Sometimes you start a new game and hope it’ll push your skills to the limit, sometimes you want to play something so ambitious it’ll upend everything you thought you knew about a genre, and sometimes all you can do is get down on your knees and pray the adventures of a schoolgirl with the powers of a unicorn from another dimension sorting out a bunch of Tribble-like catblobs and their mischievous dimensional hole creating machinery is going to make some sort of sense by the time you get to the end.
We’ve all been there, right?
While it’s called a “Remix” this Saturn version of the original Yumimi Mix for Mega CD is really a more straightforward “deluxe” edition of the base game featuring a few minor changes and additions to the script, small extra visual scenes inserted between the preexisting ones, and polished off with a general boost to the quality of the animation. In most games this sort of tinkering would be an interesting footnote but here it has a real impact on the game as Yumimi Mix’s cutscenes aren’t end-of-stage niceties or reserved for special occasions but the entire thing. Don’t worry though, we’re not about to take another dive through an FMV adventure of questionable quality – Yumimi Mix is an interactive comic using nothing but proper made-for-the-event pixel art with not a single grainy FMV sequence or poorly resized artwork scan in sight.
The sheer quantity of these images would be enough for most digital adventures, but Yumimi Mix goes about a million steps beyond that by ensuring just about every shot has at the very least some basic or minor form of animation in there (a butterfly flitting across the screen, a simple special effect loop, etc.), and when the game goes all-out and animates something “properly” the result really is smooth and very impressive – even more so because the game doesn’t save these moments for the big events but sprinkles them throughout Yumimi’s story, making every scene feel like a cohesive part of a high quality production. It’s more than just the number of frames used: There’s real artistry on display here, from the serene animation of a fish swimming in a stream (a “pointless” shot that would have been left out of a lesser game) to something as simple as seeing liquid travel up a straw as a character puts it to her lips. Even plain old talking heads scenes regularly extend beyond the expected bare minimum of eye/mouth movement placed on top of static faces and the game will use many “unnecessary” angle changes during a single conversation as well as show people eating, drinking, changing their expression, or turning to face whoever’s currently speaking and altering their posture as they do so. It’s nothing less than incredible to watch even today – perhaps even more so considering how regularly we are told that pixel art is an expensive time-consuming exercise. So if the game rarely relies upon simple “Bobbing a sprite up and down to simulate walking” techniques then surely they must’ve cut corners elsewhere: reusing locations or character sprites to save some time and money, perhaps? While not completely absent the number of recycled shots is an absolutely tiny amount and almost every scene – every friendly chat, bizarre dream, and school gathering – you see is completely unique. That sort of detail and plain effort makes a huge difference in a game like this because between the nutty plot and this level of raw talent you really don’t know what you’ll end up seeing next – and even with all of this going on the game’s still not finished impressing you with its visual extravagances: Every single image, every last scene without fail, fills up the entire screen. Projects with this degree of pixel-lushness often have gorgeous sweeping panoramic stills but as soon as anything starts to move the action’s delivered via a postage stamp-sized window in the middle of the screen – that never happens in Yumimi Mix. Never.
In keeping with the impeccable presentation everywhere else and to not spoil all of that beautiful artwork with intrusive dialogue boxes Yumimi Mix is fully voiced with no text whatsoever beyond the infrequent dialogue/action choices that pop up… inside a cute fluffy cloud (aww). Now this isn’t ideal by a long shot because if you can’t hear the dialogue then you can’t play the game, but after playing it through I do feel that this is one game short and sweet enough for it to be worth making the effort to play in a distraction-free environment. Being spoken without subtitles had a few unintended bonuses too: Not being able to skip ahead or read too fast and have to sit and wait for the voice actors to catch up with you means the on-screen action always perfectly matches up to what you’re hearing – and thanks to the consistently lush animation you’re not left staring at perfectly still sprites you’ve already seen a dozen times before. That doesn’t excuse the game’s lack of subs (all games should have subtitles as an option) but if you’re going to be a talky game and not have them… well, this is how to do it. Saving is restricted to those times when a dialogue choice is on screen but you are always able to pause the game mid-sentence and then resume when you’re ready without skipping a single word. The only issue with this is it means the only time you can put the game down is when something new and/or exciting’s about to happen, which combined with the lack of chapter breaks and the irregular amount of time between these decisions can make the game’s ninety-ish minutes run time feel overly long because you’re never quite sure how long it’ll be before you next get the chance to take a break for the evening. It’s fair to say even I was able to finish Yumimi Mix in a single sitting and had a huge smile on my face when I reached the end (while bopping along to the catchy end song “Genki! Genki! Genki!”) so I obviously didn’t mind all that much, but I was conscious of that uncertainty lingering at the back of my mind.
