Umihara Kawase must be frightened of giant goldfish with legs because there is no tangible reason for her to swing from an elastic fishing line from platform to platform. Then again Umihara Kawase Portable doesn't need a half baked set up to explain "find the door and escape". This is what Umihara Kawase Portable boils down to, but it's easier said than done.
Umihara Kawase Portable looks innocent enough. Bright pastel backgrounds, a young girl in casual wear as a main character and enemies aren't gunning you in the first field. You can stand peacefully in place on most platforms since the walking goldfish don’t actively chase Umihara. The first one you meet just walks in a circle. You get the first strike. Throw the elastic fishing line forward and you can reel it in her backpack. It's a magic backpack. The fishing line is Umihara's only weapon, tool and friend in this nightmarish landquarium.
After years of playing games I'm conditioned to believe I can jump over almost anything in a 2D or 2.5D world. However, Umihara isn't a fire throwing plumber. She's an ordinary schoolgirl who doesn’t excel at track and field. She barely gets any air when she leaps with the X button. With this information fresh in my mind, I was still tempted to see how far she can go. If she runs really fast maybe she can long jump to the next platform. Nope, she's in the water again, another life literally down the drain.
The multi-direction fishing rod must be used to get to the door. If you press the square button Umihara lobs it horizontally. This motion usually is used to stun and catch monstrous fish. Pressing the right shoulder button makes her throw it at a 45 degree angle to the right. The left shoulder button angles the fishing line 45 degrees to the left. Use either of these commands while aiming at a higher platform and Umihara can swing over to the next floating block in the sky. Holding up while pressing square makes her throw the fishing line straight up, a key tactic to make Umihara climb. Once the fishing line hooks onto a ledge you can adjust Umihara's hanging distance by pressing up or down on the d-pad. However, the controls are opposite from what you might imagine. Pressing the down button makes Umihara go up. The up button makes her sink. I suppose this is because you control Umihara's weight. If you shift it downwards the elastic fishing line recoils sending Umihara up.
These are the basics. Umihara Kawase Portable doesn't adhere to the basics.
If you want to find a path to the exit you have to use the fishing line creatively. In the second level I learned hooking the line to a conveyor belt drags Umihara with it. This trick allows her to easily glide over large holes. At first I thought Umihara could not swing multiple times by hooking on to objects the same height. As soon as the line lets go (i.e. you let go of holding the button) gravity happens, Umihara falls and the line moves too slowly to grab the same platform… most of the time. Making her swing like Spider-Man requires a fair amount of velocity to get her close enough to the top where she can hook the fishing line and escape death. Want to reach a ledge underneath you? Fasten the line to the ground by holding down and pressing square. Once attached, you can drop down by walking off the ledge then hold the up button to make the rope drop. Umihara will dangle from the line and you can swing over to the next platform. Fortunately, many of these tricks are explained in short, skippable videos.
However, understanding the moves is one thing and mastering them is another. Trying to do rubbery recoil jumps to make Umihara leap further is tough. Even simple swinging is a challenge in the beginning. Umihara doesn't smoothly sway on the rope. She bounces erratically, which means you have to fight with her to perfect a long jump.
To get a better grasp of some of the moves I played practice mode. Once you make it to a stage (advance to, you don't have to clear it) you can practice it over and over until you figure out an optimal path to one of the exit doors. Yes, levels have more than one exit. Different doors have different destinations, but the easiest one to discover usually brings Umihara to the next level instead of skipping her forward. When I first started the game I didn’t care much about skipping levels, but since new games start on field zero it is worthwhile to find paths to the other exits.
I wish I found a way to skip Stage 9, which was the first real headache for me. The level begins with Umihara and a huge leaping tadpole on a ledge. The tadpole attempts to crush Umihara and a wall blocks any escape. Naturally, the solution is to run underneath the tadpole, which I did. Next I tried to attack it by rapidly throwing the fishing line forward to no avail. This sea creature didn’t want to be caught. I knew the beast would eventually turn around, it did and I was prepared to run underneath it again. Only this time the giant tadpole skipped leaping. It just ran into me. One life lost.
The next try I was prepared for a saltwater body slam so I dangled Umihara off the edge. I saw a small island in a distance carrying a backpack, an icon representing an extra life, and I was convinced this was the way to beat the level. I spent life after life trying to get the backpack. When I finally did I was stuck on an island with no way out.
Where was the exit to Stage 9?
The place where I started on the field, but I couldn’t see it or reach it then. The only way to get high up was to make a ladder appear. The ladder appears when the giant tadpole jumps into the water. So, if you want to win all you need to do is hang from the ledge and wait.
Giant goldfish with legs scare Umihara Kawase, monster-sized leaping tadpoles petrify me.
Images courtesy of Marvelous Interactive.