(NES)

Game Review

Ufouria: The Saga Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jake Shapiro

A Ufouric experience

Retro-style indie platformers are all the rage these days, so you'd be forgiven for thinking Sunsoft's Ufouria: The Saga is simply another in the long line of 2D NES-inspired modern titles on the eShop like Shovel Knight, 1001 Spikes, and Insanity's Blade. Released in 1991 in Japan and the following year in PAL regions, Ufouria wasn't localised for North America until it hit the Wii Virtual Console in 2010, so for some of us in the Western Hemisphere it arrives as an entirely new experience. At the tail end of the Nintendo Entertainment System's lifespan (the SNES had already launched by the time it hit stores), Ufouria suffered the fate of many late-period NES releases never to reach American shores. This Virtual Console iteration is a port of the PAL version of the game, which features entirely different character names and sprites from the original Japanese release.

While Ufouria is definitely rooted in the design philosophies of the early '90s, it sports some of the surrealist tones that wouldn't become commonplace until more recently; it's not a masterpiece, but Ufouria is a breath of fresh air for any Virtual Console veterans waiting for something new. It's a serviceable, fairly standard Metroidvania boasting a triumphant soundtrack by Naoki Kodaka and an art style with a cute-yet-creepy tone in the vein of dark children's cartoons like Rocko's Modern Life or Courage the Cowardly Dog. Perhaps it's only because it isn't already ingrained into our memories like Metroid and Castlevania, but despite fairly generic level designs and game mechanics, Ufouria still feels fresh and fluid in 2014.

You play as Bop Louie, a strange guppy-like figure who must find his friends and escape the foreign land they've fallen into. You traverse a non-linear world searching for your comrades, gaining power-ups along the way to help you reach new areas. There are also items littered throughout to help you traverse it better, like a map and compass reminiscent of dungeons in The Legend of Zelda; Bop Louie's three friends double as the major boss battles of the game, as the alien world has somehow turned them evil until you defeat them. Once you've conquered your friends, they join your party and you can switch between them at any time – each character has a different strength and weakness. All sporting very strange names, the protagonists are Bop Louie (the speedster), Freeon-Leon (a dinosaur who walks on ice), Shades (a ghost who jumps extra high), and Gil (an angler fish who can swim underwater) – much of the game's depth comes from using the right character at the right time.

Ufouria's controls are a mixture between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2; you run around with the D-pad and press A to jump, but you can also use B to pick up and throw balls that you can use as weapons. Strangely, you can defeat enemies by jumping on them, but only if you're holding the down button on the D-pad while you're in mid-air. While the controls aren't as buttery smooth as Mario, they're far ahead of rigid NES classics like Castlevania.

Enemies are your standard platformer bad guys: birds, blobs, and fish for the most part. You've got your token grass level, your requisite mine cart level, and your predictable ice level. While it gives the illusion of Metroidvania freedom, big arrows pop up onscreen whenever you're in an area you shouldn't be in, advising you to go elsewhere; perhaps this was ahead of its time, as this level of hand-holding would later become the norm with modern open-world games telling you exactly where to go all the time.

What keeps Ufouria interesting is the little touches: a happy cloud (maybe a reference to Mario?) whose drool you must use to climb up to a higher section of a level, or the goofy crouch animations for each of the characters that has them just lay down straight on the floor. When you enter a boss battle against one of your friends, your standard heart-based platformer health meter is replaced by a fighting game-style health bar, and the battle becomes a dodgeball match of trying to pick up the ball in the middle of the room and hit your opponent with it while dodging their own throws. These novel twists on an otherwise rank-and-file adventure game make it stand out among the pack of NES action-platformers.

Conclusion

It's wonderful to see rare, limited-release games like Ufouria: The Saga reach the Virtual Console; it's by no means a classic, but it's an adventurous little Metroidvania most retro veterans probably haven't tried before. The tried-and-true genre conventions mixed with a surrealist aesthetic brings to mind more modern 2D throwback games, but this is a golden oldie from the death throes of the NES. Does this mean we can finally get a Mother release on Virtual Console now?

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User Comments (35)

Bass_X0

#1

Bass_X0 said:

Enjoyed it but it became very loose and unguided towards the end.

And NES Mother was never given an official translation so that won't appear.

ValiantPixel

#2

ValiantPixel said:

I think we saw that tagline coming from MILES away ;)
And that score seems fair enough. Maybe I'll check it out one day, if it's on sale.

JakeShapiroAdmin

#3

JakeShapiro said:

Unrelated: I didn't realize until I played Ufouria that it's probably the inspiration for the title and logo of Dys4ia, one of my favorite indie games of the last few years.

EarthboundBenjy

#4

EarthboundBenjy said:

This is the PAL version? Does it run at 50hz? There was no US version, and the JP version has different character designs. I'm curious.

ogo79

#6

ogo79 said:

while im not the best at these backtracking games, i beat this game a long time ago. i had to use youtube for a map of sorts though. i recommend this game.

BearClaus

#7

BearClaus said:

For an NES game, this animates and plays remarkably smoothly. It may not be a classic, but it's one of the best games on the system just for that. Its sprite work is also really good, a byproduct of the puffy, simple art style.

Falchion

#9

Falchion said:

Really? Asking for Mother? Thats a completely different situation, Nintendo will probably release it years down the line on their next system. They gotta keep the VC fresh.

DeltaPeng

#12

DeltaPeng said:

Does this VC have the multicolored lines on the left and right side of the screen like in Kirby and SMB3? I don't see them on the video, but not sure if that's wiiU VC or some other output

DBPirate

#14

DBPirate said:

How did ya'll give the Wii U version a 7 and the Wii version an 8? What's the difference? If anything, I would rank the Wii U version higher as it features restore points.

TheWPCTraveler

#15

TheWPCTraveler said:

@DBPirate Has it aged well? Does it have multiple (arguably better) competitors on the eShop?

The first got an 8 most likely because it was a fresh release.

sinalefa

#16

sinalefa said:

From the screenshots, it nearly looked like a SNES title. May be worth a look since I never played the Wii one.

VIIIAxel

#18

VIIIAxel said:

@Bass_X0 It actually did receive an official translation, but it was cancelled shortly before release. There are prototype copies in existence that have the official translation and everything. It's odd that it was never released in the West, though.

Rensch

#22

Rensch said:

Got this back in 2010. An accurate description would be Metroid mixed with Super Mario Bros. 2. One of the more obscure gems on the Virtual Console library.

Shambo

#23

Shambo said:

Ah, after Trip World, another Sunsoft hidden gem gets a current gen price tag that doesn't take the food of your plate. Now, a European release would be nice.

EarthboundBenjy

#24

EarthboundBenjy said:

@Shambo
I got Trip World on the 3DS VC but I didn't think much of it. I love Ufouria though.

And it would be the best thing ever if Gimmick was released on the VC, because Gimmick is my No. 1 favourite NES game ever. Though I do have both the ultra-rare NES PAL B cart and the super-rare Famicom cart, it pains me to know that Gimmick is not available for most people to play easily.

sagen

#27

sagen said:

@Bass_X0 - MOTHER 1 was completely and officialy translated into English for North America, it simply was never released.

SparkOfSpirit

#34

SparkOfSpirit said:

This was a fun game. If anything, I hope this leads to Journey To Silius and Gimmick finally getting VC releases.

Sunsoft's NES games are all quite great.

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