are various daily living items, such as stationary and road signs, in the background. There are some stylish advertisement intermissions (starred by Kawase-san). The simple BGM is pretty good too (though again, you can easily find games with better music).
While all the fields in Shun are new, the game play is basically the same as the SFC parent. There are some minor differences, such as the rope having higher tension. The practice mode is also a welcome addition: you can now practice a difficult field, or play for "time attack" (popular among experts), without having to clear all preceding fields. Shun is also more friendly towards beginners: the 'basic route' (ending at field 30 and consisting of 15 fields) is not that difficult.
A major problem is (seemingly) that the software does not handle "read errors" well. It often hangs up during disc accesses for an old Playstation, though it has never hung up on my new one.
Umihara Kawase, despite the cute graphics and characters, is a hard-core game. The game is highly innovative, but it is the kind of game that is intended to be enjoyed deeply by those who enjoy it, rather than one to be enjoyed generally by a large number of people. Initially, the game is only moderately interesting; but as the player learns a few techniques (the most important ones, such as "swing-climbing"), he discovers the real enjoyment of the game and becomes addicted. I'd say that, if you liked usual 2D platformers, but are getting a bit tired of the formulae and are looking for a change, you may enjoy Umihara Kawase Shun." If you enjoy platformers, especially innovative ones, these games are must-haves without a doubt.
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