Yumi's Odd Odyssey 3DS Review: Not a Casual Fling

Cutesy only on the surface, this surreal platformer demands top-level play.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

If someone asked you to make a shortlist of likely candidates for themes to build an intricately complex hardcore video game experience around, "cartoon girl with a fishing rod wandering surreal dreamscapes of pencils and giant sea life" wouldn't come anywhere near the top 100. Space bros murdering aliens with rocket-powered chainsaw fists? Sure. Ninjas disemboweling japanesque demons amidst geysers of blood? Definitely. Grim police procedurals? For sure. But bizarre schoolgirl daydreams? No way.

And yet here we have Yumi's Odd Odyssey, which is precisely that. You control one of several young women equipped with nothing but a fishing line and sheer gumption as they navigate complex structures patrolled by freakish walking fish and other outsized marine life. The graphics have a colorful, superdeformed look to them; the music sports a jazzy, upbeat feel; photos of food scroll past in the background. It's weird, it's whimsical... and it's also self-esteem-crushingly hard.

No, this image doesn't make any more sense if you've played the game.

At the heart of Yumi's odyssey is a devastatingly complex grappling mechanic. Inspired by games like Bionic Commando, the intricacy of the grappling and swinging has been the calling card of Yumi's adventures through the years — the feature that truly sets them apart from other, ostensibly similar titles. The elasticity of the fishing line that serves as Yumi's grappling wire makes for some of the trickiest 2D platforming action ever devised, because your wire doesn't just send you swinging back and forth beneath a grappling point in a simple arc. You bounce; you wobble; you snap as you swing. Your momentum vanishes quickly, forcing you to enhance your actions by reeling your line in or out. Where grappling in most games works on a single axis, Yumi must content with multiple axes of motion, along with a detailed model of kinetic motion. Series creator Kiyoshi Sakai once told me that the game's aesthetic was designed to evoke the daydreams of a schoolgirl; one can only assume these daydreams are taking place during physics class.

You will quickly come to realize that you can't get anywhere in Yumi's Odd Odyssey without mastering the ins and outs of your grappling wire. In short order, the odd conglomerations of blocks and bricks that comprise the game's world take on more elaborate configurations. Slippery surfaces send you flying in unwanted directions as friction drops to zero. Conveyer belts create moving scenery for your fish hook to snag onto. And all the while, those gargantuan fish wander back and forth, rarely actively hostile but nevertheless deadly to the touch, confronting you with a dynamic hazard to be avoided at all costs.

In its way, Yumi's Odd Odyssey belongs to the same school of game design as N+, Super Meat Boy, and VVVVVV: High-friction platformers consisting of increasingly difficult action sequences divided into small, self-contained challenges. The action unfolds across dozens of stages, and each one tracks the number of times you've completed it, your record time, and (alas) how many failed attempts you've made. The further you venture into the game, the larger those latter two numbers grow... especially the death counter.

The inmates are running the asylum, and the fish are running the sushi restaurant.

What sets Yumi's adventure apart from her similarly demanding contemporaries is that the challenge rarely comes from surprises or "gotcha" design tricks. Instead, you're forced to master a very complex yet consistent set of mechanics across a huge array of stages that put the physics of the game to the test in different ways. Like the best hard games, every time you fail in this game, you come away with the understanding that you fell short, not the mechanics or controls. You didn't slingshot yourself far enough; you got cocky and forgot to watch for the massive guppy that was patrolling the lower platform, just out of sight; your reach exceeded your grasp and you tried to collect that bonus backpack sitting on a tantalizing ledge before you'd built up sufficient skill to grapple to that point; or any number of other platforming disasters that result from your woeful inadequacy as a grappler.

The incongruity of such a daunting and technical platformer with such frivolous aesthetics makes Yumi's Odd Odyssey a hard sell. That's a big part of the game's appeal, though; for nearly 20 years, this series has done its own idiomatic thing, regardless of salability or mass appeal. Despite its legacy and the backing of an established publisher in Natsume, though, Yumi's Odd Odyssey projects the confident quirkiness of an indie game. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you don't mind a little cutesiness in your crushingly difficult platformers, you'll find plenty to love here.

The game never explains if the fish are really huge or if Yumi and her friends are extremely tiny.

The Details

  • Visuals: Pretty low-rent, but they're not meant to be fancy – just functional. Their simplicity never interferes with the complex game mechanics.
  • Sound: So mellow and upbeat they're like to drive you a little crazy, though you can unlock "retro" tracks that diffuse the lite jazz feel with Super NES sound fonts.
  • Interface: Frankly, the game's interface elements are butt-ugly, but their bare-bones look reinforces the no-nonsense nature of the gameplay.
  • Lasting Appeal: If you're the kind to fall for highly technical platformers, Yumi's Odd Odyssey will hook you. Simply completing the courses is a rigorous challenge, but then there are the hidden collectibles and alternate exits, which demand even greater skill. And if your constant failures don't make you feel lousy enough, you can always compare your completion times to those on the leaderboards....

As challenging as it is strange, Yumi's Odd Odyssey seems doomed to obscurity thanks both to its aesthetics and its quiet release onto eShop. It deserves notice, though. It's the first U.S. release of a long-running cult series from Japan, and – more importantly – it's loads of challenging fun.

4 /5

Yumi's Odd Odyssey 3DS Review: Not a Casual Fling Jeremy Parish Cutesy only on the surface, this surreal platformer demands top-level play. 2014-04-07T23:59:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #1 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    I love Umihara Kawase! Been playing it for years on an SNES emulator - along with a few other games that never released here in the West (Seiken Densetsu 3, Ganbare Goemon 2/Mystical Ninja 2, etc.). I am really pumped that - FINALLY - one is coming out here. But man, screw Natsume so hard for releasing this at a $40 price point.

    Just look at it. It's not a big production. How does it warrant this - why isn't this reasonably priced? I know in Japan, things are different. But over here, how dare they put it at such a higher price point than other downloadable games like Shadow Complex, Contrast or the Mighty Switch Force titles here on the 3ds eShop already. I cannot imagine many people taking a dive on this title at that price point. Way to tank it's chances, Natsume. *sigh*

    Needless to say, I'm waiting for the price to drop. But I am happy it's out here in some form.Edited April 2014 by Critical_Hit
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Critical_Hit "How dare they"? Man, that's a dangerous line of reasoning to take.
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #3 vincentgoodwin88 4 years ago
    I thought it was $30...

    To me, it's a bit pricey for an unknown quantity. I feel like Jeremy has been talking about Umihara Kawase for years, but I have no idea if I'll like it. My only familiarity with this type of style is Ninja Five-O, which I remember liking until it got too hard for me (I missed Bionic Commando the first time).

    So I have been eagerly awaiting reviews of this to start coming in. Thanks for getting taking the time to review it.

    Now I just gotta decide between this and Inazuma Eleven...
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  • Avatar for orient #4 orient 4 years ago
    Looks very interesting. I'm all for paying decent money for good games, but they've dug a hole for themselves on this one, and the graphics don't help. It's always been an ugly game, even on the SNES, but something nicer would've went a long way to justify the price. I find a lot of games to be overpriced on the eShop, actually. Maybe it's my region.
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  • Avatar for Corran123 #5 Corran123 4 years ago
    Great Review. Now if only a publisher would pick this up for an EU release :(
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    I make a point of not commenting on price in reviews, because it's such a variable subject. Some people have endless piles of money to spend on games, while others scrimp by on Steam sales and humble bundles. For me, $30 is a steal for this game; it was a full-price retail release in Japan, and the previous games in the series sell for between $80 (SFC) and $200 (PS1). But I also realize the relatively high price is murder on the prospect of a casual purchase. My advice would be to wait for the inevitable eShop sale. At some point the price will drop to $15-20, so grab it then.
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  • Avatar for alexb #7 alexb 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Yeah, but for whom? I'm interested in this, but I really have to weigh whether I'm $40-for-a-digital-copy-locked-to-a-single-hardware-device interested. The value proposition seems totally off compared to what else that $40 can purchase these days.

    Is it smart for them to sell it at $40 when they might get 5 or 6 times the business at half that price? I guess they've done the research and decided it is, but given the repeated success stories from Humble Bundle and Steam, I've got to wonder.

    It's not like they need that price point to cover licensing fees for middleware or music, expensive graphics and sound, package manufacturing, or shipping. It seems like the sort of Japanese pride that keeps many Japanese indie games at inflated prices and Nintendo titles at $50 for 5 or 6 years. Again, I understand that's their right but I have doubts that it's the most effective choice.

    In such a crowded entertainment space, demand tends to be very price elastic. Is it really better to stick to your guns and have 10,000 or 20,000 people buy your game instead of 60, 80, or 100,000 at a lower price? Parish, I know it's your policy not to consider the price when reviewing a game and I understand why you do that, but on the ground it's of course an important factor in a purchase. The days of $100 import Super Famicom carts are dead and they aren't coming back. If a publisher is not going to give me a nice sturdy box, a thick manual, a game I can play on any 3DS I happen to own, or sell if I desire to, I'm not sure they're really in a position to command full price these days.
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  • Avatar for Damman #8 Damman 4 years ago
    Hmmm, I don't suppose there's a demo available is there? I would like to try this. Something about the mix of cutesy visuals and punishing difficulty is bringing to mind memories of Henry Hatsworth, a game I had much unrequited love for (because, you know, the punishing).

    On the subject of "rocket-powered chainsaw fists", Jeremy, I get the feeling you could ironically pitch the type of game that would sell butt loads to that audience.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #9 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @alexb It's $30, not $40. Not sure why people keep throwing around the wrong number, especially when the correct price is right there in the sidebar.

    I won't tell people whether or not to buy a game based on price in a review because that would be presumptuous. I don't know your needs or your budget or your habits or your expectations. I'm reviewing based on content, and you can decide for yourself how that information fits into your personal budget.Edited April 2014 by jeremy.parish
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #10 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I think $30 is a bit high, but then, I think that of pretty much every digital-only release, since I much prefer physical ownership.

    However, it's not like we're going to get a physical release, so... heck, start that bugger at $30, and I'm sure it will come down in price over time.
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  • Avatar for MightyJAK #11 MightyJAK 4 years ago
    Deleted April 2014 by MightyJAK
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #12 Exhuminator 4 years ago
    Well guess I'll join in the whining:

    I was hyped about this for months until it came out at $30. I do not think this game is worth $30, more like $10. And I say that as a fan of this series for many years since its original SFC release. If eShop publishers want us to buy cheaper produced games they should be priced accordingly rather than by sheer novelty factor (looking at you Senran Kagura Burst). So while yes I could buy Yumi's Odd Odyssey this week for $30, for just $9 more next week I can buy Conception II... which is a game actually worth that cost and comes in a physical release no less... and is still every bit as Japanoquirky.

    Also, the 3DS version seems like a total rehash of the SFC/PSX games in this series. I really see nothing new here, which is just disappointing.Edited 2 times. Last edited April 2014 by Exhuminator
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  • Avatar for jtron #13 jtron 4 years ago
    Great review and I think this has helped me make up my mind to buy it, thanks! Also I think you meant 'idiosyncratic' rather than 'idiomatic'.
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