GameSpite Journal 10 | Umihara Kawase

Umihara Kawase | Dev.: TNN | Pub: NHK | Genre: Rubbering Action | Release: Dec. 1994

It is immensely satisfying to modify a North American SNES to play Japanese games. All thatís involved is yanking out those plastic tabs that help keep the carts aligned out with a pair of pliers. Yet once youíve done it though, there arenít all that many rewards to reap. Most games that werenít released in the U.S. were RPGs with impenetrable walls of untranslated text and strange stuff thatís just so very weirdly, idiosyncratically Japanese. Then thereís Umihara Kawase, which... OK, sure. It probably falls into that latter category, between the title (an untranslatable pun about fishes) and the weird backdrops made of black-and-white coastline photographs, and being just generally strange. Still, itís not like it makes any more sense in Japanese, particularly since there isnít any text to translate. Always a plus for an import game.

Also completely irrelevant, and incomprehensible, is the premise of the game. Weíve got a girl with a pink backpack platforming around a surreal landscape full of ambulatory fish. Stun a fish and you can put it in your backpack, which is nice because thereís no more fish in your way, but thereís no other incentive to do it. You just wander from area to area until the game ends, which it does with no fanfare at all, thereís simply no new level. There are branching paths and different... well, not so much endings, but final levels. No attempt is ever made to explain what the deal is with any of this. This is a game thatís 100% solid game. Plot isnít a factor.

The game, however, is really something special. You have a grappling hook (technically, a fishing line) which you can use to swing around off things. Yes, thatís nothing special; Bionic Commando had that on the NES. The key difference here is that the line attached to this hook is elastic. Not only are you swinging around, youíre also bouncing. And it doesnít just stick to fixed surfaces, it sticks to everything. Those ambulatory fish for instance, who will be pulled towards you and you towards them. Or conveyor beltsóperhaps conveyor belts whose pull you can fight by trying to walk the other way until the line tension is too great to overcome. For that matter, moving platforms can bend the line while itís extended. Point, is some crazy crazy stuff goes on with this gameís physics. Mess around with it for a while, youíll see some truly insane things. Really get a handle on it and youíll eventually be capable of the craziest, bounciest, give-the-finger to-clearly-defined-pathiest speed-running ever.

The SNES isnít the only platform to see this particular brand of insanity. Umiahara Kawase has seen half-sequel/half-ports on the PlayStation, PSP, and DS. All of these change the physics though, and the physics are the whole point. Now, granted, the odds of you ever happening across an obscure Super Famicom cart in some used game store with only its title on it... well, you probably wonít be able to read it. If convenient signage identifies it as Umihara Kawase, you need to buy that game. Buy it, run home, and start bouncing all over.

By Jake Alley? | Feb. 17, 2012 | Previous: Donkey Kong Country | Next: Mega Man X2