Sawbuck Gamer


Under The Sea

Ikachan is a warm light in a cold, dark place.

By Anthony John Agnello • February 5, 2013

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.

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28 Responses to “Under The Sea”

  1. His_Space_Holiness says:

    All these underwater-set games are causing me some serious Operation Neptune nostalgia. Submarines! Mutant sharks! Math! That game had it all.

    • Girard says:

      I played that game SO MUCH. And always died at the last level.

      A few years back I watched a Let’s Play of the ending, and… It’s probably for the best I never bothered to beat it, as I probably would have put my fist through our CRT computer screen.

      • valondar says:

         Oh god the Learning Company games. I had like… all of those. Or so it felt.

        I loved them, but I don’t think I finished many. Except for the Schoolbus games, but I forget if that was a different company.

        • Girard says:

          My mom had a standing offer that she would go halfsies on me on any edutainment games, so…yeah, I had all of the TLC games, too. I actually quite liked them, but Operation Neptune was definitely my favorite.

          The TLC games, while maybe not super-sophisticated, offered a lot more ludic variety than, say, the Number Munchers games. They even had a not-so-overtly-edutainment style puzzle adventure game called Challenge of the Ancient Empires, which was probably my first experience with Zelda-esque puzzle dungeons.

  2. PugsMalone says:

    I’m extremely disappointed that this isn’t a Squid Girl tie-in.

  3. PaganPoet says:

    Everyone’s favorite and least favorite underwater levels, GO!

    I’ll have to think about “favorite” for a bit, but for least favorite, one immediately pops into my mind: The Dam from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES (level 2). You know the one, you have to swim around an electric seaweed filled maze like body of water and disarm a bunch of bombs before the time runs out. That level has plagued me with PTSD. The difference in difficulty between level 1 and 2 of that game was astounding. I think I only beat it ONCE and was severely depleted of extra lives for level 3 that I never got any further.

    • Mine is probably very petty, but I despised the water sections in the various God of War games.  As the games went on you evetnaully became immune to drowning, and the sections got mercifully shorter and shorter, but something about the fixed camera and sudden flips to new angles would send me swimming the wrong way/unintentionally doubling-back time and time again.

      No, KRATOS, NO!

    • Girard says:

      THIS was the first thing I thought of w/r/t awful water levels. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what else is there…?

      I remember not really enjoying the controls of the water levels in Mario 64 when it came out. Also, the 3D motion was disorienting while the time-limit was anxiety-inducing. Blerg. It might have been because 3-D control was such a new thing, though – I don’t think it would bug me as much now.

    • igotbored says:

      I thought the Megaman X-X3 had pretty good water levels, although that’s mainly because the game actually had enjoyable (if not kinda ridiculous) water physics.

    • Colonel says:

      Ironically, it was the non-water portions of Super Mario 64’s Dire Dire Docks that always irked me.  In the second area, which was a submarine dock, had these small, perilous platforms above that had all of the red coins.  A fall didn’t kill you, but rather had you plunge into the water and then swim and climb your way back to where you were.  Fuck you, Dire Dire Docks!

    • Chum Joely says:

      I’ll have to go back and see which of the “Angsty Abyss” levels from Rayman Origins was my favorite… but probably one of those (because they’re great, but also because I don’t really recall having played any other underwater levels in other games….)

      Example level from the Angsty Abyss world: Why So Crabby?

    • I was ready to say the underwater levels on Crash Bandicoot 3 as the ones I hated, but then I remembered the airplane levels. I freaking love the underwater levels compared to those.

    • ShrikeTheAvatar says:

      I can’t play any of the underwater Sonic levels – too much anxiety.  

      Also, the underwater levels in Super Mario Galaxy are just the worst.  The controls/camera can be frustrating enough in that game, and any underwater level just compounds it.  When they have to introduce using the shell underwater to fix how awful it is to try and swim normally, you know there’s a problem.

      It’s funny because I love the underwater levels in the side-scrolling Mario games.

      • PaganPoet says:

        The HURRY UP UR GONNA DROWN!!!!! music does not help the anxiety in the Sonic games at all.

        • RTW says:

          To be frank, I’ve always found the fuss about the Sonic drowning tune overblown. It comes off to me as the video game equivalent of saying you’re afraid of clowns: you’re just doing it to get attention and no one believes you.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I’m gonna roll in with the opposite of @ShrikeTheAvatar:disqus’s answer and call a Sonic level for my favourite, specifically Hydrocity Zone from Sonic 3. Largely because of the amazing music. Although you’re right, I credit that drowning music as the reason I have ulcers today.

      Least favourite would be Atlantica in Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. Either the level with the worst controls in an already loosely controlled game, or the world that made me realize I should probably be ashamed of myself for playing this game. Also, if it appears in any of the other games I haven’t played, I’d like to nominate those for my least favourite sight unseen.

      • PaganPoet says:

        lmfao, the Atlantica scenes in KH2…I definitely turned my TV’s volume down and shut the blinds. That’s definitely NOT okay for a 20-something to be playing.

        • His_Space_Holiness says:

          Dear God, yes. I played that game in college and was so very paranoid that someone would walk in and find me playing a Little Mermaid rhythm game. Which, of course, my roommate’s parents did. So emasculating.

    • SonjaMinotaur says:

      I am having a hard time thinking of any water levels that weren’t all “You’re going to die! You’re going to die! YOU’RE DEAD!!!” But I think there was a part in BioShock (2?) where you get sent outside of Rapture to, I don’t know, replace some fuses or something, and I did like wandering around on the ocean floor.

    • valondar says:

      Uhhh…. I both liked and was frustrated by Vashj’ir in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. It has a nice epic sweep as a zone and the narrative progresses well, but you just feel like traveling between the zone and any hubs worth a damn feel like a bit too much bother.

  4. WaxTom says:

    If you don’t want to spend the $5 or just don’t have a 3DS, a quick Google search will lead you to the original freeware version of the game. I posted a link but it looks like I got flagged because of that. Anyway, it’s a pretty good game! It’s not the masterpiece Cave Story is, but still a lot of fun.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

       kind of weird that they would flag you for that when they currently have an article that links to a pirate game company’s online catalog.

  5. EmperorNortonI says:

    I refuse to accept a squid as a protagonist.  This is obviously propaganda funded by the King of Squid as part of his nefarious plan to destroy humanity and become the dominant sentient on Earth.

  6. Eco1970 says:

    This review doesn’t tell me anything about how it plays. How do I converse with other beings? What are the controls? Is it cursor-driven, mouseclicked, what?

    I’m not going to buy it anyway because I live in the 21st century not the 80s, but some useful information rather than just ‘tjis game is about a squid’ would have been nice.