Fish-Frenzied Platformer Umihara Kawase Headed to Western Shores?

Fish-Frenzied Platformer Umihara Kawase Headed to Western Shores?

A Japanese cult classic may finally reach the West.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Kiyoshi Sakai, the designer and programmer behind a cult classic game called Umihara Kawase, a long-time favorite of mine. During our interview, I learned some positive news about the game's most recent sequel, Sayonara Umihara Kawase.

If you know about Umihara Kawase, that's probably because the game recently befuddled comedian Shinya Arino in a memorable episode of Japanese retro-game TV series Game Center CX. An extremely technical platformer, Umihara Kawase gives you an elastic fishing line and challenges you to scramble your way through dozens of increasingly complex platform levels while avoiding angry, walking fish. You have no weapons (though you can stun or capture fish with your fishing hook), and the incredibly complex physics of the fishing line require effort to master -- meaning the game seems impossible until it clicks, at which point you're performing all kinds of insane stunts.

It's like Bionic Commando minus the thinly veiled Nazi references.

With its inscrutable name and surreal visual style, Umihara Kawase has unsurprisingly never made its way West before, although savvy importers have sung its praises for years. Natsume announced a localization of a compilation for PSP several years back as "Yumi's Odd Odyssey," though that quietly vanished... presumably because word got back to them that the PSP version was poorly programmed by a third-party developer and full of physics bugs that affected gameplay.

Sayonara Umihara Kawase for 3DS, on the other hand, is the real deal, programmed and designed by Sakai himself and free of the problems that plagued the PSP game. And according to Agatsuma Entertainment Marketing Manager Nobuhiro Hikage, plans are well underway for a U.S. release of Sayonara. While Hikage couldn't offer any specifics, like publisher or release plans, he stated a U.S. localization was in the works for a targeted release date of early 2014. Given the short turnaround period, that presumably means it will be coming to the West strictly as a digital release (whereas it was published both on eShop and at retail in Japan).

According to creator Sakai, Umihara Kawase's surreal backgrounds and "walking fish" themes are meant to represent "the inner thoughts of a young girl." Young girls, your inner thoughts are kind of weird.

Hikage stressed that nothing is officially set in stone, but his comments made it sound like more or less a done deal. After nearly 20 years of languishing in import shops, it's great to hear that that this legendary cult series may finally make its way overseas at last. And if you're not sure what the big deal is, keep an eye open for our upcoming interview and in-depth retrospective on the series.

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