Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.
Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya must have been dropped into a dank, dark cave as a child. Why else would all his games start with vulnerable people coming to at the bottom of dangerous crevasses? Amaya’s tumble down a hole clearly didn’t cause any Bruce Wayne-style trauma, though—his games tend to be warm and kind. Ikachan, like its successor Cave Story, is a story about helping the people you meet after you’ve fallen. While it isn’t as sprawling as his more famous game, Ikachan’s gentleness is every bit as engrossing.
You control a little squid who wakes up in an underwater cavern rocked by earthquakes. Squidding around the cave is tricky business. Rapidly pumping your tentacles will propel you forward, but there are nasty bits like spikes and blowfish in your way. The cave expands as you meet the hungry sea anemones and fish that are trapped with you. As a miniature Metroid-style world—new finds, like a pointy hat, open new paths—Ikachan isn’t completely logical. Sometimes the way forward isn’t revealed until you happen to talk to an anemone hiding in a corner.
Having to converse with critters stuck in the same predicament as Ika isn’t just a means to solving problems. It builds up a feeling of solidarity too. The way that everyone ultimately finds freedom is fittingly strange for a game about friendly marine life, and it’s well worth spending the 40 minutes or so it takes to see it through. Just because a cave is dank doesn’t mean it can’t also be wonderful.