I’ve been dipping my fingers into a few “indie” titles recently. It is a term that we aren’t quite sure about. Sometimes an indie is a game actually developed by an independent studio or individual and sometimes the name is slapped on to just mean a shorter title produced by a big company. It doesn’t bother me. I am as big a fan of indies as I am short stories. In this last generation, the indie market has exploded onto consoles and, with this boon of popularity, many titles like Journey and Gone Home have even topped the inevitable but necessary game of the year lists. In good-natured indie spirit, let’s talk Ikachan.
Ikachan is a title created by the mastermind behind Cave Story (at least I’m told he is a mastermind, since I haven’t played a lick of Cave Story yet). In the game, Ikachan, a squid that you gain control of, must swim his way around the ocean floor, helping the local sea creatures from starving to death in their soon-to-be-barren reef. As for the story, that’s about it without spoiling the game, if you could even say there is something worth spoiling. The player blubs about talking to sea life doing the tasks at hand. Those tasks include ramming Ikachan’s head into enemies, leveling-up by eating fish, and navigating the sea floor.
Since we are talking about a sea game here, it is worth mentioning that ever since the early video game days, water levels have been notoriously not-fun. Think about it, Samus, Fox, Mario, Kirby, Link, Donkey Kong, Sonic, Banjo and a myriad of other characters have all trudged through terrible water levels; this isn’t Ecco the Dolphin we are talking about here. Suffice it to say, with the exception of a few, water levels blow. Maybe this all-too-true factoid gives me a bias toward Ikachan (remember Ocarina of Time?), but I didn’t find swimming around in this title very fun either.
Ikachan swims a little bit diagonally with each button press, much like Mario in his NES days. Unlike Mario, Ikachan must use his head to bash enemies who can move any which way they please. Dodging enemies and trying to attack enemies just feels unintuitive and frustrating. Eventually, I stopped bothering with enemies altogether, something very possible for the majority of the game. As if to punish the player, you receive a powerup in the game that allows this cephalopod to fire himself horizontally in the last few minutes of the game; what a tease! By the time the game feels playable and one has learned to deal with its shortcomings, it ends. Perhaps the control of Ikachan was supposed to mirror the helplessness of a little squid doing its best in a tough, fish-eat-fish world, but the narrative wasn’t interesting enough for me to give a damn.
The game looks great though. It has a very retro, 8-bit style and, if you play the game on the 3DS, the simple style really lends itself to the 3D effect. But, and this is a big one, there isn’t much to see. Playing casually, with little-to-no idea of where to go or what to do, Ikachan takes about an hour and a quarter to beat completely. As the credits rolled, I felt more surprised than satisfied. With a confusing and rarely charming plot, I didn’t know how to feel once the game had ended. Yes, the game is free on Windows and only a few dollars on 3DS, but the brevity and monotony of the game just made me feel nothing. Charm may be the only thing the game has if you can bear to blub around diagonally, missing targets and inefficiently moving around. It’s cool-looking, and the game isn’t broken, but that isn’t a ringing endorsement by any standard. The game may still be appealing to fans of Nicalis Studios as a novelty of the developer’s early days, but all others should just stay out of the water. There are plenty of better indie fish in the sea.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames