By Justin Guillou / August 27th, 2021
|Title||Umihara Kawase BaZooKa!
|Developer||Success Corporation, Studio Saisenzen|
|Release Date||October 20, 2020 (PS4, Switch)
May 28, 2020 (PC)
|Genre||Competitive party game|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||ESRB: Everyone 10+|
It’s kind of crazy to see how no less than 8 years ago, Umihara Kawase was a series that was pretty much on the verge of fading into obscurity. But, it has since gone through somewhat of a renaissance starting in 2013 with Sayonara Umihara Kawase, the game that was meant to be a sendoff for the old style of Umihara Kawase games. It was a heck of a way to go out, and it got even better in 2015 with Sayonara Umihara Kawase+. Kawase, herself, has even made appearances in other games such as Blade Strangers or even Crystal Crisis. Success then properly rebooted the series with Umihara Kawase Fresh! in 2019. And now, here we are with the latest game Umihara Kawase BaZooKa! During the initial previews of the game, the word “e-sports” was thrown around a lot and I have to admit, that made me scratch my head for a second as I had a hard time imagining what a competitive multiplayer Umihara Kawase game would be like. It was clear that the second entry in this “new” version of Umihara Kawase is going to be more different than Fresh!, which was already quite the departure for the series and to be honest, I was, and still am, not sure how I felt about it.
When you start the game you can select between two main game modes, Challenge and Battle Mode. Challenge Mode is the main single player content while Battle Mode is reserved for most of the multiplayer mayhem. If you expect Challenge Mode to play more like the older Umihara Kawase games, you will be in for a rude awakening. Instead of traversing levels and trying to get to the end or complete a quest, Umihara Kawase BaZooKa! puts you in a series of levels that actually feel somewhat reminiscent of a single screen action arcade game like Bubble Bobble or Snow Bros, but with the same rubber-band lure controls we’ve seen in previous games. So while you can throw your lure around to latch on to walls and other platforms, your main objective is to defeat the enemies and collect a certain amount of coins dropped by them in order to clear a level. New to this series is the BaZooKa mechanic. When you catch an enemy or item and reel them in, they are stored. By pressing or holding the R button, you can launch them at other enemies to deal a significant amount of damage. If you time and aim it just right, you can take out several enemies in a row, causing a chain and allowing you to progress through the level a lot faster. After 9 stages, you will encounter the boss for that world who is a bigger enemy, and just like before, you have to defeat it in order to win the stage and complete the world. Do this across four worlds and you will complete the single player mode. Of course, this mode can also be played in co-op, and there’s even an option to allow the players to attack each other mid level.
What is nice about the game is that the 22 playable characters offer quite a bit of variety in terms of their playstyle and attributes. When picking a character, you can select between three control types: Beginner which automates the lure mechanics, Semi-auto which automatically reels the lure in, and Technical where you have full control over the lure like in previous games in the franchise. In addition to the control types, each character has a special move and unique abilities to make them stand out from each other. Umihara Kawase fans will likely recognize a handful of the characters that appeared in both Sayonara and Fresh!. It’s actually kind of cool to see characters like Gin, Silvy, or the Queen show up as playable characters. Cotton is also playable, however, despite having a special campaign in Fresh!, Curly Brace is not playable. While there are a handful of new and original characters, the roster also has characters who previously appeared in games published by Success, such as Doki Doki Poyatchio, Ring Dream, Akai Ito and more. While I can appreciate that they did this, I feel like the impact of these cameos is going to be lost on most players outside of Japan. Heck, you could argue that some of those games were fairly obscure, even among the Japanese gaming scene. I mean, did anybody really expect Pochi from Metal Saga (which is part of the Metal Max series) to be a playable character in a game like this?
Really, if there is a problem with Umihara Kawase BaZooKa!, it’s that there isn’t much to it. Honestly, it feels more like a cut bonus mode/DLC from Umihara Kawase Fresh! than a new release in the series. It also doesn’t help that the graphics, enemies and music look and sound incredibly similar to Fresh!, to the point where it wouldn’t surprise me if they were just lifted from there. You can get through the single player mode in under an hour once you get the hang of it, and other than that, you only have the multiplayer mode. The characters don’t even have their own individual endings, so, I can imagine some players may not be motivated to try out the cast. More content like actual Umihara Kawase style levels and challenge modes would have gone a long way in adding some much needed replay value to the game. There is a “How to Play Mode” which explains the controls, however, I think they should have included an actual training mode as well to go along with this mode. This could be a mode that puts you in a small sandbox with one or two stationary enemies and platforms so players can get used to the rubber lure mechanics. It would also be a nice opportunity for players to try out each character’s special abilities and skills. At least the multiplayer modes offer a little bit more variety with its co-op, PVP modes.
At $29.99, Umihara Kawase BaZooKa! isn’t a bad game per se, however, it’s one that I feel is going to struggle to find an audience. I understand that they are trying to take the series into a new direction, however, Umihara Kawase is niche enough as is, and I can’t imagine too many people are going to look at this game and be willing to pick it up. There is a huge learning curve to Umihara Kawase in general, and the game doesn’t do enough to make itself inviting to new players either. Again, a more fleshed out single player experience and proper training mode could have gone a long way in making this one feel more approachable. It also doesn’t help that many players are going to recognize very few, if any, characters outside of Kawase, and that’s assuming they even knew Kawase to begin with. There is online play complete with leaderboards, ranked, casual and private matchmaking, but I have never been able to find a match, and I don’t think I’ll be finding many in the future. So really, your mileage with Umihara Kawase BaZooKa! is going to depend on whether or not you can convince your friends to come over and play this game with you. If you can manage that, you’ll probably have some fun. I can’t help but feel like this could have been a nice bonus DLC mode for Fresh! instead of a whole new release. I’m not opposed to them exploring multiplayer options in future Umihawa Kawase games, but I’d rather see the series stick to its single player roots.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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