Ikachan is a brief yet captivating window into history, a glimpse of the early days of Daisuke Ayama (a.k.a. "Pixel"). Ikachan, developed before Cave Story, is a prototype of that game, with the same pixel art style, character design aesthetic, dialog, charm, creativity, and the same Metroid-esque fun. It's a shame that it's such a short look, though, because before you know it, just as the game is really getting good, it's all over.
Immediately upon entering the world of Ikachan, it is obvious that this is an Ayama-san world. From the pixel art to the way characters move, it looks and feels like Cave Story, except that the character is a squid in the deep blue sea saving a species of talking sea sponges. It's just as much a loving homage to the days of the NES as Cave Story is, and it is just as compelling as that game.
For those who grew up playing the NES, a fair number of games like Ikachan will have been played. It's interesting that technology has advanced such that a retro game like this can be both exemplary of everything the old NES games were, and at the same time so much better than those old games were.
The pixel art is an example of how this game both exemplifies and excels beyond retro NES aesthetics. All of the sprites are wonderfully emotive while adhering to strict 8-bit presentation. There are sea sponges that bounce happily up and down in their underwater homes whilst fish swim convincingly with just two frames of animation, and none of it feels archaic in the slightest.
If the experience sounds compelling, that is because it is. This is a well crafted game, both in terms of appearance and gameplay mechanics; in other words it looks great and plays well. Every hallmark of a good Metroid-style game is here, along with one of the catchiest theme songs heard in quite some time. That is what makes the brevity of Ikachan so disappointing, though. Just as the game starts to take off, after you collect a couple of abilities that open up the gameplay and the map, suddenly the game ends. At just an hour of playtime, it has to be asked if this engaging yet brief experience is worth $4.99.
Ikachan plays a lot like Cave Story, that is if the main character was a squid that couldn't shoot and could only attack enemies with its head. Controls are tight and responsive, and Metroid-style progression of the game's setting is fully realised. Ikachan is a joy to play, if not very challenging.
The loving detail put into this title is evident, from expressive characters to nicely detailed levels. It's interesting and pleasant to look at and feels like a high quality production. All of this is presented in excellent 3D, with both recessed and ‘pop-out’ layers.
Ikachan features an extremely catchy underwater theme song that is bouncy with an off-beat rhythm that exemplifies everything there is to love about NES-style chiptunes. The only criticism to be made about the sound design is that there are only a couple of songs to be heard.
Value is the only category in which Ikachan stumbles, however it proves to be a big stumble. With only an hour of gameplay there is the decision of whether the cost is worth it. For Ayama-san fans, it's a no-brainer. Retro NES gamers should enjoy it as well. For them, it should be a winner as everything here is quality.
Ikachan is a wonderfully crafted game and a fitting homage to the NES era of gaming and to Metroid-esque game design. The art and sound design are charming. The gameplay is responsive and fun. The only question is whether one hour of gameplay is enough to justify the asking price. For many the answer will be yes.
Probably another neat little Nicalis-published game that won't come to Europe for 10+ months.