Real fresh game

This may be a localised phenomena, but in the early late 90’s and early to mid 00’s there was a consensus that ‘a real game’ was something that had it all; great graphics, voiced characters and an expansive story, while gameplay was kinda a secondary thing. Pretty much what modern Triple A gaming has become, which should make sense, as people who grew up in that era are now making games. This was also the era where arcades died, and simple games seemed to be relegated to the Internet as Flash or Shockwave titles, and to few collections released on consoles. This mentality wasn’t anything new, it can be argued that it stemmed from the mid-90’s 3D and FMV craze, which was also driven by the fact that Saturn wasn’t exactly allowed to have 2D titles on it in the West, in favour of 3D. The idea of something being old and past its time was something that few would argue against, despite some companies putting outs absolutely fantastic 2D works out during this time, like Castelvania: Symphony of the Night and the Street Fighter III series.

This doesn’t exactly hold water nowadays anymore, with the whole retro scene being popular and all that. Old stuff is not regarded as junk any longer, but rather something of value. However, it is clear that what has replaced the old-and-busted mentality is raw mentality of value. By this I mean that the games that were considered as ‘real games’ have now become a sort of gold standard, not necessarily just Triple A as I mentioned, something that simply seemingly has more value. Take the whole thing with 2D and 3D Mario as an example, where Nintendo themselves clearly consider 3D Mario a more valuable title and type of game. Those titles get the budget and big bang releases, the effort and the marketing. 2D Mario on the other hand gets repackaged and overall just doesn’t have the same respect towards it. Perhaps this is because the 90’s 3D craze did leave a scar of sorts on gaming overall, with PC culture furthering things with its hardware fetishism. For whatever reason, a direct 2D game rarely can be just games, despite some smaller titles on the indie stores fighting against this trend. Very few 2D title follows the arcade original examples of almost pure distilled gameplay, and have opted to ‘expand’ the content their offer.

By expansion I don’t mean something like expanding the game’s landscale, more levels and such. It’s a case where a title suddenly gets a full-fledged story scenes, extending the game’s length by interrupting the play and other elements trying to find ways to add more ‘content.’ Content’s the wrong term, but close enough for our use. Take Mega Man 7  and Mega Man X as examples. On the NES, Mega Man games had no story sequences outside opening and ending, with one or two Dr. Wily reveals. Three stops in a whole game is not a whole lot, when nowadays you have to sit back more than thirty minutes just to play Pokémon. Changing gameplay elements is another, as Mega Man as a franchise has constantly kept itself next to what the era tried to be about; X added armour collecting trying to mimic RPGs, Legends jumped to 3D as that was the trend, Battle Network revised the whole shebang and followed the collecting/trading card scene, Zero remodelled the series with darker tones and heavier emphasize on story (something each X-series game did as well) and the with action-adventure in ZX/A titles. Then back again to the roots when retro was at its raviest. It didn’t exactly work as intended, as the franchise was put into ice until this year, essentially.

To use a more modern example of trying to expand an existing game series with more ‘content’ would be Umihara Kawase. The first three games are very style-pure titles. Direct to the point, stage by stage. The series expanded itself in a natural way with completely new stages each time with slightly reworked mechanics. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new characters with gameplay gimmicks to stop time or similar function, which honestly didn’t sit too well with the series’ puristic approach. However, the latest title in the series, Umihara Kawase Fresh does what pretty much every 2D game did in the 90’s; adds more ‘content.’

Rather than having stages, narration here calls it an open world game, which works much better as a descriptor than metroidvania. Because of this change, the game’s progression is now based on Time Attack and Quests, and rather than having environment being your best ally and threat, failure of contacting enemies is not punished my losing a life or confused state, but by gaining damage to the Hunger meter. This drastically has changed how the game is approached to a decree. Then again, this title does carry Fresh in it, which more or less means Sayonara was the last of classic line of Umihara Kawase games. These changes exist solely to add more value to the title and differentiate it from its predecessors. It has more stuff to play, more stuff to extend the play time with necessary plot scenes and other sequences and now you have to managed two different gauges rather than just try and clear a stage. It’s a whole open world.

Can a game stay at its purest anymore, or does it need to have all the bells and whistles bolted to it in order to sell better?

This would seem to be the case. A game that has a puristic approach to video games seems to be left behind in terms of value to the point of being relegated to digital-only title. If it’s not a title like Sonia Mania Plus that has already showcased how well it can sell, there seems to be surprisingly little on the way. While physical releases seem to be going the way of the dodo, but we still got time before that happens, especially if people are waking up what digital ownership really means.

 

Review of the Month; Sayonara Umihara Kawase Chirari

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.

They even revised the logo a little bit
They even revised the logo a little bit

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.

Walking fish. Sometimes I wish fever dreams would stay away from the waking world
Walking fish. Sometimes I wish fever dreams would stay away from the waking world
I miss when they had proper manuals
I miss the time when they had proper manuals, not these slips