Yumi’s Odd Odyssey Review (3DS eShop)

Admittedly, I’m going to have a hard time reviewing Yumi’s Odd Odyssey. It’s not that the game’s particularly bad or anything, it just has a lot to do with a game that came out twenty years ago, one that I’m sure almost nobody has ever heard of unless you’re into video game sadism.

Umihara Kawase for the Super Famicom was an oddity when it released back in 1994, and that much hasn’t really changed. It’s a bizarre fish-themed puzzle platformer mixed with some ’90s era Japanese scenery and–oh, wait–I should probably mention that the titular character is a schoolgirl because that’s important. Actually, on second thought, it’s totally not, but regardless, this surreal amalgamation of elements gives way to the most interesting aspect about the game: the swinging fishing rod mechanics.

What made Umihara Kawase the cult classic that it is today is the game’s strong focus on physics, notably recreating the springy, bouncy feel of a fishing line. This in tandem with what’s at the end of the line (a hook, obviously) makes for some extremely tricky and demanding platforming scenarios catered to only the bravest and most daring souls.

Narrowly clinging to suspended conveyor belts, frantically reeling in sporadic nautical fiends, nabbing the occasional out-of-place rucksack–mastering the fishing rod’s intricacies is simply a herculean effort in itself, but also an immensely satisfying one. On top of all this, remember that Umihara Kawase ran on some very meager tech back in the day and was produced on an incredibly low-budget by an obscure, inexperienced studio. All things considered, the creators’ devotion to pinning down super accurate physics is nothing short of astounding, and their final product absolutely reflects this.

Unfortunately, just because something worked well in 1994 doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll resonate in 2014, especially since we’ve all been spoiled by fantastic retro-inspired treasures lately like Shovel Knight and 1001 Spikes. These games are just that: retro-“inspired,” not retro-copy & paste, and, as such, they understand exactly what it means to be both retro AND modern in order to better appease today’s fickle audiences.

So Yumi’s Odd Odyssey. What is Yumi’s Odd Odyssey? Simply put, it’s a reimagining of the original Umihara Kawase, but with some sparkly 2.5D environments and new time-bending, checkpoint-creating characters, not to mention more bosses, fresh levels, and wonderfully dated tunes.

More accessible? Yeah, a little bit, though still challenging. Longer? Yup, fifty levels or so. Better? See, I wish could say that, but no–it all feels too much like the first installment and basically everything I said about Umihara Kawase rings true in Yumi’s Odd Odyssey. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for people who’ve never experienced the Super Famicom masterpiece, and if you are indeed one of these people, do yourself a favor and pick up this 3DS game immediately, but herein lies the problematic crux of reviewing Yumi’s Odd Odyssey.

Even though Yumi’s Odd Odyssey isn’t the best Umihara Kawase, it’s still an absolute must-buy, but it’s definitely far from the best.

Hear me out: this is the first and very likely last Umihara Kawase entry westerners will ever see. Heck, the game’s Japanese title is Sayonara Umihara Kawase for Pete’s sake, so there’s really no sense in holding your breath for another. Natsume did Americans a major solid when they opted to publish this on the eShop earlier this year, and that’s cool and all, but as someone who has played the original to pieces, Yumi’s Odd Odyssey disappoints me even though I realize it’s a beautiful gift not to be squandered.

A lot of my complaints derive from character mobility because it places a major inhibitor on a game that should otherwise control perfectly fine. The fishing rod functions as it should and I understand that there’s an innate emphasis placed on swinging from platform to platform rather than jumping to-and-fro, but why does basic movement have to feel so sluggish? Some may cry, “clearly it’s authentically matching the physics of the original,” and that’s true to some extent, but it’s also just not as impressive as it was in 1994.

There’s lots of franchises that look to the past to forge a modern identity–look no further than Mario. As the 2D Marios progressed, Nintendo constantly altered or tweaked the physics not just to recapture the essence of preceding titles, but to improve upon their playability in subsequent releases which then attracted new audiences. The rest is history for the Italian plumber, but what about the Japanese schoolgirl?

While Yumi remained true to herself after all these years, she’s lost a bit of her cool in this 3DS eShop exclusive. She’s still hella underground and tough as nails, but, in 2014, she’s also an aging relic of a bygone era. Some people will love her antiquated charms–her PSX-styled visuals, her cheery ’90s mixtape of essentially Japanese elevator music, the fish, and the classic challenge she presents. Some people will not–they will hate everything about her, and the fish too. All I’m going to say is that neither person is right or wrong when it comes to Yumi’s Odd Odyssey, though, do your best to understand why you feel one way or another because even if you don’t completely adore the game, there’s plenty of reasons to appreciate its existence.

Yumi's Odd Odyssey Review (3DS eShop)
Gameplay8
Presentation7
Replay Value7.5
Frog-Birthing Tadpole10
Pros
  • Odd as ever
  • The tunes, man
  • Original formula left intact
Cons
  • Original formula really left intact
  • Poorly explained, hidden away options
7.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.