Seems like Agatsuma wants to take the best out of Sayonara Umihara Kawase in the likely case it will be the last game in the series. However, I’ve been wrong about the handling of this game all this time, arguing against its Western release on the 3DS, then later for Vita, but luckily I was proven completely wrong and both versions saw a release in English. Digital only, but a release nonetheless. I’ve said previously that purchasing video games has become a somewhat political issue in certain circles, where people have began to emphasize support of the companies over the quality of the product itself. My initial purchase on the physical release of Sayonara Umihara Kawase was this. I am admit for being a fan of the series and that I do certain things that your normal fan would. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that the game itself is a top notch puzzle platformer. Some would say that it’s the best, but tastes vary and I’m more inclined to say that Sayonara Umihara Kawase is the most exciting and rewarding platformer we currently have, but the nature of the game will put some people off.
With the Vita release, Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari, or just Chirari if you got to know her well enough, boasts the same levels and characters from the 3DS original release, but with no 3D support, stabilised 60 frames per second, some new levels, comes with the original Super Famicom Umihara Kawase and the limited edition came with a character you can out on your cup of noodles. As mentioned, the Western release is digital only and this is reflected in the price. For whatever reason they didn’t think up any good translation to Chirari, just replacing with a… plus. Doesn’t really sound as good.
Umihara Kawase is a nice game series in that while every game is very similar to each other, the series has changed slightly with each instalment. The Super Famicom game is very straightforward and there’s nothing else but you and your line. It starts rather simple and easy overall speaking, but just few stages in you can do acrobatics that are required later on accomplish the stages. The skill ceiling is very high, and getting good with the game won’t happen in one night, unless you have magical understanding of pendulum physics and high controller execution skills. The game has an interesting dynamic, where the fish enemies play about 50/50 of the stages’ difficulty with their movements and positions.
Speedruns and such make the game look far more easier than it really is
The second game on the PlayStation saw few release versions, and some of the demo discs have stages not seen elsewhere. Umihara Kawase Shun changes things tiny bit and emphasizes on stage navigation while taking the emphasize on enemies away a bit. That alone changes how the game is played slightly, but what makes this game stand from the SFC game that the line is now a bit shorter, but much more springier in nature. You can also see that the game had better budget overall, as the game is far more colourful than its predecessor with better sound quality to boot. Shun saw a port to the PSP, which is absolutely abysmal due to porting developer, Rocket, managed to mangle the code to the extent of breaking the game’s physics and mechanics. It’s an unplayable mess. However, there is Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban on the DS, which brought in the original developer duo in to oversee the process, and was considered the best portable version of Shun. It comes with the SFC game in it, thus making it an excellent piece overall.
The music in Umihara Kawase games has always been this sort of relaxed take on them, not hurrying you in any ways. Some could call the pastel coloured elevator music, but that’s part of the charm of the series
Sayonara Umihara Kawase may be the swansong of the series, but if this will be the case, the series will go with a nice bang. Umihara Kawase has come to a point, where it abandons the slight arcade roots it had and dumps the live system from previous games. No longer you traverse from the first stage to the next through doors and choose different routes this way. Sayonara Umihara Kawase introduces a map screen, where you can see your progression. Stages can now be replayed at will, and every successful playthrough is recorded as is your failures. Backpacks served as lives in previous games, but here they serve as collectibles that unlock illustrations, music and stuff in the Gallery mode. There are still different routes on the map screen and thus multiple ending stages. When at least one is finished, you unlock Survival Challenge, which is essentially the classic Umihara Kawase mode; you start from first stage with limited lives and need to play through your selected route in one go.
Umihara herself has grown up in few ways since her first game, and Sayonara introduces two extra characters to play with. Childhood Umihara is a separate playable character from her current self, and to go with that we have her friend Emiko. The two share a checkpoint ability, where at certain points in the stages a checkpoint flag pops up. In case of failure, either character will return to that point, but it only works once per checkpoint. The second character is Noko, a time travelling police and Umihara’s descendant. Sure, why not. Her power is to engage bullet time for more accurate action or something.
Sayonara builds on top of Shun’s idea of having the stages as your primary challenge. There are some enemies placed in challenging locations, but they’re not the main thing to look for. Pits, spikes and other stage hazard are the thing that most likely will do you in. There is a good amount of care put into developing and building the stages, and as usual there are few different ways to finish the stages themselves, unless the stage us built around a mechanic or gimmick. The whole game is now in 3D, and some of the elements was made to take advantage of the 3DS’ 3D output. However, this is damn useless and drops the framerate down to 30. For a game that requires high level of execution with point accuracy, you want to have a good framerate that allows you to react and act at the right time.
The physics and mechanics are very similar to Shun too. While the difference between SFC and Shun is very clear, how the line functions in Sayonara Umihara Kawase is very similar to Shun to the extent I can’t make any proper difference. The only thing I can say is that Shun’s rope physics are a little bit more bouncier, and that lends itself to high speed acrobatics a bit better in contrast to Sayonara’s ever bit more controllable line. It’s like in the middleground between SFC and Shun of sorts.
With Vita lacking any 3D effect, Chirari doesn’t suffer from this. You may like the 3D on the 3DS, but it brings nothing to the table here. Playing both 3DS and Vita versions brings out the best and the worst in the two devices, but Umihara Kawase just plays better on Vita. This is partly because of the 3DS’ design, but also because the Slide-Pad and D-Pad on the system are subpar with mushy buttons. Chirari simply plays better due to more responsive buttons. As everything that was found in the 3DS was directly ported to Chirari, some of the sprites look slightly pixelated on the Vita’s screen. While most of these are just passing things, it hits your eyes a bit. The same applies to the 3D models to some extent, and as such things like this should’ve been addressed properly. However, this also shows that the porting most likely didn’t have the highest budget out there, and the extra stages and all either were something that didn’t manage to be finished by the end of the deadline, or were planned but never realised in the 3DS version. The map screen also was turned from horizontal plane to vertical for whatever reason, but it works just fine.
In the end, Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari is an excellent game because of the 3DS original was an excellent one already. The few saw edges it has can be forgiven for stable 60fps and better screen. The visuals may too sweet and cute to some. Out from the two, Chirari does better on the scale due to Vita simply having better controller hardware. This is highly important as the series has always been all about the gameplay, and that’s what really matters with games. In addition, Chirari comes with those few new stages and packs with the original SFC Umihara Kawase much like Shun Second Edition Kanzenban did. With Shun on the PSN (or at least in Japanese PSN), the Vita currently is the console to play the whole series on one device.