Umihara Kawase is a name not many are familiar with. The series has a small cult following amongst import gamers, but beyond that there's little discussion to be found regarding it. If you are unfamiliar with this series, allow me to introduce you; Umihara Kawase is a series of (currently two) platforming games for the Super Famicom (Super NES outside of Japan) and Playstation systems. The game's main mechanic is the stretchy, bouncy grappling hook the main character (a cute schoolgirl also named Umihara Kawase;the name is based on a Japanese saying) uses.
this game has very tasteful artwork
There isn't much in gaming that's quite like this. Bionic Commando fans may notice the similarities, but whereas BC's grappling hook is stiff and rigid, relying on mastering the timing of your basic swing, Umihara Kawase's grappling hook is much more fluid and freeform, which allows the player to utilize it in a number of ways; both obvious and unconventional. This gameplay mechanic, along with the level design which regularly demands insane stunts from its players, are the main driving force behind the series, and (along with tasteful artwork) are why the series has picked up such a cult following. Each game encourages players to continue playing even after initially beating the game, by featuring multiple hidden stages to discover, as well as timing players' runs through the game, which provides incentive to try and speed-run the game once they feel they've mastered it.
this is a picture of the pause screen.
Control-wise, Umihara Kawase is very simple to pick up, yet difficult to master. The d-pad moves you around, while B jumps and Y fires your grappling hook in whatever direction (8 possible directions, including straight down) you happen to be aiming. Once you've latched onto a wall or ceiling (or floor, as the case may be), pressing up will extend your line, while pressing down will retract it. The core of the gameplay centers around using your grappling hook in different, unique ways in order to maneuver through each stage. There will be secret exits you come across which may seem unreachable initially, but access to these is not gained by obtaining new items, as would be the case with many other games. Rather, your ability to access these doors depends entirely on how well you've mastered the controls. The more and more you play through the game, the better you will become at using the grappling hook, and you'll become able to figure out how to reach harder and harder-to-reach secret doors. Even though it's possible for someone who's particularly experienced with either game to run through each one in under half an hour, the time spent mastering the controls will offer hours upon hours of replay value. If you're especially proud of a run you have just completed, you can even pause the game (then press select to open the replay menu) to save a recording of what you have accomplished, to show off for others, or for your own personal enjoyment.
By and large, the two games are very similar. They have different stages of course (although Field 11 in Shun appears to be heavily based on Field 5 in the original game), but the mechanics of both are very similar. This is in part because Shun was originally intended to be a remake of the original Umihara Kawase, though the final product wound up being a new game altogether. The main gameplay difference is that the physics have been changed somewhat in Shun. Whereas the fishing line in the original game is very long and bouncey, the line in Shun is a bit shorter and springier. It may throw you off initially if you're used to one or the other, but they both work fine for the level designs they've based around. I personally prefer the original game's physics simply because I'm more used to them (having imported the Super Famicom game before this one), but neither are particularly flawed.
Other notable differences include the 3D stages in Shun (the gameplay is still 2D, but the platforms are in 3D, with 2D sprites moving around on them), the Practice mode (which lets you replay any stage you've cleared while playing the main game), and the addition of a continue feature, which lets you keep retrying a field no matter how many times you die (although your score is reset when you use a continue). The Practice mode and continue feature make Shun more immediately accessible, though the game itself is in some ways harder than the original. Shun has a somewhat smoother difficulty curve, but when you come across a difficult stage, it's really difficult. A lot of the difficulty comes from figuring out how exactly to reach the exit in each field, whereas the original game is a little more straightforward in this regard for the most part. It's almost like a puzzle, trying to figure out what is needed to get to the exit, though mastering the controls takes precedence. Both games also feature randomly spawning enemies which try to kill you, though the original game is more notorious for this. Whichever game you're playing, you'll have your work cut out for you.
this game is considered to be surreal.
There is little to fault for either game. Perhaps the only thing which could have been changed for the better is the way the HUD is designed. In both games, the rather plain HUD is placed almost a quarter into the gameplay screen itself, rather than being placed on the edge. Why this is is anyone's guess, though I personally didn't find it detrimental to the gameplay. The HUD is not distracting at all; it's simply plain English text/numbers informing you of your current score, the amount of time left, and how many lives you have (indicated by pink backpacks, which Umihara can pick up through stages to increase her life count).
