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Yumi's Odd Odyssey (3DS eShop)

Game Review

Yumi's Odd Odyssey Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Morgan Sleeper

Ocean Belly River's back!

In some games, just moving around is a joy. Soaring through the skies in Pilotwings, loop-de-looping in NiGHTS into Dreams, wet-jetting around Isle Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine, and tumbling through town in Gravity Rush are all exhilarating experiences in their own right, as memorable as the games built around them. Umihara Kawase — released for the Super Famicom in 1994 — adds an unexpected form of in-game transit to that list, with its titular heroine using a fishing line to fling herself artfully through surreal two-dimensional platforming stages. The novelty and impressive implementation of Umihara's fishing rod hook propelled the otherwise-unassuming title to instant-classic status among Japanese and import-savvy overseas fans, leading to a PlayStation sequel, ports to the DS and PSP, and — most recently — a brand new entry on the 3DS.

Yumi's Odd Odyssey — or Sayonara Umihara Kawase, to give its original Japanese title — is the latest game in this now-legendary series, and the first one to wash up on Western shores. It's also quite a catch; with superb, skill-based puzzle-platforming gameplay and a delightfully bizarre style, fishing your way through levels feels as fresh and fun as it did in the Super Famicom original, and platforming fans will have a blast with Yumi's semi-aquatic adventure.

There are hints of a time-travelling tale in Yumi's Odd Odyssey's digital manual and character bios, but as with most narrative setups from gaming's younger days, any real story is left strictly to the imagination — the gameplay is the star of the show. Here, that means guiding a young, backpack-toting schoolgirl through a fever dream of fish-flavoured platforming puzzles, swinging around on an impossibly elastic fishing line and avoiding enemies and obstacles on the way to the exit.

Yumi isn't the nimblest of platforming heroes by herself, but her human shortcomings are more than made up for by her fantastical fishing rod. You can cast the fishing line in eight directions, and — once it's latched onto a wall, ceiling, or floor — reel it in or let out slack, with Yumi free to run and jump while you're temporarily tethered.

It might not sound like much, but skilful use of these few simple actions coupled with the fine-tuned, beautifully bouncy physics of the fishing line opens up a whole world of platforming possibilities. Yumi can latch onto overhead objects to swing Spiderman-style between surfaces, pull herself across gaps, and make last-minute saves from misjudged jumps. She can anchor her lure to the ground and repel safely to platforms below, or stretch out the line with a running start to slingshot herself in the opposite direction. She can catapult herself over seemingly insurmountable obstacles with elastic grace, climb up sheer surfaces with repeated casts, or use the momentum of a pendulum swing - by tightening and loosening the line at rhythmic intervals - to arc herself up and over platforms from below. Perhaps anticlimactically, she can also use the tackle to hook fish, in the form of the bizarre, bipedal marine creatures that patrol the game's platforms from time to time.

The masterful level design takes full advantage of every one of these tricks, so that progressing through the game's fifty stages feels less like a typical run-and-jump excursion and more like a puzzle game, with each level a self-contained platforming puzzle that only Yumi's angling abilities can solve. Along with all manner of walking nightmare fish monsters, levels feature conveyor belts, trampolines, spikes, icy surfaces and moving platforms.

Some stages have alternate exits, which lead to branching paths on the stage map, and hunting down these hidden doorways is the only way to see all fifty levels. Some of them are tucked away in obscure corners of a stage, only accessible via best-guess leaps of faith, while others are plainly visible but require daring feats of fishing line finesse to reach.

Occasionally, you'll also come across a stage with a particularly fearsome, particularly peculiar aquatic adversary — the first of these features an enormous legged tadpole that lays frogs. These boss battles are intense and involved; it's often not exactly obvious what you need to do to win, so they require some experimentation in addition to lure-swinging skills, and go well beyond the "bop three times" format of many platformers.

