When I first started GameTomo’s Sumire on Nintendo Switch, I had to stop and take in the beautiful picture the game was painting for me with its art and music. It immediately set the tone for a brief but touching adventure that I could only describe as what would happen if Hayao Miyazaki decided he wanted to create a children’s storybook. The one-day journey of the young girl, Sumire, and her guardian spirit is full of charming characters, idyllic Japanese locales, and a narrative with rewarding answers regarding its themes of loss and growth. Light exploration, branching dialogue options, and a unique art style add up to a well-paced game that never overstays its welcome. Despite a short length and some technical issues, Sumire is a day trip worth taking.
Set in a rural Japanese village, Sumire tells the story of a young girl disillusioned with the world. After recently losing her grandmother and having troubles with her parents, there’s a clear sense that Sumire is a lonely child in need of support. When all seems lost for her, a friendly and mischievous spirit she nicknames Flower enters the picture and provides her with a deal. If she can show the spirit a single joyful day in the human world before it disappears, it will let Sumire hear the thing she most desires to know: her grandmother’s final words to her.
What follows is a well-paced stroll through Sumire’s quaint and beautiful hometown. Sympathizing with Sumire is easy, which makes it all the harder to watch as she struggles to take on both the world and her inner anxieties; her story can go to some surprisingly dark places. It’s a tale about loss, acceptance, and hope, and Flower acts as a great foil to Sumire’s personal quest. Flower’s inquisitiveness about the human world gives Sumire a friend to talk to, but it also often pushes her outside of her comfort zone to help with her struggles involving family, friendships, romances, and bullying. All told, Sumire’s tale of sorrow and growth towards a better tomorrow is satisfying to watch unfold, and it earns its emotional payoffs in spades in the conclusion.
A sidescrolling adventure
Sumire is a 2D adventure through picturesque scenery, with some explorable depth to its foreground and background areas. Dialogue options are essential to the narrative of Sumire. You might decide to stop a tortoise from beating a hare in a race or choose between forgiving your bullies or leaving them in a dangerous predicament. Small or large, these decisions significantly change how individual stories and character arcs play out.
Side missions involving tasks such as delivering a love letter or fetching a flower for a cat are simple affairs, but they flesh out characters and offer rewards such as coins for purchasing quest items. Keeping track of both side and main objectives is made simple thanks to a journal Sumire keeps on her person. Within the journal, you can check your progression, inventory, and even use a map for fast traveling. Staying still for a few moments also causes Sumire to think about her next task, making it almost impossible to get lost.
Outside of the branching dialogue decisions, puzzle encounters and mini-games also provide engaging gameplay. At regular story intervals, your progress is impeded by crows. Encounters like these offer unique mechanics like only moving when the crows cannot see you or ducking to avoid their attacks. Difficulty is a non-issue for these moments, but it serves the greater purpose of pushing the story forward whilst providing a nice change of pace. Mini-games involving cards or puzzles also offer fun diversions in this vein.
As a one-day escapade, Sumire is a naturally short game. Branching stories caused by your dialogue choices and an unlockable set of in-game achievements offer a few incentives for replayability, but by and large, Sumire is a brief jaunt.
Like a Japanese painting in motion
Sumire’s art style is vibrant but with a soft painterly touch that makes it feel like a watercolor canvas made in an actual Japanese village. Character models may not be to everyone’s personal tastes, but full-screen artwork that bookends important story beats makes a great visual highlight. Fans of slice-of-life anime such as Non Non Biyori will instantly understand the game’s vibe.
A lack of voice acting isn’t a deterrent for Sumire either, as it may have overshadowed the delicate balance the game maintains between its peaceful moments and serene backing soundtrack. Acoustic instruments create melancholy tracks that bring the rural countryside to life, while upbeat tones brighten the mood in a town. Sumire showcases a wealth of music for each situation, and it never disappoints in this regard.
Mechanically, Sumire’s controls may be simple, but there is a notable lack of accessibility options to customize how it plays. Occasional frame rate inconsistencies were also pretty noticeable and were the only real downer on an otherwise sublime visual package.
Sumire is a journey worth taking
Sumire is a beautifully told and emotionally resonant story about a young girl struggling to find reasons to be hopeful. A well-paced narrative full of character-driven growth delves deep into themes such as loss and growth, while its watercolor art style and acoustic soundtrack paint a beautiful picture of rural Japanese scenery. A charming world and simple but fun puzzles add variety and are almost enough to forget about issues like frame rate dips. Ultimately, Sumire makes the most of its brief runtime, and it’s a day trip I won’t soon forget.
A review code for Sumire was provided by the publisher.