Pokemon Snap Meets Jet Set Radio in Umurangi Generation Out Now on Switch!
The world of indie titles is always filled with hidden gems, from games like Undertale, DUSK, and Stardew Valley. But what do all these games have in common despite all being very enjoyable? All these games have some form of inspiration that pushes the developer to expand upon what made their inspiration so great. Undertale takes from earthbound and bullet hell games, DUSK takes from Doom, Build Engine titles like Blood and Duke Nukem, as well as the original Quake, and Stardew Valley takes from titles like animal crossing and harvest moon. Umurangi Generation is no exception to this rule. As the title combines multiple inspirations from a plethora of media to make something entirely new.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with ORIGAME Digital and secure a copy of their indie title for PC, I’ve never heard of Umurangi Generation before playing it last night, however, the game just launched on Switch and is currently out for PC. I’m always looking to try out new games, and seeing the title online piqued my interest. After giving the game a full run-through, I can say that the game is certainly something special, and its uniqueness speaks volumes about the care that went into the title. The game is published by Playism, for those who don’t know, are the publishers behind the RPG Omori, Fight Crab, Mighty Goose, and Bright Memory.
So, what is Umurangi Generation like? Well for starters, players who are familiar with playing first-person shooters, whether or not they’re on the console or PC will be familiar with how the game functions. You move around in a first-person perspective and take photos. I played the tutorial not knowing exactly what the game was about, as I wanted to experience the game with a fresh mind. The game’s tutorial does not have the player play the game, as it’s an explanation about what the game is going to be like before thrusting the player into the levels to take pictures at their own discretion. I find this to be a well-deserved breath of fresh air, as I was given just enough information about what I was supposed to do rather than having to find out while I was playing. Each level is a small sandbox, letting the player run around without a care in the world of where they can and cannot go, except if their character is actually put in danger, the game will respawn them. The goal of each level is to complete photo bounties within the 10 minutes the player is given. Completing the levels unlocks new types of camera lenses for the player such as a Wide Angle Lens and a Fish Eye Lens. Some of the bounties also require that the player is close to the subject, or uses a particular camera lens for the photo. However, finishing within 10 minutes is actually not required to complete the level. There is a load of bonus challenges that will reward the player extra for completing them, giving the player other functions on the camera, as time stops after taking a picture while the player can adjust exposure, saturation, and more on the image before finalizing it. The bounties for the player to complete are akin to a scavenger hunt during the levels, finding 3 lit cigarettes, taking a picture of a cat, or finding a specific word of graffiti. However, taking blurry photos or having some of the bounties obscured still counts when it comes to completing the level, the game prides itself on letting players be as creative as possible. The only thing that will dock the player points is taking pictures of Blue Bottles. The game isn’t referring to plastic bottles that happen to be blue, as they’re talking about the Portuguese Man o’ War. A close cousin to the jellyfish that are littered around some of the maps. They don’t explain why taking pictures of these washed-up aquatic creatures is bad, but it becomes apparent as the game progresses.
Once all the bounties are completed, the player can make their way to the designated delivery section, giving the player the option to leave the level. Starting off the level also gives the player 24 pictures they’re able to take, but these can be refilled if the player comes across a roll of film in the game. There’s a varying amount of film in each level and finding all of them is a bonus challenge. It’s not recommended to complete everything in the first run-through, as ORIGAME Digital wants the player to soak in the world first.