For a game so focused on movement and momentum, control is everything, and Yumi's Odd Odyssey gives players all the precision they need to cast with confidence. Everything is tight and beautifully responsive; running, jumping, and throwing your line all feel great, and the simple button layout stays out of your way and keeps the focus on the fishing, where it belongs. The default setup maps movement to the D-Pad, jumping to 'B', and casting to 'R' and 'Y'. There's also a 'Classic' mode which uses 'L' and 'R' to send up the line at 45° angles in their respective directions, as in the original Umihara Kawase, and in a very welcome move a 'Custom' option lets you map the controls exactly how you want them. One oddity is that the Circle Pad needs to be specifically enabled through a menu before you can use it in any of these modes; once it's turned on it works wonderfully, adding some on-theme, springy resistance to Yumi's rod and reel.

Of course, just because it's easy to control doesn't mean it's easy. On the contrary, Odd Odyssey's easygoing exterior hides one of the most difficult platforming experiences of recent memory; like its predecessors, this is a seriously difficult game. Careful jumps and good intentions will get you through the first few stages, but making it as far as the first boss requires stringing together acrobatic aerial angling routines, and mastering advanced techniques like the pendulum swing and the slingshot. Even once the trickier moves become second nature, it's still tough going — the game keeps a running tally of how many times you fail each stage, and we pushed more than one of those counters into triple digits.

Practice makes perfect — or at least 'better' — however, and while the difficulty curve is steep, it's still a slope, not a cliff. Incremental improvement is what Yumi is all about, and honing your skills over dozens of attempts is a big part of what makes the game so much fun to play. The feeling of progression from flailing around with a fishing line to being able to do exactly what you want with that same fishing line — swinging and snapping your way across stages with boundless style and glorious intentionality — is incredible, and turns Yumi's Odd Odyssey into an amazingly rewarding experience.

And though the levels themselves are tough as nails, in other ways the game is fairly forgiving. There aren't any lives to worry about, and your progress is saved after every cleared stage, so there's no need to work your way up from Level 1 each time as in previous games in the series. In-game tips teach the basics and help get you get going in the beginning, and you can view tutorials — in the form of full replays showing how to clear a level — for the first ten stages, ensuring you'll be able to make it to at least the first ending without getting stumped. There's even a 'Time Stop' feature mapped to the 'X' button that lets you freeze the action for a moment as you aim your next cast.

It also helps that, for the first time in the series, Yumi isn't alone in her adventure — you can also play as Emiko, her half-Norwegian childhood friend, or Noko, her detective descendent from the future. Each of these alternate characters has her own ability that mitigates the game's difficulty somewhat: Emiko can restart once from mid-stage checkpoints, and Noko can continue to move in slow-motion while using Time Stop, helping players line up jumps as well as casts.

There's also a commendably comprehensive Play Log which tracks and records each stage attempt you make in a play session. You can view any of these replays after the fact to see where you went wrong or to show off your skills, and when you do finally nail a perfect run, you can save it permanently to Replay Data for posterity.

Finishing all 50 stages and finding every door is an odyssean task in and of itself, but Yumi's journey doesn't end with the credits. With its compact, cleverly-designed levels, lots of room for skill-based shortcuts, and dozens of different ways to finish each stage, this game was made for speedrunning, and trying to beat your best times adds a tremendous amount of replay value. The competition isn't limited to local play, either, with online leaderboards for each individual stage letting you see how you stack up against others in your region.

For a truly old-school experience, you can tackle the Survival Challenge mode, where you start at Stage 0 with three lives and play until you either reach an ending or give up the last ghost. All of the levels you've cleared in Survival Challenge will be linked by a red path on the stage map, instead of the normal blue, so painting the town red should make for massive Miiverse bragging rights. If you do manage to reach the end of one of the stage map's branching paths in Survival Challenge, you'll be rewarded with a spot on the online leaderboard for that particular ending.

Treasure hunters will also be pleased with the pickups found throughout Yumi's trip. Most levels have one or two of her trademark pink backpacks hidden somewhere within the stage — often tantalizingly just out of easy reach — and collecting enough of these will unlock alternate costumes and even another character. Beyond backpacks, there's also a Gallery and Jukebox to fill as you work your way through the levels, with plenty of unlockable art and music to keep you playing.