Also, there is Japanese text in the menus. The main menus for both the original game and Shun are in English, but the menus for saving/deleting replays and the startup menu when you turn on the game are all entirely in Japanese. All non-Japanese readers need to know is that the first option on the start menu takes you to Shun (which in turn lets you choose between the DS-enhanced version with 15 extra unlockable stages, or the original Playstation Second Edition version), while the second option lets you play the original game (it's placed second rather than first, as technically it's included as a bonus; Shun is the main star in this package). The third option lets you view extras, such as art and music galleries (which you can unlock new pieces in by accomplishing goals while playing Shun), while the fourth option lets you view/change the control settings.
One very nice feature with Shun is the ability to adjust how much the camera is zooming in. Since the DS screen is significantly smaller than a standard TV screen, you can choose to either have the camera zoomed out as much as possible for maximum visibility, or you can zoom the screen in further to view the artwork in its full glory. I personally found playing zoomed in to be awkward however, as the camera regularly zooms in and out as you move through the stages, which in such a tightly-controlling game as this can spell disaster for your run. Fortunately the game screen is zoomed out by default with no zoom-in, so if you don't want to worry, just don't adjust the controls and you should be fine.
I have not played Shun in its original form on the Playstation, but I have played the Super Famicom game, so I am able to compare the two. The version included in this compilation has slightly remixed music. The songs are practically the same (a very lighthearted poppy style), but have been recreated with clearer sound than was available on the Super Famicom/SNES sound chip. The slowdown has also been removed entirely from the game. The Super Famicom version didn't have a ton of slowdown, but in particularly engine-taxing moments (due to the intricate physics system in place), the gameplay could sometimes chug a little. This is no longer a factor in this DS port, and is worthy of praise. While I prefer the SNES controller over the DS controls, the simplicity of the control scheme means that little is lost in this DS port, control-wise. You only have to worry about a couple buttons, so the design of the hardware isn't as big of an issue as it may have been in a more control-heavy game. There is no significant gameplay addition to the Super Famicom game involving the second screen (it just shows random artwork from time to time), but while playing Shun you can see a map of the field you're currently in on the bottom screen, with points of interest (such as enemy or exit door placement) highlighted with colored dots. It's quite convenient for knowing your surroundings.
this is a clear example of what the game is about.
This package hasn't exactly lit the gaming world on fire, but this is still very much worth seeking out. While it goes in the range of $50-60 US dollars online, considering the Super Famicom and Playstation games often go for over $100 on their own, this compilation of both titles for half the price is very much a bargain. The accessibility to non-Japanese speakers (thanks to being gameplay-driven, with no story to worry about not understanding), along with being on the region-free DS system makes this a very highly recommended import to search out. This is not only one of my favorite platformers or favorite imports, but one of my favorite games in general. This incredibly underrated series deserves all the recognition it can get!
(this game was reviewed on the DS lite; control-related issues may not apply to other DS models)
@Pandareus I don't know if I was using Macro mode or not. I didn't think to change any settings on my camera, beyond turning off the flash I should look into that more.
@anandxxx I ordered it from Play-Asia. It was cheaper than normal because I used a $5 coupon code they emailed me. With that it was about $53, counting shipping. I don't know if the game is available for cheaper than the $50s range anywhere online. It goes for about the same price on Ebay right now. It kind of sucks that it can't be obtained for cheaper like a lot of DS games, but personally I think it's worth it. I've already put many hours into the Super Famicom game, and this is the same thing plus its sequel, so there's a lot to check out here.
@ploot There's no premise Umihara just goes through these odd stages, grappling around and catching fish for points while finding out-of-place doors to nowhere that she can walk through. There's no explanation available, and the game doesn't even attempt to justify it. You just have to accept that that's what's going to happen as you play the game.
Tantalizing review, X‑pert74. Platformers are my preferred gaming genre, and anytime I read of one garnering such praise as exuded in your review, I can't help but take a heightened interest. I watched some shoddy YouTube videos of the game in action, and from what I can tell, the game does indeed look fun - right up my proverbial gaming alley. However, the price isn't quite right. But, can a price really be set on potentially perfect platfomers? I think not! So, I'll certainly have to give this game's purchase a good mulling over.