By Justin Guillou / July 16th, 2019
|Title||Umihara Kawase Fresh!|
|Release Date||July 9th, 2019|
One has to ask themselves how a series goes from being relatively unknown outside of a small but loyal fanbase to suddenly getting enhanced ports appearing on several platforms, with its lead character beating up Shovel Knight and competing against Astro Boy in a puzzle game and finally getting a reboot where she meets Cotton of all people. Umihara Kawase has come a LONG way, and as our readers might know, we have been following her on her adventures very closely. This brings us to today’s game Umihara Kawase Fresh! I should note that I am playing an imported copy provided by Play-Asia which supports English. A western release is planned for the title and you can pre-order a special launch edition through Nicalis’ online store for $39.99.
Fresh! is a rather big departure from the series because unlike previous installments there is a bigger emphasis on storytelling. You get actual dialogue and cutscenes before and/or after each level. Kawase being as adventurous as always stumbles upon a town called Kingness. The thing is this town looks exactly like it did in a dream she had. She gets a job as a delivery person for a restaurant there and slowly befriends most of the villagers as she explores the town and discovers its secrets, some of which are more than she bargained for. It’s a simple story that delves into some truly ridiculous territory later on, but it really feels like they only added all of this “plot” for the sake of appeasing those who were previously turned off by the series due to its apparent lack of a plot. Umihara Kawase always had a story so to speak, but it was never put in the forefront like it is here. These games were always about the gameplay first, which Umihara Kawase Fresh! delivers fairly well most of the time, but isn’t without its flaws.
This entry definitely seems to be geared towards newcomers as extra time is spent teaching you the mechanics and techniques you can pull off. What will feel familiar to longtime fans is the music. A lot of older Umihara Kawase songs from throughout the series return here, but the new songs are as relaxing and charming as is expected of the series. The music compliments the laid back gameplay quite nicely as you are dying several times over. The graphics are really cute, with all of the character portraits and artwork drawn in a chibi-like style. The environments no longer have that surreal feel and look that older games had where the levels had all sorts of random stuff laying around like sake bottles, vending machines, school supplies or any household products. It was the kind of thing where you really couldn’t tell where exactly Kawase was, but in a weird way that added to the charm of those games. The environments in Umihara Kawase Fresh! make more sense. You explore a town, a field, a forest or a cave and everything you would expect to be there is in fact there. Unfortunately, to someone like me who has experienced the other games, that makes them come off as a little bit duller and more vanilla as it otherwise could have been.
As always you can run, jump or use your fishing lure to latch onto platforms and swing yourself all over the place. The level design is big and wide, giving you lots of room to experiment and discover your own shortcuts as you make your way around the map. Each level has you getting from one point to another to perform favors or deliveries for the inhabitants, gathering specific ingredients within the maps, or defeating a boss. While that sounds fine, there is one issue: instead of a bunch of smaller levels featuring branching paths and multiple exits, you are actually only given four or five bigger maps and each of the game’s levels or quests take place somewhere within them.
I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it allows you to spend more time learning the level layout but on the other hand, that makes some of the missions feel a lot more repetitive than they really should have been. Certain missions are almost full-on duplicates of each other where you have the exact same starting and end point with the only difference being the “story” you might get at the beginning or end of the quest. There are arrows placed throughout each mission to help guide you and give you a general sense of direction, but of course you are free to venture out yourself and veer off the track to go find new enemies, shortcuts or items.
Another new addition to the series is a health meter, so now Kawase can actually take a few hits before having to restart a level. You can also create checkpoints at various campfires but it will cost you either a backpack or some money. Every enemy and item can be caught with your fishing lure and stored in your backpack for you to use. You can also buy these from the store on the main menu with money gained from completing levels. You can cook and eat these items to not only heal yourself but also grant your character a buff. These include a higher jump, faster movement speed, a longer lure, reducing knock-back from enemy attacks or the ability to stay underwater for longer. These power-ups make some of these levels very easy since you can pause the game at just about any moment, so if you are ever low on health you can easily heal and keep moving on and the buffs will make certain areas and bosses significantly easier. Unlike in previous games, you can actually attack the bosses directly with your lure. No more waiting for them to jump off screen or waiting for them to injure themselves with one of the stage obstacles! Once you deplete their health, they will shrink and you can catch them for good.
Kawase has well over 70 quests to complete before reaching her ending, which should take you around five to six hours, maybe a little more depending on how much trouble some of the levels give you. Some of the later quests can be especially tricky as there are some really cruel areas where there is much less room for error. In those particular areas, missing a shot with your lure will almost immediately result in you having to restart the mission. There is another quest that put me in an area where an object in the foreground was covering some instant-kill spikes, which led to a really sudden and unfair death. Thankfully I only ran into that situation once but still, beginner’s traps like that can be incredibly frustrating especially that late in the game.
At some point in the story mode Kawase meets Cotton, a character from a rather old and relatively unknown shoot ’em up series of the same name. Their encounter is brief, however it unlocks a separate campaign where you can play as her. In the short but fun Cotton campaign, you control the titular character and she plays almost exactly like Kawase with the exception that she can glide through the air for a couple seconds after a jump. The goal in each of her levels is to collect candies known as “Willow.” These levels are a little bit trickier than most of Kawase’s but by the time you get around to unlocking Cotton, you likely will be more than accustomed to the game’s physics, so you should be able to take these on without many issues.
Aside from the story modes there are time attack modes with online leaderboards, along with challenge modes where you have to complete missions without using items or cooking dishes. So if you feel the base game was too easy with the cooking mechanic, you should try those out. There are also a lot of hidden items to collect throughout the levels that reveal more story and lore for the world in general, so if you are feeling up to it, straying off the main path and exploring the levels is encouraged.
Between the two story modes, hidden items and the bonus modes, Umihara Kawase Fresh! has a solid amount of replay value and if you really enjoyed playing the story mode, the game gives you a lot of reasons to come back to it. Long-time Umihara Kawase fans may find this one a bit weird and even alienating at first with all of the modifications to the gameplay and feel, but change isn’t always a bad thing and I think they did a solid job working with those changes. It’s still an Umihara Kawase title, which means it’s still an enjoyable time despite its flaws. If this is your first time jumping into Umihara Kawase and you find the fishing lure mechanics interesting, I highly recommend you check out some of the older games as well, especially Sayonara Umihara Kawase.
Review copy provided by Play-Asia
NicalisNintendonintendo switchPCplatformerStudio SaizensenUmihara KawaseUmihara Kawase Fresh!