There’s also a load of other modes the player can complete after finishing the main game, one of these is the Speedrun mode. As the game is meant to be taken slowly, this one tests your knowledge of how fast you can complete the challenges and bounties for the game. I completed the whole game in around 15 minutes only doing the speed run mode. However, it pushed me right into the DLC pack of levels, so I don’t know what my grade was. Completing the first level in 53 seconds, the game gave me a blue stamp, judging by the sound the game made, I’m assuming that I didn’t do as well as I thought I did. Right now, the game’s current world record is sitting at 4 Minutes and 15.99 seconds. Showing that a lot is going into the speedrun for this game, as pictures are taken at lightning-fast speed. While it’s not done in the speedrun mode of the game, ORIGAME has made it apparent that they’re interested to see how fast someone can complete their title, as the game will skip the menus between levels to streamline the process. Players can also enjoy the Creative mode of the game, removing the bounties and timer, and letting players go wild with taking as many photos as they can. This opens the doors for many fun and interesting photos to be taken, as well as the game letting the player know that they want to see what the player has made, putting their Twitter link on the exit page of the game. The game also comes with a DLC pack, an expansion to the levels of the game featuring some changes that players will enjoy, such as Rollerblades, which adds to the Jet Set Radio inspiration, these allow the player to travel around faster, however, they will stop working if the player happens to run into a wall. The DLC pack also comes with 4 extra levels for the player to try out and includes a cutscene in the ending sequence of the DLC.
However, I did stumble upon some issues throughout my playthrough of the game that I would like to highlight.
Minor Gameplay Issues
It’s no surprise that games are bound to have bugs that somehow make it past the QA system. And while the occasional bug isn’t a huge deal, I did run into some gameplay issues with Umurangi Generation that persisted throughout my time playing the game. One of those was the way that ledges and walls work. The player must be able to land directly on the ledge, or else they’ll fall off, and while the character doesn’t take fall damage, it’s certainly not fun to have to climb all the way back up. The player also gets stuck on walls constantly. Landing on a wall after jumping will have the player stick to the wall, this is only achieved while the player is pushing into the wall. It doesn’t matter what height the player is at, and it will work on any wall. These wouldn’t be a huge issue however, the game becomes slightly frustrating when combined with how the double jump works. The game shows in the tutorial that the player can jump twice. This seems like a good idea on paper, but the way the double jump functions in-game is frustrating. The double jump does not work in the same way as other double jumps. For example, if the player is falling, and wants to jump again to move to a ledge or slow their descent, the jump will not propel the player upwards in the way that a normal double jump would work. However, the double jump very briefly stops all momentum. Meaning that the player can stop mid-air, but the time that the momentum is stopped is not enough to use to any advantage. Once I discovered this revelation as to how the double jump actually works, I used it as a higher jump, as using it at any time after the apex of the player’s original jump made it useless. Combining this with just missing the edges of high ledges made some parts of the game’s platforming were frustrating to complete. Combining this with the speed skates the player gets in the DLC, and the double jump now becomes a super jump, which is actually used in speed runs. While it does, put a damper on an otherwise completely polished game, I don’t think it’s as big of an issue as it could have been. Hopefully using the second jump after the apex of the first will be patched with the switch release. Another Issue that players of the game have pointed out is that some players will get motion sickness from playing the game, some have said this is remedied by the FOV slider on PC.
Performance & Visuals
While I was running Umurangi Generation on PC, it ran without any issue, saving all my photos in the game on a file on my computer, some of which are included in the review you’re reading right now. The visuals of the game are reminiscent of the PS1 Era low-poly graphics that players have come to know and love in indie titles, and it works, the Neon lights of the city you explore, combined with the gameplay makes for a fun and unique world that reminds me of Jet Set Radio. While players don’t have the smooth-talking DJ from JSR, they do have a lot of funky and chill music to keep them company while they play through the title. The game in my opinion should be played with Headphones, as I was fully focused on the game and listening to the music while I walked around the levels and took photos during my original playthrough. While you can play the game in a higher resolution than on the switch, the game runs perfectly fine on the switch, and the visuals mesh well with the hybrid console, letting players enjoy the visuals like it was made for the original PlayStation.
The World and Its Message
The story of Umurangi Generation is mostly told through the background environment and visuals that happen throughout the levels. We don’t actually get told why the main character is taking pictures, the only notion of clarity as to why the player is doing what they’re doing is that they’re a courier for the Tauranga Express, Whether or not the packages are the photo’s you’re sending isn’t outright said. However, I envisioned that the player is working for a newspaper of sorts. The City of Tauranga is the setting of the world as this dark and gritty Cyberpunk city with heavy amounts of neon, all while telling players a story about climate change and more. This brings us back to the blue bottles, The Jellyfish the player isn’t supposed to take pictures of. According to what information I’ve been able to take from the game, Blue Bottles have been appearing all over the city the player resides in, as the player traverses throughout the world, the Blue Bottles grow in size, and the threat becomes something more akin to a Kaiju attack on the city.