Apart from the welcome extras, Yumi's Odd Odyssey doesn't stray too far from its predecessors in terms of gameplay. Visually, however, it's a different story, with the sprite-based approach of the first two games dropped in favour of simple 3D graphics — at first blush, it's not particularly pretty. The chunky, chibi character models look 32-bit at best, the interface is a bit clunky, and though the multilayered backdrops were made for stereoscopic viewing, the framerate sometimes takes a hit when the 3D effect is turned on in the busier levels.

All that said, it does grow on you, and there's a lot of quiet beauty in the game's low-key look: the fact that different levels are presented in different lights, for instance, from shimmering summer sun to brilliant, burnt orange sunset and moonlit night, or the way the camera moves slowly and subtly back and forth as you play, panning and swinging delicately in and out of the levels like a boat on calm water.

The series' surrealist charm goes a long way here as well. Levels are made up of what feel like found objects from a stray katamari that recently terrorized a rural Japanese riverbank, with larger-than-life school supplies, picture frames, vegetables, clothespins, sake bottles and pay phones scattered on and among the floating platforms. It's also never quite clear if these objects are giant or if Yumi's just very, very small, creating an Alice in Wonderland effect that fits the game's dreamlike aesthetic perfectly.

The music, meanwhile, is an audio embodiment of countryside childhood — breezy, sweet, and sometimes a little wistful. For the most part the instrumental tracks tend towards sunny, straightforward orchestral pop, but there are a few jazzier selections with melodies and chorused synth-guitar that would feel at home on a vintage Metheny record. Some songs are more memorable than others, but to the composers' credit, not one of them got on our nerves after (innumerable) repeated listenings. As an excellent added bonus, playing as a certain unlockable character will switch out the soundtrack for the music from the original Umihara Kawase.

Conclusion

Aptly named and well worth the wait, Yumi's Odd Odyssey is an absolute joy. This isn't just a great game — it stands alongside creative classics like Mischief Makers, Klonoa, and Kirby: Canvas Curse as a totally original take on the platforming genre. A surprisingly demanding difficulty level and an initially underwhelming presentation might keep some players from biting, but the unique, polished, and endlessly appealing gameplay will be more than enough to reel in everybody else. There's really nothing else like Umihara Kawase, and its Western release is something to celebrate — puzzle-platforming fans, don't let this one get away.

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User Comments (51)

meppi

#4

meppi said:

Huge fan of the series ever since the Super Famicom game.
They might even ask €60 for this and I would still pick it up day one.
Sadly a EU release hasn't been confirmed yet, but I'm hoping it doesn't take much longer.
Already imported the physical version from Japan, but I don't yet have a Japanese 3DS. Damn you region lock! :(

MrWalkieTalkie

#5

MrWalkieTalkie said:

Ok, I'm pickin this up! When I get enough cash that is... Well, I do have enough cash, but I'm saving it for Wii U indie games.

BakaKnight

#7

BakaKnight said:

This is the kind of game for which reviews exists, I would have never guessed it was this good by the pics and trailers O_O;

Sounds like an awesome game!
I'll definitly keep it in consideration if it will come out in Europe :)

Tops

#8

Tops said:

Thanks for the very thorough review. Like @BakaKnight said, I didn't think this was going to be anything special. I'm not a big fan of speed-running, though so it's something I may consider with a sale.

rjejr

#10

rjejr said:

Was really looking forward to this one - was edging me closer to buying a 3DS XL - but I'm jut not up to this anymore: "A surprisingly demanding difficulty level". It's why we haven't played DKCTF yet. We were getting it this weekend but Minecraft updated on the PS3 so the kids are back on the crack.

dumedum

#11

dumedum said:

I hate it when you throw links to ps site as if it is a natural thing. Very annoying. If it's separate then keep it separate.

StephenYap3

#12

StephenYap3 said:

I have the game people and trust this review: It's really that good. I have beaten half of the stages this game has to offer and I'm still trying to beat that certain boss.

