'Ikachan' Review - Pixels Under The Sea

Over the last few years Cave Story has become one of those rare indie games that has permeated mainstream gaming with resounding success. The once unapproachable Japanese PC game has been adapted and released (and re-released, and re-re-released) so many times that most gamers no longer have to wonder what was the big deal with Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya's retro-inspired platformer. However, little is known about the game that was released just before Cave Story, but set in its universe, that is, until now. Ikachan, another of Pixel's freeware PC games has finally been ported to the 3DS so that gamers can discover what makes this little game so special.

Ikachan puts players in the role of a squid, who wakes up in a mysterious underwater cave, with has no recollection of how he got there, or how to get out. After a bit of exploring, it becomes apparent that this particular cave is overseen by a fish called "Ironhead" (Cave Story fans should appreciate that), and that it was separated from the rest of the world after a giant earthquake. Ikachan must navigate the tiny world, helping out urchins, and collecting fish to gain experience, in order to eventually save himself and his new-found friends.

The game looks and feels like Cave Story, just without Quote as the main protagonist. One other slight tweak compared to its more famous counterpart, the physics reflect that the game takes place underwater. Instead of jumping around a mysterious land, Ikachan floats underwater, which makes trying to move around a bit of a challenge. As a tiny squid swimming around underwater, you navigate narrow passageways, and assorted tunnels of the cave while avoiding blowfish and crabs that serve as your enemies in the game. You can kill them with a well placed poke from a pointy hat and gain some additional experience that will help fill out your hearts. The game only really has one boss battle, in which you square off against the much bigger, much better protected Ironhead.

That's really it. There isn't a whole lot to Ikachan. You wake up, you help out a couple urchins by essentially doing fetch quests, and then you (spoiler) escape the cavern. There's about a solid hour of gameplay here, which may be a lot to ask from a $4.99 game, but then again, you need to consider where it's coming from.

A couple years ago indie developer Jason Rohrer released a compilation of three of his games (Passage, Gravitation, Between) as a downloadable DSiWare game, Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology for $2. Each of the games as a standalone product couldn’t really justify the cost of the game, but together they made for a neat little package that allowed gamers some insight into the work of a very talented indie developer. The existence and release of Ikachan feels very similar to Alt-Play - it’s a small game that looks back more than forward, and shines some much needed light on a developer's early work that gamers might miss otherwise. This release continues the work that Nicalis and Pixel have already accomplished by teaming up to bring some amazing games to the States. If you think supporting their cause is a worthwhile investment, or you're just a big Cave Story fan, then you should jump on Ikachan and discover Pixel's roots.

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