The Player starts off in Umurangi Generation on a rooftop that they and their friends hang out at, and while the game progresses, we see the players documentation of the day to day life of the characters, seeing parties in the streets, memorials for city members, as well as a battle against a giant blue bottle. The player then embarks on a train, reaches a station where refugees are being handled, and then ends right where the player starts, back on the rooftop. However, the change this time is the fact that there’s a giant monster unlike the blue bottle seen earlier, and the other side are 3 robots, their designs heavily inspired by the designs of Unit-01 from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. More wall art in the game implies that the Kaiju attacks on the world are from pollution caused by humans. Which is akin to some inspiration from Another film Shin Gozilla, which was also created by the same person who wrote Neon Genesis Evangelion. This world is described by Game creator Naphtali Faulkner as a “shitty future” which is spot on for the world of Umuragni Generation. After completing the final level, the player is brought to a “Final Delivery” which is the ending of the game, as they look upon the destruction of the city, and a giant shadowing figure sitting upon the mountain above them, they’re met with the spirits of Maori People, as well as some spirit animals. This final area holds importance to the creator as Faulkner is also a part of the Maori Tribe of people.
It’s no surprise that the game is a political piece. Being that some of the frustrations Faulkner felt during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the 2020 Australian brushfires. This is also shown in the DLC for the game, as it takes place during the 2 weeks before the original Umurangi Generation base game. With the player character traveling from a VR lounge, complete with a message at the prospect of VR pleasure culture, as well as a captive dolphin who is making music using echolocation, to an underground refugee camp, where the denizens of the camp criticize the United Nations handling of the ongoing situation. Although, in my opinion, the message of the game seems to get muddled during the ending sequence of the DLC, as the level is a protest, seemingly a reference to the current political climate of the US during the summer of 2020, as the black and red colors found on members of Antifa are used heavily during the level. After completing the level, a giant mecha reminiscent of the design of Unit-02 from Neon Genesis Evangelion appears, and police march in, with the characters managing to escape through a nearby drainage pipe.
This is where the game starts to confuse me with the message it’s trying to tell me. While the game is seemingly about the handling of the attacks from the bluebottles, and the mishandling of the situation by the UN which is all an allegory for Climate change, which can be seen throughout the wall art for the game, having the DLC end on a completely different issue is confusing and muddles the message of the game as it becomes a balancing act of trying to say something about everything. Hints of distrust for the UN are justified as the camps and checkpoints show that the city is in lockdown due to the attacks. Having the game completely change focus to a whole other issue which has no setup at all compared to the story told through the main game seems very forced, combining this with the end screen being a tally of the damage costs for this event in the last level, as well as there only being a small handful of people in the level, yet the UN shows up with a Mecha to dispatch everyone, as well as the fact that the DLC takes place 2 weeks before the event of the main game, makes it feel like this message was an afterthought rather than a conscious decision, as it doesn’t feel cohesive to the story the game is trying to tell players. However, this is all my opinion, and the game is still a very enjoyable experience to play regardless.
Community and Verdict
There is no solid community for Umurangi Generation, most of the images are shared online through Twitter, and the speedrunning community for the game is incredibly small, with there only being 4 players listed on speedrun.com. however, the game is filled with bountiful pictures from players on the game’s community hub on Steam, or any of the images that are posted online through Twitter.
So, what’s the verdict of Umurangi Generation? I insist that players shouldn’t watch someone else play this game, as it’s more fun to take your own pictures, rather than seeing someone else take them. I don’t think I would have played the game had I watched someone play it already. While I think the game is lost in what it’s trying to say in some parts, I think that the game itself is a unique experience, and is a fun twist on some of the best inspirations of old. Fans of Pokémon Snap, and Jet Set Radio will enjoy Umurangi Generation.