Umihara Kawase SFC Box Cover.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles TNN/NHK SC’s 1994 bizarre platformer for the Super Famicom: Umihara Kawase]

Hook

Umihara Kawase is one of the most surreal games that I have ever played. In case you haven't had the pleasure, it's a platforming, grappling-hooking, fishing, action rubber band simulation game. That sounds confusing, though, so just visualize a grappling hook game in which your grappling hook is a fishing lure attached to a rubber fishing line.

The game itself takes place inside of the dream-like world of Umihara Kawase, the name of the main character as well as the game. The name is made up of four kanji: sea (umi), belly (hara), river (kawa), back (se). It is an old fishing proverb that means "sea fish are fat in the belly; river fish are fat in the back." So, now you get the pun, maybe.

In a tight spot with only a goldfish in sight!Line

The subtitle of Umihara Kawase is, roughly, Rubbering Action Game. With her rubber fishing line and hooked lure Umihara can either catch fish or hook onto walls, platforms, pistons, and treadmills. While it may sound rather plebian, rest assured that this is not your father's fishing.

The creatures all walk around with two legs and range from coelacanths to eels. You can hook them from any angle, and they are rendered momentarily unconscious while you reel them in (how this small girl can fit fish twice her size into her backpack I will never know).

Everything you can do with your hook and line you can do in the first level of the game; you gain no more items or abilities. What you do gain is knowledge from brief visual tutorials before the first levels. They show how to appropriately dodge enemies while hooking them in, swing down from ledges, use momentum, and many other useful actions that you'll probably discount when you first encounter them but become essential as the game progresses.

As you get more accustomed to the level design and enemy placement it’s easy to notice things hidden in the earlier levels. These were put there for master fishermen who know how to get in and out of sticky situations. (Sophomoric, overdone pun removed for my and your sanity. - Ed.) Little ledges just off the edge of the screen, seemingly unreachable, hold extra lives (backpacks). When you first start playing, while you have the abilities to reach these areas, you don't have the experience or skill – but then, when you first start playing you don't really need the extra lives as much either. Each of these little challenges is a puzzle unto itself, and the choice to wager your current life for the payoff of a one-up is entirely yours to make, but be aware that it's quite possible you'll acquire the backpack only to find yourself stuck on a platform with no obvious way off.

Giant Tadpole Boss. As a strange twist of evolution the tadpole gives birth to frogs.And Sinker

The game, like pretty much every good platforming and puzzle game, is one-hundred percent about its level design. Where's that fish heading? How do I get over there? How will I get off of there? Hey, might that be a special warp door? Are my thumbs physically capable of employing this strategy? Sometimes, though, the game breaks this purity, and spawns a fish where you're about to land or too close to another. Unfortunately even if you have your plan of attack routed about as perfectly as it can be the game will occasionally throw a wrench in the gears by randomly spawning fish either into an area that you are about to land on or swing into, or just too close to another enemy to be caught in the remaining time.

Bland, digitized photo backgrounds aside, the game is delightful. From all the silly little details of the walking fish, to the way that Umihara winds her reel and the red and white of the fishing line. It’s difficult to get into, but once the initially steep learning curve is overcome you can really begin to enjoy it. The game received a sequel for the PSone titled Umihara Kawase: Shun. If we're lucky, one of our other guys here at GameSetWatch will take on that one - but for now, if you've got a Super Famicom handy, give Umihara Kawase a try.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]