Published on February 8th, 2013 | by Keith Hanson0
Ikachan: Heroes don’t need backbones
In a day and age where almost every protagonist carries a gun or sword (or both), has the body of Adonis and the wit of John McClane, a four-legged silent squid is in a league of his own. Originally a freeware computer game created by Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, Ikachan is now the most recent release from publisher Nicalis for the Nintendo 3DS. Pixel is most popular for creating Cave Story, which has seen multiple releases across multiple systems since its inception in 2004. This game served as a prototype, and shares similarities in story and setting. Available on the Nintendo eShop for $4.99, and clocking in at around 2-3 hours of playtime, it’s the perfect bite-sized adventure for fans of the side-scrolling genre most people categorize as a “Metroidvania.”
“You wake up to realize that you’re somewhere deep underwater. Swim, Ikachan!” And so the game begins, and swim you shall. It’s all you can do at the start. You’ll find yourself defenseless, as well as lost. Ikachan propels himself with the press of either the A or B button, but can only swim directly up or at 45 degree angles to the left and right. Imagine controlling a Blooper in Super Mario Bros. and you’ve got the right idea. After exploring the immediate area, avoiding any spikes and fish along the way, you find a pointed hat. With your new chapeau you can now attack enemies and clear blocks by bumping them with your head. This is the only form of attack. It is supplemented later with the ability to dash left and right, but that is mainly used for unlocking later areas in the game.
You’ll soon meet strange sea creatures who speak of earthquakes that have trapped them in this cave, and a fish named Ironhead who rules over them. The food supplies are diminishing, and if the earthquakes persist, they’ll be crushed. Whether they’re urchins or anemones doesn’t matter, it’s up to the brave little squid to find a way to stop the tyrannical Ironhead and save all the cute little critters. It’s hard not to care about them as they exclaim “Oh carp!” with every new danger. You’ll be able to piece together the story through interactions with these characters, but you’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself, and the game takes some weird turns toward the end.
As you bubble along, aiding these deep sea dwellers, the soothing background music helps paint the underwater scene. The 3D effect works quite well, although it's mostly for aesthetic purposes. You'll be headbutting enemies and eating fish along the way to gain you experience which increases your level, and in turn increases your life and attack power. You explore the cave, level up, and hopefully escape a watery fate trapped at the bottom of the ocean.
Sadly, it's a short adventure. For anyone who enjoyed Pixel's Cave Story, that may come as a disappointment. But, if you remember that Ikachan is a precursor to that game, it's a joy to see where the creator's ideas and style began. Both games start in complete mystery revolving around a cave in which cute innocent characters reside who can't help themselves, and a mute hero who doesn't know his true power or purpose until the conclusion. If Cave Story is Daisuke Amaya's masterwork novel, this is the short story that started it all. With a price of only $5, it's worth it for an evening of adventure.