Yumi’s Odd Odyssey is the latest game in the 20-year-old Umihara Kawase series. And given the Japanese title (which is Sayonara Umihara Kawase), it may be the last one ever.
In this platforming series, you play the titular Umihara Kawase as she traverses numerous odd-looking fish-filled levels, equipped only with her springy and quite-handy fishing line. This fishing line can be thrown and connected to almost any surface (or walking fish), working like the grappling hooks in games such as Bionic Commando or Ninja Five-O (AKA Ninja Cop). But unlike most other grappling hooks, the fishing-line is elastic. This enables Umihara (or Yumi in this North American release) to move in such extravagant ways and at speeds that Radd Spencer can only dream of. Understanding the physics of the fishing line is key to mastering this notoriously difficult series.
For this 3DS sequel the visuals have been changed from 2D sprites to polygonal 3D, but Yumi’s Odd Odyssey still retains the unique and very specific feel of the original games. There are also a few other additions. You can now play as characters other than Yumi , each of whom have slightly different advantages, like Emiko, Yumi’s childhood friend, who can respawn at checkpoints. Or you can play as policewoman Noko Yokoyama. She is Yumi’s time-traveling descendent from the future who can slow down time (Yes, that is indeed her description in the game). You can also unlock different versions of Yumi herself, including a younger version, or Yumi in different clothing that resembles her look in the previous games (accompanied with great remixed music from their respective titles). Aside from that, not much else is different, which is fine considering that this is the first localized entry in the series. And the swinging mechanic is so perfectly attuned that it doesn’t need changing.
And you need to master the swinging mechanic if you want to beat all 50 levels, find all 60 exit doors, get all 40 hidden backpacks, and reach all five endpoints in the stage map screen. Each of these stages (many with alternative exit doors, leading to different stages ala Super Mario World) will test your mastery in handling Yumi’s fishing line. And you can do so much with it. You can use it to swing across chasms, climb up walls, rappel down ledges, save yourself from drowning at the last second, or spring yourself diagonally over spikes. You can even use the tension of the line to pull Yumi and make her run faster than normal. The beauty of it all is that, aside from a simple introductory tutorial (that can be skipped through the options menu), most of the advanced techniques are never explained to the player. And yet, they all make sense since they’re based on the fairly intuitive and realistic physics of an elastic fishing line.
This ends up making a game a unique combination of twitchy-action (that needs quick fingers like Super Mario Bros) and lateral-thinking (in the puzzle-platformer mold, like Donkey Kong 64). Yumi’s Odd Odyssey will both wreck your thumbs and your brain as you try to reach that impossibly far door, or try to catch that incomprehensibly high backpack, or try to cut seconds off your time in order to climb up the leaderboards. But it never does so in a cheap or unfair way. Sure, the game is very hard and you may end up repeating a stage a 100 or so times before clearing it (the failure counter noted at each stage in the map screen will be sure to humble you), but nearly every failure will be due to mishandling the line or incorrectly predicting how it would react. And if you’re stuck, you can always go to Miiverse to look for tips or to consult other players on how to reach the secret door in a certain stage. But in the end, it’s all about you and the fishing line.
Yumi’s Odd Odyssey never adds in half-baked elements or unlockable abilities that distract from the main grappling mechanic. The tools you start with in minute one are the same tools you have in minute 1000. The only progression happens within the player, as you slowly get attuned with the fishing line and get more skillful at the game.
It’s a very focused and very sharply made game, although the bosses could be better designed. All of the boss stages rely on waiting for a while at a location until a boss becomes open for attack, or for it to sinflict damage on itself. Standing still for long durations seem counter-intuitive to the zippy and fast-paced flow of the rest of game, but thankfully these moments are quite rare.