Things that would make the series more popular

Started by Princess Rescuer, July 09, 2016, 05:12:08 PM

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Princess Rescuer

Umihara Kawase is a fantastic series. I enjoy it and have gotten plenty out of it. However, it's never sold well. Why? They're perfectly well-designed games with an original mechanic that's not often imitated. If it were up to me to design one and make it more popular, what would I do without making it unrecognizable?

1. Enhance content

Content, more than gameplay, is what sells games and initially catches people's attention. Hence why E3 is filled with insubstantial cinematic trailers. Swinging in Umihara is intuitive, fun, and empowering. But where are we doing it? Non-descript water areas with spartan looking gamey blocks. How about some variety? There are plenty of interesting places that contain water. How about rainforests, hidden temples, luxury pool resorts, and a giant fish tank? Sayonara even had levels that took place inside a giant bathtub, with suds, sprinklers, and soap! How's that for interesting? Sure beats the deluge of lakes, streams, and oceans we've had throughout the series. How about some variety in the obstacles and enemies as well? I have evangelized the games to many people and given them a chance to play it, and they quickly stop playing after the first Game Over. You know why? Because all the levels look mostly alike. There's no motivation to persevere to discover where the next level will take you. The general public doesn't see much of a difference between Taki and Hatoba fields for example. More level and enemy variety would fix this.

Oh, and make the levels a bit bigger. The levels in Umihara games have always been miniscule, with the Original's levels being like 9 screens worth of space tops.

2. Accessibility Features

Sayonara was the installment that boosted the popularity of the series significantly due to its accessibility features. The first major thing it did was put individual levels first, and unlock Survival Mode later. In any new installments, have individual levels and Survival be unlocked from the start. During Survival modes, start with... I dunno, 5 lives. Similar to Kanzenban, include continues and make whatever field you're on the final field if they take too long (say, the time limit of 30 minutes). So far, this sounds like an exclusive imitation of only the more recent games, so here's where I'd make a diversion: eliminate text-based tutorials. The tutorials from Sayonara were terrible. They constantly interrupted the player and required reading in what used to be a wordless series anyone could play without having to know any language. In fact, when I first played the 3DS version when it came out, my initial feeling was "Oh no, they've lost it". Bring back the short, sweet, skippable tutorial cutscenes from earlier games. These are all design decisions that would make the game more accessible, without sacrificing any amount of challenge.

3. Marketing

The marketing for Umihara games isn't terrible. It's functional and gets the message across. However, it only preaches to the small existing fanbase and isn't likely to hold anyone's interest. You know what would? Commercials about Umihara and her swinging abilities that have nothing to do with the game, sort of like the average 90s commercial. You could have ads of Umi wall-climing a tall building, hanging sky-high from a support beam where a bunch of men are eating lunch, or getting out of a dangerous/adventurous situation. It would make the gameplay look cool and get the message of its practicality across without actually having to show people what the game looks like, and they'd be able to imagine it while playing the game. If anything, that would be an improvement over the current marketing.

4. Audio/Visuals

The music would have to sound good and not too hokey. Repetitive chiptunes aren't going to cut it anymore. More variety would be good too. Two of my favorite songs in the series, Danchi and Pout, have a somewhat different musical style than most of its other songs. As for visuals, there is official fanart of Umi wearing a kimono, a dark blue swimsuit, and even a bikini. Have those costumes be playable as well, and make it so you only have to beat a Survival path with one of them to unlock her Profile Picture. Don't change the music based on which costume you're wearing, because players might like the costume, but not like the music.

So, those are my suggestions in creating a market success for Umihara. What do you think? Are these good suggestions, or do I need to be banished from this website for thinking such things? Think long and hard about it before you answer.


I think the suggestions here are band-aids around a much more fundamental problem, which is that physics-based platform games with brutal learning curves don't appeal to a broad audience. The games are also quintessentially Japanese - to appeal to a broad Western audience the entire visual (and audio) design would have to change, just for starters.

Would you even want that?

Quotedo I need to be banished from this website for thinking such things? Think long and hard about it before you answer.
Of course not, don't be so daft.

Princess Rescuer

I figured that the games would have more of an audience than they're currently getting if they had worldwide physical releases- they're story-free, challenging, replayable, original games that offer a type of gameplay not many other games offer.

The point about the games being too Japanese for most people makes sense though. imagine the amount of alterations a 90s localization company would have had to make- it might have become a game about an adventurer with a rope or even turned into a licensed Spider-Man title. What would you suggest?

I really appreciate being able to communicate with people who can be critical of things they like. We are huge fans, but not cultists (unlike fans of certain other niche games). I have sat others in front of Umihara and I understand its lack of broad appeal full well. They don't understand why it doesn't hold their attention, but they tell me "That was fun, but I don't feel like it anymore" or something like that. Even as a beginner a few years ago, I was initially frustrated and put the Super Famicom game away for a while.

Princess Rescuer

That being said, I appreciate a challenge and steep learning curves are likely to get me hooked on a game.


What I'd like to see is a lot more "easy" levels, or even better, easy+hard levels (easy with hard alternate door).

I think the main barrier to the Umihara Kawase games is that the learning curve is so huge, most people give up on the first few levels. For a lot of people this is simply not a playable game, there's just not enough variety to keep them interested before they get roadblocked on the difficulty of even the easy stages.

You could take the first 10 stages of Sayonara, and turn them into a soft progression of about 50 stages, maybe stick a bunch of out-of-the-way challenges for people who figure them out, but I think the main barrier for this game is just that for a lot of people there's only 20 minutes worth of gameplay, because they'll never be willing to overcome that big gap. It's just not worth owning unless you can get past that. (Keep all the regular/difficult levels too, they're great, but the training core levels are weak.)

You need to put in time to get used to the mechanics of these games, and if you have to put in that time on the same 5 levels over and over, most people will get bored. Spread that learning over 50 levels, and I think it could get its hooks into a lot wider audience. This is a difficult design challenge of its own, trying to produce variety with a more gradually increasing set of skills, but I think that's the biggest thing that kept these games from appealing to more than just a niche.

I think the extra characters were a really great idea. The checkpoints were a really good crutch for learning. The time slow ability seemed too localized to help much, but maybe a more robust version of that would help. Maybe collecting a special backpack gives you a one-use time slow or something. I would also rather it slowed time less drastically but for longer duration. Also, making them buried unlocks meant that novice players couldn't even use them! There should be a selectable "easy mode" character right from the start!

It would be really interesting if the ROMhacking efforts led to an easy version hack of the original game. Probably most people who ROMhack would rather make interesting advanced challenges, but I think making an easy Umihara Kawase with a long gradual progression might be something good to that gets new players into it!

Princess Rescuer

I think a novice mode and an expert mode would be a low effort way to implement this. In the easy mode, reaspawning enemies could be stopped entirely or reaspawn less frequently. Also bosses have fewer phases to them. In Expert mode, everything that stuns you now kills you.

The DS version of the original could be considered an easy mode. For one thing, the tadpoles and crab don't increase in speed at all. Other than that, I thought the Practice mode in the 2015 version would be more than enough.

I've always thought the games did enough as it is to create learning curves for players of varying skill levels with the multiple routes and everything. I was actually stuck on Field 8 for a while, and it frustrated me too. That doesn't mean you can't go any further than that, but many people I've introduced the game to don't feel the same way. They just get to Field 4 at the farthest and go "that was fun" and never show an interest in trying again.