Umurangi Generation Review: Portrait of a City on Fire (Switch)

Get in touch with your inner artist and explore the vibrant but foreboding world of Umurangi Generation. View a dystopian city through your choice of lens - and either challenge yourself by rushing through your bounties, or explore the meticulous details of this fascinating narrative experience.

Umurangi Generation Review Portrait of a City on Fire Switch cover

Taking snapshots has become easier than ever thanks to smartphone technology. However, there’s something purposeful and about breaking out your own camera to capture the world from your unique perspective. Umurangi Generation‘s vastly neon, gritty, and energetic world has been offering amateur photographers a way to explore and express their point of view.

Umurangi Generation (“Umurangi” is the Māori word for “red sky”) was one of the most celebrated PC indie games of 2020. The Switch version was a highly anticipated release, with the developer Origame Digital giving sneak peeks at the adaptation of the hardware’s features. How does the snap-happy adventure pan out on the hybrid console?

Umurangi Generation - Nintendo Switch Announcement Trailer

Umurangi Generation is available on the Nintendo Switch and PC on Steam, for your regional pricing.

Story – An Unfolding World

Umurangi Generation tells its entire story through its environment. Stages are events that unfold, revealing a group of friends and their place in a struggle on Tauranga Aotearoa (Māori for New Zealand – hinting at an alternate future). The setting is both retro and futuristic, neon signs and boomboxes littering the horizon in nearly every stage.

Graffiti is used for the citizens to express themselves

Graffiti is used for the citizens to express themselves

You play as a courier for the Tauranga Express, who for some reason, has to deliver a highly specific set of photographs. Each stage creates a narrative of impending crisis, and leaves you right at the thick of it – a block party, a battlefield, a vigil, a long train ride, and more. Characters are caught in mundane situations, filling out a diorama of a place that feels familiar and alien at the same time.

Despite not having any exposition or cutscenes that have typical of both AAA and indie games, the world that the game has built stands strong, and its story captivating. Each stage employs a thoughtful design that provokes the player’s curiosity. Little mysteries, like why you’re hanging out in a heavily armed fort, and why you get points docked from having the “blue bottle” insects in your shot, are solved by paying attention to your surroundings. Nooks and crannies are filled with things to read, observe, and photograph. You will find yourself telling your own stories about the things, people, and animals(!) you meet along the way as you complete your mission.

Newspapers, posters, and other paraphernalia reveal the events

Newspapers, posters, and other paraphernalia reveal the events

Even without blocks of text describe what’s going on, Umurangi Generation has a clear and strong message about a dystopian future. The relatively chill city starts breaking down when authoritarian forces start cracking down. It’s a game where you can emulate the experience of a war photographer, feeling both detached and intimate with what is happening around you.

Gameplay – Awaken Your Inner Photographer

Umurangi Generation is a unique game that could be best described as an “I Spy” meets Pokemon Snap in a vibrant cyberpunk universe. Your traverse into scenes filled to the brim with detail and personality.

Tick off the items on your photo bucket list one by one.

Tick off the items on your photo bucket list one by one.

Each stage has a checklist of things you need to capture, plus some additional bonus tasks. The bounties are little puzzles on their own – some ask you to zoom in or take a wide shot, some need you to think outside of the box, and some require perfect timing. Carefully tuning your eye to the scene into what initially feels like a chore into an art expedition. There’s a ten-minute deadline for capturing all the bounties in your list, but I was too in awe of the scenes to ever accomplish that on my first playthrough!

Outside of the bounties that you need to fulfill, exploration is one of the most fun things to do in the game. It’s in these sections where you go off the rails and poke around on your own do you find what interests you. Umurangi Generation operates on a scoring system that takes into account your use of color, content, and composition, so you’re not really judged on your photography skill, but rather on how you experiment with your photos. I like that the game encourages you to find things you find intriguing or even beautiful, framing them in your specific perspective with various lens kits and adjustable filters.

I primarily play on my Switch in handheld mode, and photography and UI on this game feel great. Not only that – the photos you take immediately go to your Switch’s actual library, ready for sharing and posting your masterpieces! These thoughtful touches make the game that much more special. Plus, the Switch Special Edition is packaged with the Macro DLC, giving you even more content and moments of photography fun.

Rush through the stage, or masterfully capture the scene? It's your choice.

Rush through the stage, or masterfully capture the scene? It’s your choice.

However, control of the character is a little less desirable. Some bounties, often the ones with text, are more finicky to fulfill than others – requiring an extremely specific angle before it counts in your list. There are some sections where you need to do a bit of platforming. When I hit the jump button, I sometimes don’t move or jump extremely high. Trying to climb up things like the steep planks and stairs is a bit of a harrowing experience, but nothing that ruins the whole game.

Audio and Graphics – Thrill and Chill(ing Out)

Possibly one of the most stylish games to have come from 2020, Umurangi Generation oozes attitude and charm. It mixes the nostalgia of PS1-era polygons and a setting incredibly relevant to today. Even the drabbest, most dire scenes have a splash of color and dynamism. Of course, the game was designed for you to look at everything intently – thankfully, there’s a lot of interesting things to see.

You'll spend a while looking at the surprising nooks and crannies of this game.

You’ll spend a while looking at the surprising nooks and crannies of this game.

Anything ported onto the Switch suffers a bit of a downgrade in terms of graphics, and the case is the same for this game. I was scrolling through fan photos, in awe of the crispness of their shots and their artistic talent. If you played the PC version, you would see it too. Otherwise, you wouldn’t notice anything, but for certain players, it could take away from the magic of the game.

The game’s soundtrack – which is available on Spotify – is the standout: a moody electrofunk mix to watch the end of the world to. It is my absolute favorite thing about the game. Equal parts chill-out and suspense/thriller, complete with danceable beats and eerie environmental samples. It makes you want to dive into a photography expedition of your own – earphones in, your creative eye out.

Umurangi Generation was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Origame Digital.

Umurangi Generation is fantastic gamification of photography and a unique narrative experience. Tauranga Aotearoa is like a palpable memory after sweeping through its points of interest and history. It feels like a game made for the Switch - but while the port successfully emulates photography action, issues with image quality and controls would leave certain players to prefer the PC version.
  • Great camera mechanics melding into the hardware
  • Incredible style and ambiance, from the graphics to the music
  • Takes environmental storytelling to a whole new level
  • An interesting game of exploration and expression
  • Controlling the cameraperson is a bit finicky
  • Platforming on some stages is not so smooth

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