Review: Umiro08 May 2018 0
Released 29 Mar 2018
As any good dance movie can tell you, partners working in unison to create athletic, metrical magic is a complex collage of practice, hardship, and drama. Attractive young people, often working dead end jobs and living hand to mouth, feel the only way to truly express themselves is on the dance floor. Movies like Save the Last Dance add an extra layer of intrigue, introducing unlikely partners who have to step outside their comfort zones to learn to move as one.
It may seem like a reach, but I got a lot of Julia Styles-Sean Patrick Thomas vibes from Huey and Satura, the protagonists in the picturesque puzzle, Umiro. To my understanding they are nothing more than friends, both mysteriously misplaced into this newer, darker world. Robbed of their memories and their homes, the pair learn quickly that they must also step outside their comfort zones and move as one to find their way home. Umiro has its own hardships and drama and requires plenty of practice to overcome.
In order to regain their memories, Huey and Satura must collect them from color-coded crystals (blue for Huey, pink for Satura) planted across the map in precarious positions. In their way are all manner of increasingly difficult to navigate obstacles and slithering mazes that work in unison to keep your power couple clueless. Things like fiery gates can obstruct movement but can be switched on and off at the touch of a button. Ominous black orbs barrel down pathways in straight lines, lethal to touch but simple to avoid. Hapless puzzle game McGuffins that come together to form something greater and more dangerous, turning this dancefloor into a real minefield.
At the start of any given puzzle, you are presented with the full view of the task ahead. The color coded memory crystals at your endzones, and you must draw the path in which your characters take to get there. Each movement session must end with contact of their appropriate memory crystal. No matter what buttons or levers are pushed on the way, your trail must lead your characters to their crystals. If there is more than one crystal, then you can draw out separate movement schemes, with each crystal punctuating them.
The drawings need to be made for both Huey and Satura before you can initiate a movement, and those two will follow your orders as drawn in tandem. This means that both sides of the map need to be taken into account at once. Any orb that Satura might pass could still hit Huey a lane away. Huey may need a gate opened for him before he can proceed to his goal, but the button is on Satura’s side. Getting these partners to dance together without stumbling is where this puzzler gets the most chaotic. And to its credit, Umiro keeps the rhythm admirably, if not perfectly.
Trying to keep both partners in step is taxing. It’s often a gradual building of decision trees, as you draw one’s path to completion, and move to the other, watching the first’s ghost move on their rail in real time in an attempt to sync up. Timing is key and adjusting both paths to take into account when one character will be in a certain place at a particular time can be tough to keep up with. Especially since you can’t adjust the paths at mid points very easily on smaller screens (or if you have bigger hands). More often than not, I’d end up redrawing an entire path three or four times before setting the two in motion, only to see that I’m getting caught by just a pixel, or not hitting a mark soon enough.
This is where the disco gets dizzying. Much of the puzzling comes from trial and error, of both overall strategies, and more miniscule timing things. It’s far less dependent on your trying to think a few moves ahead, and more just mashing “start” on or around what feels like the right time until it works perfectly. On many of the puzzles, I found myself just commanding one of the duo to run in circles until the other did most of the work. As it does speak to the creative freedom players may have to solve puzzles in any way they can think of, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the spirit of the game. I felt a tiny bit cheesy for resorting to it. I was reducing what should have been graceful ballet to grindy mosh pit, forcing my way through some of the bigger headscratchers.
On the other side of the consistency spectrum, the visuals really deliver. Denis Merzlov, Charlotte Zhu, and Chantel Tan’s efforts on the world, sprites, and cutscene art is remarkable. That dreamy pastel look scene in other games like Monument Valley works doubly here, in a game where bringing color to a muted world also brings clarity to dimming memories. Imba Interactive also did a hell of a job creating an ambient and engrossing soundtrack that compels while still being quiet and contemplative.
Devolver Digital has cultivated quite the reputation for finding games that, even if they aren’t perfect, are still unique and evocative experiences worth trying. Diceroll’s Umiro is another on that long list. As it nails the audio/visual steps, the gameplay can stumble into a sort of maddening bachata of trial and error, replacing a logic-forward approach to puzzle solving for just hard-nosed patience in some of the hairier stages. With 40 stages in all, this could very well be a groove-dropping deal breaker in the latter half of the game. But so long as you have the dance on your mind, this one of a kind puzzler has a floor to make your own.