The game, what little there is of it in the traditional sense, is just a case of picking an option from a small selection at predetermined times and then watching the ensuing mayhem play out in front of you. There are no Sakura Taisen-like timed decisions to panic over, no items to worry about using at the right time or vital scenes that only trigger if you did an unrelated task at an earlier point: Yumimi Mix could be loosely described as Choose Your Own Adventure: 90’s OVA Edition. What’s “worse” is that you can also go quite a long time between you having any say in the events being shown on your TV… and this is where you have to step back for a minute and remember exactly what sort of disc you’ve put in your Saturn: Yumimi Mix has never claimed to be a “real” game, so to take issue with an “interactive comic” (their term – they sometimes use “adventure comic” too) playing like an interactive comic would be ridiculous. You may as well judge the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series for not being a technical and rewarding 3D fighter, or mark down screensaver software (er, I realise not very many people still have screensaver software lying around the house but bear with me…) for just being a bunch of images that bounce around the screen or wipe between each other in an infinite loop and not Doom.
Naturally a title this reliant on its story is going to live and die by the quality of the script wrapped up in this oh-so-attractive package, and Yumimi Mix’s light-hearted daft adventure does a wonderful job of keeping players entertained. It’s not going to win any awards for, well, anything as the game’s got a fairly typical setup of one nice boy friend who fancies the lead and the lead fancies back but they can never quite manage doing more than awkwardly blushing at each other and one short-tempered girl friend with a quirky personality trait (in this case eating like a horse) but the main cast and the surrounding characters are a likeable bunch and even though it’s true to say they’ll never surprise you you’ll never long for them to shut up and leave either. As you can see from the riot of colour in the screenshots on this page the story’s a bright and silly thing, and if you’ve a fondness for the absurd well… Yumimi Mix is definitely absurd. I made a point of taking notes as I went along so I could pass along an accurate description of the game’s plot and make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything important but when you’re dealing with multiple dimensional holes, unicorns in love, snake-women in the school swimming pool and the big plot twist is IT WAS THE CUTE CATBLOB INTERLOPERS ALL ALONG… what can I say? It’s really one of those games that’s best seen with your own eyes, even if only because it helps me prove I didn’t have a funny turn while I was playing it through the other day.
But games that revel in this level of ridiculousness are playing with fire: Throwing logic out of the window may be funny for a writer but when you’re on the receiving end of a zany adventure it can lead to a complete disconnect between the options you’re given and how they play out or what they go on to effect, and not knowing if one of them might send you back to the title screen only adds to a sense of frustration and uncertainty. Yumimi Mix is thankfully well aware of this potential pitfall and counteracts it by completely stripping the game of all bad decisions and early endings: Every decision you make is just an alternative way to progress the plot up until the final few scenes, at which point your actions decide which one of three endings you’ll receive. This is why the game’s off-the-wall humour is able to so squarely hit its mark – because all of the behind the scenes design work that went into it wholly supports the off-the-wall story. There are no “gotchas”, no unsatisfying conclusions or sad outcomes because you made the decision to walk rather than run to school, just a daft tale steeped in sunshine from beginning to end. Even if you deliberately go out of your way to make a “wrong” choice the game doesn’t mind – there are no “But thou must!” moments that loop the conversation around until you do what you’re “supposed” to, just an endless array of humorous alternatives to carry you along to the end credits. In many other games this would feel very basic and restrictive but in this context it feels like pure unadulterated freedom – pick whatever you like! It’ll probably be funny and on the rare occasion it’s not you’ll at least move the plot along and see some very strange things along the way.
There are two very different ways to look at Yumimi Mix, and to make things difficult for everyone they’re both valid: One the one hand the game’s so short it struggles to outlast the sort of budget TV special you only seem to find while channel surfing on a rainy day and what few decisions you can make are objectively irrelevant because all they do is take you through minutely different routes through the same events in the same order. On the other this is a story that knows what it wants to do and just goes and does it without wasting your precious time with any superfluous padding and by removing all serious consequences from your decision making you are free to relax and pick choices based on nothing more than the one you think will produce the most laugh-out-loud outcome. I’m firmly in the latter camp: Yumimi Mix felt like an absolute joy to play and makes for a good palate-cleanser between “big” games – turn it on, see it through, and walk away in a better mood than the one you started the game with. It’s not a “real game” because it’s something so much better than that: Yumimi Mix wants nothing more than to be the very best Yumimi Mix it can be.