I’m not usually fond of smartphone games and their PC conversions. The mobile market is so overcrowded with titles that quantity over quality seems to be a sad rule of thumb there. But under heaps of pure garbage can lie some true hidden gems, like the charming Florence a while ago and now a clever little puzzle-game Umiro, a Singaporean student project. The game is available both on smartphones and PC, and it is a rare treat that serves both crowds just as nicely.
The over-arching but modest narrative, told via short lines of dialogue in-game and cute illustrations between chapters, binds the puzzle-action together. The boy, Huey, wakes up in a strange dream-like world. At first, he doesn’t remember a thing but after a few introductory stages, he re-collects some of his thoughts and meets up with Satura. The kids obviously know each other, but the girl is more amnesiac than Huey, perhaps repressing her memories. Huey leads reluctant Satura in their predicament, a world of bizarre and dangerous stages viewed from the top-down perspective. They seem at first obscure, but slowly you’ll realize they are school and field trip places; movie theaters, gardens, museums, classrooms and such. Satura doesn’t even seem want to remember anything, but Huey is persistent and slowly earns the girl’s trust.
On each stage, Huey and Satura need to be routed to their home crystals; Huey to the turquoise crystal and Satura to the red. Along the way, there are optional yellow crystals to collect, and together with the turquoise and red crystals, they bring back the colors to each stage. I honestly don’t know what happens if you don’t pick up all the yellow crystals - apart from not gaining an achievement for completionist - as I ended up collecting them all. To reach the kids’ goals, you first need to draw routes for both in a planning phase. A mouse is the best tool for it, and the entire game can be played with it, even though the screen layout persistently shows keyboard controls. The only hazards in Huey’s and Satura’s way are moving black orbs and colored flame barriers. Hitting either knocks the kids out, forcing you to retry the stage. It doesn’t sound like much but that’s more than enough to hamper the twosome’s journey to a full recollection of their standing.
When you have drawn the routes for the characters, you press the “play” button and watch as Huey and Satura trot around the stage following the plan. For once, trial-and-error is a built-in game mechanic. You simply can’t complete most of the stages without failing (several times) and then accordingly adjusting the characters’ routes or timing of pressing the play button. The stages are compact and fit the screen on their entirety, so retrying them time and again is painless. It’s always a small triumph to watch Huey and Satura retrace their steps to the safety of their home crystals, along with the netted yellow crystal. Usually, the successful runs take only a few seconds of real-time playback. What a feeling it is when on those rare occasions, your routed plan works perfectly in the first go!
By trial and error, you’ll eventually realize what kind of routes you need to plot. After drawing the path for one character, you draw it for the other, seeing their movements in relation to each other. Cooperation between Huey and Satura is constantly called for and requires timing their paths. For example, you have one running to a button to deactivate the barrier from the other’s way. Often, you need to add delay to one’s path to have both characters work in sync. The best way to stall the walk is by having the character running a few loops on a safe spot. As a result, the drawn routes can look like infant’s doodles but watching them unfold proves otherwise. There are no random elements, as all the stages are handcrafted. There’s more than one solution to each, so you don’t need to be second-guessing what the developers have intended.
Umiro is divided into four ten-stage chapters, with each presenting new game mechanics. The first introduces the basic enemies, black orbs that go through their predetermined paths. The second chapter adds one-use buttons to activate and deactivate the colored barriers with. The third chapter lets you collect shields to pass through the black orb once. The fourth chapter places snowflakes on stages, with upon touching freeze the black orbs in their place for a few seconds. All these mechanics add to the simple complexity of the game, always manageable but still tricky. Upon completing the final stage (divided into four sub-stages), four solo stages for Satura are unlocked, where she can be made move faster by clicking anywhere on the screen. Completing these stages opens up the final stage for Satura to give the story its heart-warming closure.
Having the game served in snack-sized bites suits both mobile and PC games mentality. On smartphones, I imagine you can pick it up and play a couple of levels and then put away. On PC, it’s comfortable to play the game in longer sessions, especially when you get in the zone and can complete a bunch of levels in a one sitting. I haven’t played the mobile version but I can only assume that the mouse is more accurate tool to draw the characters’ routes than a flabby finger.
The charming narrative motivated me to see Umiro gladly through. The game is neither too easy nor too hard, it sits comfortably in-between with a reasonably cumulative level of challenge. Some stages are a breeze, while some have you seriously pondering your actions. Most trouble come from the stages that have two home crystals for Huey and Satura. After reaching the first set, there’s a checkpoint for the next set. Only, you can end up in a deadlock where the character is stuck behind a flame barrier and there are no buttons left to deactivate it. The only option then is to restart the whole stage and re-route the characters. This is not a neglect in the level design, but rather it prompts you to really read the way out of given stages.
Umiro eased me in with aesthetically pleasing, stripped-down visuals and soothing ambient music and kept me hooked in with its simple yet engaging gameplay and touching little story about friendship and redemption. The game never overstays its welcome, as it takes five to seven hours to complete it, depending on the quickness of the player’s wits. In the end, I was even a bit sad to leave Huey and Satura behind. There’s little replay value, but for a few hours of joyous, moving and fulfilling entertainment for a mere three bucks, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Umiro is a neat little package that works perfectly within its limited set of rules and gameplay.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.