Pixel (a.k.a. Daisuke Amaya, a.k.a. the guy who created Ikachan and Cave Story) is a lucky man. In a slightly different world, it would’ve been so easy for his games -– all heavy on story and equally liberal with quirkiness -– to have languished in obscurity in Japan. Fortunately, in our cultivated world, skilled translators who understand Pixel’s work always find him, with receptive audiences at the ready for support. All are eager for old-school graphics and gameplay, treated with the dignity they expect from the medium today.
Originally released in 2000 and translated this past November, Ikachan dips the player into the water, where earthquakes have sequestered an underwater community from the rest of the ocean. As the titular squid among trapped fish and anemones, it’s left to the player to find escape.
Ikachan‘s plot is surprisingly deft, much like 2005’s Cave Story. So carefully written and thoroughly involving are both games, it’s easy to forget that cute robots and animals are delivering the lines. Pixel treats his characters with near-awe and deference. Never mocking, he avoids sickly irony and tongue-in-cheek trickery. The way he sees it, why, even super-deformed anime characters have their troubles.
Ikachan is fluid as he slices through the water, but then sinks like a stone with tentacles. He needs constant recalibration. As such, fights with enemies are fun, challenging affairs, but the game is hampered overall by its non-existent enemy variety and one-hour length. Had I reviewed this game when I played it in 2004 (stumbling through Japanese, yikes) I’d have sounded more disappointed because the gameplay isn’t explored like it should’ve been.
In hindsight, making Ikachan better would’ve slowed future projects. And when you’re fated to make something as sublime and spellbinding as Cave Story, why sweat over things that are merely excellent?
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