Release Date: January 31, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Nicalis (Pixel and Nicalis)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone”
If you love Cave Story, you should know Ikachan. Before Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya made the game we all know and love, he created a story about a squid-like creature trapped in a cave. It was originally released as a freeware PC game in 2000, four years before Cave Story. After beating it, I can see how one influenced the other. Now that Cave Story is practically a household name among gamers, Nicalis has worked with Pixel to bring more attention to Pixel’s first endeavor by releasing it on the 3DS.
A squid who’s may not be a squid must save the bay.
Ikachan is a game about a squid that really isn’t a squid. It’s something else entirely and has found himself underwater in some underground caves. He’s not the only one there, though. A bouncing, star-like creature is trapped in some rocks near the place where Ikachan woke up.
So, Ikachan does what anyone would should they suddenly find themselves underground and underwater, he explores. Ikachan can either swim straight up or straight diagonally left or right by expelling bubbles. He must venture through the caverns, talking to anenome-like creatures, fighting hostile fish and crabs and eating fish, in the hopes of leveling up so he’s strong enough to face opponents, finding powerups and items and discovering what has happened.
The thing is, Ikachan has to hurry. The entire area is plagued by earthquakes which have cut off the fishy denizen’s food supply, resulting in Ironhead, the largest fish, being placed in charge of everyone. You never know when the earthquake that could destroy everyone will hit.
A very brief, undersea excursion
Ikachan is essentially an underwater Metroidvania game. Players control Ikachan by mashing the A or B buttons to expel bubbles to move and occasionally pressing the X or Y button to open his inventory. Initially, Ikachan is level 1 and fairly weak, with no means of attacking opponents and no “pearl” that shows his status in this undersea society. However, by exploring different caverns and areas, he can eat fish that grant experience and restore health and find items that allow him to attack, jet upward or forward if A or B is briefly held or pass certain challenges.
It’s all very rudimentary and I’d be tempted to call it a game for beginners, if it weren’t for the fact that one really has to think before moving. As I mentioned, Ikachan can only move three directions after expelling bubbles. He can go upward, towards the upper right or towards the upper left. Momentum also has to be taken into account, as pressing once or twice on a button will make Ikachan move slowly, but once he is moving, he can move quite fast. Spikes are liberally laid throughout the cavern’s passages, enemies have a habit of suddenly turning lethal and attacking and Ikachan can only attack if he directly bops an opponent or block with his head, which means that a certain amount of caution must be exercised when exploring.
I enjoyed that though. It made the Ikachan experience feel more realistic. That, combined with the delightful story, left me loving every moment. The character sprites for Ikachan, the NPCs and the enemies are all very detailed and manage to excude some personality despite the size limitations. They’ve all also been remastered/redone so it looks much crisper than the freeware version. The bits of story that are there are intriguing, especially the way in which pearls are used in their society as status symbols and the way in which the cavern changes after earthquakes.
However, Ikachan is dreadfully short. When it ended, I was left with unanswered questions. I won’t mention what they were for the sake of spoilers, but it felt like there was more to the story I didn’t know. It’s disappointing. This is made even worse by the fact that once the game has been beaten once, there’s no reason to go back aside from nostalgia purposes.
Ikachan is good, but has a limited audience and no replay value.
I beat Ikachan in one hour and nine minutes exactly. It was probably took even less than that, as after the credits rolled, I loaded my save file again, convinced there had to be some New Game+ content after beating what turned out to be the final boss. There wasn’t. This is a very short game. It’s a very charming game and I loved every minute of that hour, but once you’ve beaten it, there’s really no reason to go back.
Which means the target audience for Ikachan is going to be very small. The people who will be willing to spend $5 on this are the Nicalis and Pixel supporters. Only true indie game lovers will be willing to make the sacrifice to support a developer that has always worked to broaden the horizon of PC, console and handheld owners. Everyone else will probably just google “Ikachan” and find themselves at the official site to download the English or Japanese freeware version for their Windows PC.