I never understood those couples that fought and fought, but always stayed together. I assumed they hated each other, but felt that need for a companion and didn’t bother putting in the effort to break up and start the process over.
Yumi’s Odd Odyssey makes that bond understandable. If you were to witness our time together, you’d mistake my punching of nearby pillows as a sign of anger. Perhaps my cursing would imply a hatred for Yumi and her outrageous outing (feel free to use that, Natsume, should the need to name a sequel arrive).
But behind all that outward facing frustration is a sick, disturbing adoration that is rare for me. It’s not often that I enjoy a game that I simultaneously want to tape to a brick and throw off a cliff. An odd odyssey indeed.
As Yumi (or a bevy of future selves and friends), players navigate a world of floating platforms and bipedal fish with nothing more than a backpack and fishing lure. The lure can be cast in eight directions, and once attached to the environment, players can sling themselves about. Unlike Bionic Commando, a game it’s often compared to, you’re forced to create your own momentum. The cord that connects the player to the lure can constrict and relax, operating much like a bungee. Propelling yourself is very tricky, and doesn’t become second nature until well after I hit a progress wall. Actually, I’m still not positive I’ve mastered it, but the game continues to demand more of me.
While it’s aesthetics would lead you to think otherwise, Yumi’s is incredibly difficult, mostly by design (I’ll touch on its shortcomings later). The stages can be complex, offering alternate routes and hidden collectables. The goal remains the same throughout; get to the exit. Understanding the mechanics of the grappling hook is a must, as you’re asked to make very precise movements with little room for error. What makes this exciting is how much control you have of the situation. What seems impossible isn’t (obviously), so it’s possible to stumble upon tricks on your own, as opposed to having them spelled out for you in a tutorial. After countless attempts at crossing a large, spike filled chasm, I discovered that with a little creativity, I could force Yumi to run instead of walk, which allowed for a longer jump.
The downside to all this is that the game doesn’t provide much of a breeding ground for this kind of experimentation. A page should have been taken from the book of Super Meat Boy, because dying in Yumi’s means being booted back out to the stage select, and going through a few confirmations before getting back to the action. It’s unnecessary, and becomes a real pain when you’re dozens of deaths in. As well, as interesting as the enemies look, they serve only to slow you down. They’re rarely used creatively, and in the case of the shotgun mouthed enemy, cause more grief than necessary (the bullets manage to travel unreasonable lengths and through scenery at times). As well, despite talk of this being an easier entry in the formerly Japan-only series, the steps taken aren’t what I expected. While one new character creates checkpoints as she traverses the stage, they can only be used once before you are forced to start the area over. The ability to stop time and adjust your aim is terrific, but stopping and remembering to hit a separate button in one of the game’s faster paced moments isn’t so simple.
Thankfully, if you’re curious enough, you can unlock multiple paths, allowing for a few stages to bang your head against at once. Despite how frustrating it can be, I can’t tear myself away from Yumi’s Odd Odyssey. It’s so unlike anything I’ve played before, and my frustrations mean nothing when I’ve finally conquered a particularly tough stage. If you have the will, take the plunge on this tough but rewarding platformer.