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An elusive PlayStation classic is yours for the grappling


Welcome to Living in the Past, a weekly column about what's new in old games. Now get off our lawn.

What if, in a parallel universe, Bionic Commando's ideas were expanded not into a behind-the-back 3D action game, but into a quieter, more puzzle-oriented game focused entirely on the mechanics of the grappling hook? And, instead of a nonsensical storyline and big environments, the developer put all of its effort into making the grappling hook more complex?

And then, instead of a resurrected Hitler and his army of pseudo-Nazis, all the enemies were giant fish.

Somehow, such a thing exists in our universe, and has since 1994. Umihara Kawase first appeared on the Super Famicom, then saw remakes and ports on the PlayStation, PSP, and DS. And finally, as of last week, one of those versions is available outside of Japan, at least in the strictest possible sense. If you have Japanese PSN credit, you can now download Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition to your PS3. It's absolutely worth the effort.

The Umihara Kawase games take place in a series of self-contained, horizontally and vertically scrolling levels. As the title character, a young girl wearing a backpack, you have to navigate a series of floating platforms to get to the exit door. Your only abilities are jumping and the use of a fishing line. That fishing line is a versatile tool. Not only can you throw it upward to grab onto a platform, you can use its natural tension to help you execute complex moves, like slinging yourself up over the edge of a platform, or even continually jumping upward by bouncing and then shooting the line out again.

An elusive PlayStation classic is yours for the grappling
Within a couple of levels, you'll be hooking onto conveyor belts, pulling yourself up to ceilings, and building momentum to swing yourself across gaps. Where Bionic Commando used its grappling as a method of locomotion, Umihara Kawase is more like a series of puzzles requiring deft reflexes and fine control of the hook.

Okay, so I mentioned the giant fish. For some reason, all of the enemies are big walking fish that you grab with the hook and then reel in to put in your backpack. Add in the checkerboard platforms and the grainy nature photograph backgrounds and, well, Umihara Kawase's aesthetic falls somewhere between "unfortunate" and "unsettling." But I don't care. The base gameplay is worth putting some big old fish on your TV.

This series almost made it to North America back in 2008, when Marvelous partnered with Natsume to publish the PSP port as Yumi's Odd Odyssey. The localization was canceled, which is probably for the best, as that wasn't the best port. This PSOne Classics version, at ¥600 (about $7.68), is cheaper than that would have been anyway.

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