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7th February 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
For the purpose of generating interest in what's to come, filmmakers, artists, game designers and musicians alike see the value of implementing vehicles to broadcast future plans, whether that be by means of a trailer, promotional image, or an audio snippet. Creating buzz need not strip away an element of surprise for the end-product. In fact, it may be that such announcements function more as a device for support rather than a direct segue into what will erupt at a later date.
Leading up to Cave Story becoming the rousing success that it is today, game creator Daisuke Amaya (Pixel, as he's most commonly referred) set out to establish a universe through the creation of Ikachan. Adhering to a format that would be slim in content and easy to digest, Ikachan was essentially a means to a beginning that would later garner much praise. I'm in favour of short games, so long as the duration doesn't cause them to suffer in the way of lasting impact. If a team feels they need to reach a point of closure much sooner rather than unnecessarily drawing out a plot, then so be it. In any case, it's a mark of a good game when length proves negligible and the content still prompts much thought and discussion. As for Ikachan, it desists from making itself known through overt means, which is fine, but its objectives and the supporting mechanisms at its root demonstrate an insecurity in regrettably carrying little force.
Revealing an underwater world ravaged by earthquakes, Ikachan stars a squid with the same name, who awakens without much purpose in mind. Sparing you of any platitudes, the game begins its life aimlessly, telling you only to swim under the unstated pretense of piecing things together as you go along. On your travels, you'll gradually learn of and meet up with a family of vulnerable sea urchins that have made this aquatic region their home, but have been on high alert ever since their peace has been disrupted by tremors. It becomes your goal, as this small aquatic life form, to save them all before the environment collapses.
Ikachan's process of swimming from side-to-side is a tad wonky, involving that you use the Circle Pad or +Control Pad to tilt his body diagonally. This is made that much more meticulous due to the proliferation of tight areas throughout the game, with spike traps on ceilings and floors to demand precision on your part. No need to fear, though, as oysters provide a balanced amount of save points for marking progress and refilling health. Residing on the Touch Screen is a close-proximity map presented in an old-school style of using jagged points to enclose areas open for exploration. Once you find a particular item, Ikachan will be able to attack enemies such as crabs and puffer fish. Regardless of the enemy type, the underbelly remains the constant weak point. By means of a not-so-rigid RPG system, defeating enemies and munching on anchovy-like collectibles will net you experience points that, upon reaching maximum capacity, will award you with more life points.
The scope of the environment is actually fairly small, so if you're expecting a full-on civilization, you'll be sorely disappointed. As far as the design and progression are concerned, the game will have you conversing with certain characters to trigger events in amongst the exploration. The way this unfolds can be annoying when you reach a stand-still and you have no idea what to do next. What ends up happening is that you gallivant all over the map, looking for NPCs you haven't already spoken to since the last rupture in progression. But generally speaking, everything else in the game is pretty straightforward and there isn't much margin for deviating off the path the game regiments.
Truth be told, there aren't many points of interest at all, and with that understanding you might label Ikachan as more story-driven than anything else. This isn't the sort of game that charges ahead and has a growing vision that progressively paints a welcoming horizon. Instead, Ikachan is of a far more skeletal nature, being so breezy and light that you can hardly sense that it's actually breathing. On the plus side, the game's presentation is engaging, with the occasional splash of yellow and red to contrast the natural gravitation towards blues and darker tones. 3D functionality is used quite well in allowing elements to come forward while the background layer drops in importance while still manifesting a measure of depth as it gets pushed back. There's also something carefree about the music and it also possesses a sort of customary warmth that I can't put my finger on. But this is not to sidestep Ikachan's uncomfortable existence.
It's almost as though the game were trying to condense its speech by speaking fast but causing it to slur in the process. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, if there's one thing Ikachan can be commended for, it's the attachment that is formed to the development of the plot. While you may not care overly so for the characters themselves, the mystique surrounding the game's beginnings is enough to arouse skepticism. In actuality this later is replaced with easy-to-comprehend story ideas that comprehensively function as a guiding light for what really is an unspectacular affair. In fact, a lot rides on the game's delivery of story to compensate for the gameplay being minimalistic in effect that any sort of disappointment in this area would hamper the game from making any sort of impact. Sadly, this is exactly what happens anyway.
Playing Ikachan is like reading a script that starts off slow, but just as it starts moving to a space where you can settle and feel at home with the material, it's ripped away from you. The game injects some subtle questions into its gameplay for players to muse over, surrounding a figure that some of the world's characters have been gossiping about, as well as the origins of these very figures. By the end of the game, these are left unanswered when there was definitely room to move forward and further what was introduced prior. It's ironic, because as the experience begins to solidify in spite of its unclear intent and direction, it's as if you group yourself in with the world's inhabitants who similarly have no idea what is to next to befall them (or in your case, what is to happen next in the story). If it went about things in an incessant manner, I might not have as much issue with it. But especially in light of the way gameplay is, it's a painful realization.
For what it is, I personally had a fun time with Ikachan and it even made me snicker on one occasion, but it isn't a game that will bestow enduring reasons to stick by its side, nor will it make you giddy in any tangible sense. Further, even open-minded players who can forgive the unexciting atmosphere will still feel robbed by what is a partial experience just when it starts to provoke and prompt interest. Ikachan behaves very much like a teaser, and a cruel one at that. While the lack of bombarding elements and the game's yielding approach feel fresh in the presence of games hurt by clutter and extraneous details, it's hard not to question the spirit of the game and what I feel to be a kindling taken away too soon. First-time players should be made aware that Ikachan is far from essential entertainment, as there's too little on offer and should only be pursued if you're really adamant about having brief back story to accompany your newfound love for Cave Story. Even then, it's a game one could easily do without.
18/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Controls take getting used to, small in scope, map dominated by tight spaces, loose RPG system, story compensates for skeletal design
Presentation 8/10 - Great use of 3D that enhances the environment, pleasant use of colour and subtle contrast, carefree music with an enticing feel
Enjoyment 3/5 - Length proves a bother in light of the design not being anything special, mild attachments formed but still lacks an impact in the end
Extra Content 0/5 - Ends just as the story starts to be interesting, no reason to re-explore this world later down the road, only for devoted fans
Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System