Also, $30 maybe sounding too high, but to me, it was worth it. I enjoyed the gameplay (even more than the Super Famicom version), the graphics (though I don't play games for them), and the soundtrack is one of the best I've heard on 3DS (right on par with Fire Emblem Awakening). The many unlockables and goodies the game throws at you is another plus. Thank you so much, Natsume, for localizing this. As of now, this is my #1 favorite 3DS platformer.

Ralizah

#13

Ralizah said:

I am planning on buying this (ESPECIALLY considering the good review), but I don't have a lot of free money these days and April/May are seeing an number of good handheld releases.

Still, I'm encouraged to hear it's worth the buy.

Tops

#14

Tops said:

I think they should really have a demo of this. It really seems like a game you have to play to appreciate, and having even 3 or 4 levels to try might just convince people to put the full $30 toward this, myself included.

BearClaus

#15

BearClaus said:

Well this was unexpected. It sounds like kind of a missed opportunity not to have 360° aiming with the circle pad, though.

Kroisos

#16

Kroisos said:

I'm really starting to get annoyed with people complaining about the price. It's a full retail game that in terms of production and content is comparable with other full retail games, not typical download-only titles. In Japan it had a physical release; here it is download-only because it's such a niche title it couldn't exist otherwise. The price should reflect its true nature as a game, and not be constrained by some false belief in what download prices should be. And to those who would argue that the price should be lower because they didn't have to pay to produce cartridges, it is lower, by 25%. That seems far more reasonable than the 50% or 75% off that $20 or $10 would reflect.

meppi

#17

meppi said:

@dumedum Completely disagree.
Putting Gravity Rush as a example of a game where it's an absolute joy just to move around in the world in this review, is spot on.
I actually completely forgot about the Sony sister-site and now have it bookmarked thanks to this link.

sinalefa

#18

sinalefa said:

Finally. But this review makes me happy as I can take the plunge now. I want to try a new experience and the game sounds long, hard, good and deep enough to justify my $30.

If everyone waits for a sale, Natsume may assume no one likes this and stop localizing quirky games. Dowloading it right now.

unrandomsam

#19

unrandomsam said:

@rjejr "puzzle-platforming" puts me off in the same way. (Even though it could be ok the vast majority of the time it isn't).

Spanish_Bread

#21

Spanish_Bread said:

this is the same case with fractured soul, it is supposed to be released as a retail packaged game but ended up as a download-only title... however, their price is only $12...

i buy my games with physical boxes, for me, buying a $40 game in digital is ridiculous especially on how nintendo set up the users account tied on the system... i would actually buy this for $30 if it has a box... but for a download-only title? i won't, i would probably wait for a sale.

dumedum

#22

dumedum said:

@meppi good for you. Some people don't care about being reminded of such sites and they come here for Nintendo stuff.

meppi

#23

meppi said:

And some people aren't so close-minded that they throw a fit every time a different company is mentioned. :-/

1upsuper

#24

1upsuper said:

Good review. This really is a wonderful game from a superb series, and it's definitely worth playing by anyone who likes platformers. You can check my post on the 3DS eShop board to get more info on the series.

sinalefa

#25

sinalefa said:

@dumedum

There is no need to click on the link. If you scroll your mouse over it, the link says "psvita", so you may avoid it if you don't want to go to Push Square.

But for people who play both Sony and Nintendo systems it can be a good point of reference to base their purchase, and that should be the idea of any review, to inform the consumer.

TimLatshawAdmin

#26

TimLatshaw said:

Sheesh, Morgan. I assumed it was going to be good, but did you have to evoke the Holy Trinity of Creative and Somewhat Under-the-Radar Classics in the conclusion? They... they speak to me...

HyperSonicEXE

#28

HyperSonicEXE said:

Absolutely worth it. Hard as nails, but the music and gameplay are very engaging. You really want to solve all of these rope physics puzzles, nothing too insane in this one if you just use your brain and try, try again.
If you're stuck on something, ask any one of us that have completed the game - not much help out there on the Internet except a very few videos of very specific levels.

ekreig

#30

ekreig said:

Gosh, I wasn't interested in this at all when I first heard of it. Now it might have to be my next download! Sounds like a great time.

sinalefa

#33

sinalefa said:

After playing around a dozen levels and seeing one of the endings, I can say I agree with this review. The game is incredibly unique, challenging and fun.

Obito_Tennyson

#36

Obito_Tennyson said:

Wow, this game got the same exact rating as Pokemon XY! Plus, it's cheaper! I'm buying this immediately!

darthllama

#37

darthllama said:

Looking forward to this when the price drops. Won't pay $30 for digital. Come on $10!!!

element187

#38

element187 said:

I will buy it at the first price drop.... I think the publisher needs to realize that western audiences are hesitant to pay that much for a titles without ever playing one in the series before. Sell it for $15-$20 and I'll bite to check it out. Same could be said for Senran Kagura Burst Never played the series, so it's like purchasing blind.

Atlus does tons of half off sales and I jumped right in to see if it lives up to the hype (in Atlus's case everyone of their RPG's have been a joy to play so far)

Turnip

#39

Turnip said:

@dumedum Of course they're going to link to their sister site every now and then. It's a good way to get visitors/new members.

StaticWind

#40

StaticWind said:

Ya'know, I never considered getting this one, but it seems like a good way to pass the time. Well, I'm a sucker for platformers, anyway. :D

Dodger

#41

Dodger said:

I think the issue with the price isn't the game not being worth $30, but with the advertising not making it clear that the game might be worth $30. I had never heard of this game series when I saw it on the eshop. I didn't know it was a puzzle platformer from the eship banner. I saw a picture of an anime girl and a high price tag. Nothing made me want to learn more until I saw this review. I would assume that others who browse the eshop might have the same experience.

SparkOfSpirit

#43

SparkOfSpirit said:

It's a bit too pricey for me at the moment, but I'll pick it up eventually. I'm glad this series has finally gotten over to the west.

zool

#44

zool said:

Like others have said, the price is the sticking point with games like this one.

The game is obviously not good enough for a full release yet the makers want maximum returns from the download version.

I guess it will get discounted after a few months and by then interest in the game will be lost.

In a way I hope these high priced downloaded games don't sell very well, that way they will be given a more realistic price at release or a bit more effort will be put into them so that they are released as hard copies as well.

Jampie

#45

Jampie said:

@zool It was released as a physical copy in Japan iirc. Not sure how much it was priced physically in Japan, but I'd imagine it would be the normal price for physical copies of games. It was only released digitally here ($30 at that, which is probably cheaper than the price of a physical copy would be) because it's a rather niche title. Many Japanese games are kinda taking this route nowadays when it comes to localizing the game in the West. Look at Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, Senran Kagura, etc. If they want to gauge interest for a title they are not sure will appeal to the Western audience, then they will release it digitally. So I don't really agree with what you're saying that not enough effort was put into the game. :T It's a great game.

zool

#46

zool said:

Jampie yes I guess you are right, but downloads have no trade in value. I usually only play games once so the download price for me is not good value for money unless it is an exceptional game.

Also here in the Uk not many outlets stock hard copies of Nintendo games.

Steviis_Father

#47

Steviis_Father said:

Ok!! This game is on sale (less $10) on the NA eShop until June 15, 2014!! That's a fine deal for a brilliant game... Especially for one that never had a release outside of the Japan!! Don't fiddle with your line & just reel this catch in!

AyeHaley

#48

AyeHaley said:

Ok..this review made me curious about the game. :)
I love new experiences and wacky Japanese stuff so I guess Ill have to get it now. I just hope it doesn't go on sale right after I buy it. xD (with my track record...it will haha)

RainbowGazelle

#50

RainbowGazelle said:

I bought this in the sale. How on earth did it get 9/10? It's 7/10 at best. This review is severely overrated.

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