A serene mountain overlook. A military base. A lush city. A train hurtling toward an unknown destination. These are just a few of the locations you’ll explore and photograph in Umurangi Generation. A photography game that plays like Pokemon Snap and Jet Set Radio’s lovechild is simultaneously unique and perhaps the perfect game for our times. While this is a fantastic game at its core, however, the Switch port has a few issues that keep it from being the definitive way to play.
Capture Every Moment
Every level starts at least vaguely the same. You are dropped into a new level with your camera and a short list of objectives to find and photograph. Some of these are easy. Take a picture of the nearby mountain which is almost impossible to miss from your mountain overlook. Others are a lot more complicated, like managing to photograph 10 solar panels in one shot. There are many panels around, but getting ten together, especially using the lens the game wants you to use, requires perfect positioning and just the right angle.
As you play through Umurangi Generation’s eight levels, you’ll unlock all kinds of new features. New camera lenses, new options to adapt your photos by playing with things like contrast. By the time you get deep into the game, your camera options actually get pretty crazy. It feels like using an actual digital camera. You have all the tools you’ll need to put your own unique stamp on your photos.
Art Is Subjective
Photos aren’t judged on too deep a level. A solid tutorial makes it clear that since art is subjective, they don’t want to discourage players from guiding things by pushing you toward a specific style. The game does judge what you’re photographing, the colors you choose, and a few minor things, but you’re encouraged to be creative.
While you need to complete the main objectives, called bounties, in each level, there’s more to photograph as well. Each level provides extra goals like recreating an exact photo, photographing your friends (including a chill penguin), and completing all objectives in a certain amount of time. You can also just enter photo mode and photograph whatever you want. Umurangi Generation works to provide as much freedom as you want.
Controls mostly work well, especially when it comes to taking photographs. I rarely felt like the interface held me back. Controlling your character is a bit more touch and go. Mostly it works fine, but the jump, in particular, feels a bit floaty, perhaps slightly more so here than it did on PC. That made getting into the perfect position to take a shot a slight challenge at times.
A Unique Vision
Umurangi Generation has a unique Maori vibe which brings a singular feel to this crumbling cyberpunk world. There’s no story or dialogue, but it also manages to tell an entirely unique story. My favorite part may be the way it tells its story. Outside of a few hints in the tutorial, everything in the story is communicated through the environments. As a photographer, you need to be regularly exploring and paying attention to details. As you do, you’ll see things going very badly for the planet. The early levels are fairly peaceful, but you’ll eventually enter war zones and invasions.
One of my favorite touches is how you return to several areas over time. Each return finds the environment shifted in ways that put an entirely new spin on things. It really drives home what is going on in the world without taking you out of the game. You never step out of the protagonist’s shoes, which makes this world feel alive and vibrant. Umurangi focuses on the small details. You’ll see how what is going on here impacts animals. How it impacts the poor. How the environment is being destroyed.
The look here seems right out of a game like Jet Set Radio, though perhaps with a darker twist. The game’s world feels tied to that as well, though perhaps a bit darker. The soundtrack by Adolf Nomura is stunning and well worth checking out on Spotify, even outside of the game. Its electronic, pounding rhythms feel perfectly at home here.
A Unique Version
While Umurangi Generation was one of my favorite games of 2020, the Switch port has both advantages and issues. New motion controls are included and work great. There are two modes letting you control which features are tied to them. They can also be disabled though they are on by default. Initially, though, this was confusing because I was using a set of third-party controllers without motion built-in. I was able to swap to normal joy-cons, but this would have been more intuitive if the game didn’t still display the buttons to perform the motion actions on-screen despite them not working with motion on. I had to wonder initially if this was a bug. It isn’t, but perhaps don’t show controls when they aren’t enabled. Still, the motion controls feel perfectly at home when snapping photos.
However, the biggest issue with this version of Umurangi Generation is that it is noticeably lower definition than the original PC version. Environments that are so full of life and color look a bit washed out. It isn’t anywhere near game-breaking. Those who didn’t play the original might not even notice it. It’s hard to see them, though, when you know how vibrant this game can look. The good news is that the resolution gets a bump when viewing things through your camera. That means when taking photos, things will look better, as will your actual photos. The Switch actually saves each photo as a system photo, making them easy to access—a very nice touch.
While not the definitive way to play Umurangi Generation, this is still a stunning game. With a unique vision of the future, informed in part by current times, it has a strong message, delivered with fascinating gameplay and unique style. If you have the option to play on PC, I would recommend doing so. If not, however, Umurangi Generation is well worth your time on any platform. This is a deeply felt game tailor-made for our times.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: ORIGAME DIGITAL; Developer: ORIGAME DIGITAL; Players: 1; Released: June 5th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Switch review copy of Umurangi Generation given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.