Growing up one problem away from having your entire family struggle to pay rent or buy food was something that wasn’t very fun. Although I would eventually recoup my missed childhood by getting games I saw at the time but never got to play as well as the few games I had had as soon as I had any sort of income that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a strange sort of childhood when it comes to the thing I’m nostalgic for. Born as I was in 97 you might expect me to be nostalgic for the Nintendo Wii, maybe even the DS but the truth is that for the longest time, more than I can really mention I was a bit behind when it came to the hottest thing in gaming.
So while my peers at school were playing Pokemon Ruby and Saphire or Diamond and Pearl I was carrying around a copy of Pokemon Yellow which I’ve played to the point where I can hum the entire Generation One soundtrack from memory. While my friends were getting their minds blown by open worlds and shooters they definitively should not be playing I was getting accustomed to using L1 and R1 as camera buttons, because I had the original Playstation. In a way it’s humbling, and it made the purchases that clearly strained them financially by my family of a Playstation 2 and DS eventually for me mean so much more even If by that time the PS3 already had Uncharted 2, and the 3DS had already come out, but besides whatever jealousy or desire to sleep over often it may have given me it also gave me a pretty strong nostalgia for older consoles.
Mega Drive, Gameboy Color, Playstation or even Dreamcast, those were the systems that defined my childhood and as many a kid older than me hearing the PSX bios sound fills me with a nostalgia that cannot be described. Perhaps it’s the thought of facing adulthood, now that I’m a hair width away from finishing my degree but over the last few months I’ve taken to playing or replaying games that remind me of those systems. It might be a bit silly I’m playing the Neversoft 2000 Spider-Man Game when I own a copy of the frankly amazing PS4 Spider-man or that I own Pokemon Sword but am replaying Pokemon Crystal but that nostalgia also introduced me to several amazing indie games which aim to replicate that era and, now that the overlong introduction to it is done, I would like to talk about Save Me Mr Tako: Definitive edition.
It won’t be the only thing I’ll be talking about, of course. This review serves as a way to deal with the strange feelings that I’ve been feeling lately. It almost feels like I am having a midlife crisis even though I’m barely in my 20s and have, I hope decades to live. No, instead while I might phrase this as a review of Saving Mr Tako: Definitive Edition what one has to keep in mind is that is merely the backdrop to something else. Not that I didn’t like Mr Tako, because I did but I have to admit other stuff weights on my mind.
Often times when developers try and mirror the look of the Gameboy and Gameboy Color handhelds they tend to the default to the spinach green that was seen on the Gameboy Color. Green, darker green and two other shades of green are what most people think of when they think of Gameboy games and not having them here would be strange. Mr Tako goes further however and even as I find myself being transported 18 years back to when I was 6 by a game that feels so authentic it practically feels like it was lost to time and simply popped back in I had to smile at the choice of color pallets.
The Gameboy Color for those unaware had a feature where if you were playing an original Gameboy game you could press different buttons while starting to tinge them with a series of strange colors. When I say strange colors I do mean strange colors, you could tinge it a cerulean blue or a soft purple but you could also give it the most nauseating yellow or the color of orange dust. While there were several options, and I’m sure that someone on the internet has mapped which combination creates each color the way I remember my time playing Gameboy it was filled with an almost rainbow like tint. Games were expensive and thrift store trips were rare but the few games I amassed early were not the somewhat more recent translucent Gameboy Color titles. No, they were the gray cartridges of the early 90s sometimes with a black cartridge signifying an enhanced for Gameboy Color in the mix. I had been expecting it because I had closely followed the development of the ultimate version of the game but seeing those same pallets of colors coloring different rooms still gave me reason to pause as memories flooded me.
Living as my family always lived, one flat tire away from going into debt and never really being able to afford more than McDonalds every so often new games were a somewhat rare experience. Although I believe I may have overcompensated as an adult by buying literally hundreds of games, some of which I never touched just because they were a few cents used despite the fact they’re shovelware not many games I own gave me quite the fun that Save me Mr Tako did. It’s easy enough on the surface to create a retro throwback, limit the amount of colors you use and create eight- or sixteen-bit art but as with translating just because it seems simple that doesn’t mean it is. There are hundreds of retro throwbacks on the market, be it the E-shop, Steam, or wherever else and as much fun as I have playing them, and I do own dozens I revisited in this “midlife crisis of mine” Save me Mr Tako is probably the game I’ve most enjoyed since Sonic Mania.
Perhaps the tendency would then be to say that I enjoy 2D platformers above all else, that other types of games do not appeal to me but that wouldn’t be true. While I count many platformers, be them 2D or 3D as games I play often, as can be proven by the fact I replay Sonic Adventure nearly every other month between such genres as sports games, simulations, puzzle games and rhythm games there are a wild number of other genres I enjoy. No, what I do enjoy are good platformers and while I’ve played Bubsy and Zool amidst my endless list of games I’m trying to remove from my backlog a good platformer is sure to catch my attention. Save me Mr Tako is a good platformer and one that I started playing and couldn’t let go until the whole game was completed 4 or 5 hours later.
I’ve since replayed the game to get a more complete experience than the one I had had at first, blinded by nostalgia and struck by the strange sort of melancholy and want that the game brought me and upon my second time playing it I had even more fun. The fun didn’t erase whatever problems I noticed, but they were easy enough to ignore when I noticed them.
Save me Mr Tako sticks to the Gameboy to an almost detrimental degree. While it modernises a lot of its aspects the experience feels as genuine as it can be without being played on a screen without a backlit from the 90s. Things such as a fairly flat story that is told through few textboxes and several 20 seconds cutscenes or the screen crunch go a long way in making it feel like an entirely true to the platform game but they provide annoyances that, much like the color pallet, I had forgotten about.
Take the screen crunch for example, a vast majority of the levels are built with verticality in mind and that means that often times when you’re jumping you don’t get to see where you’re landing. Now while simple the animations in Mr Tako are expressive even in their limited form so usually having the screen zoomed it doesn’t bother me but that is one of those things I might not miss when replaying old Gameboy games even as I expect them.
The developer was aware of this however and as with many other specific oddities and limitations of the era the game implements workarounds onto itself that makes things easier. In the case of the screen not showing what’s underneath you if you press down the camera will scroll, making it immediately apparent if you’re jumping into your doom.
Playing the game truly felt like a surreal experience. I would be playing a level and notice something that reminded me of a game from the era, Castlevania Adventure or Super Mario land 2: 6 Golden Coins or that Speedy Gonzalez games I played for hours as a kid and my smile would grow. It’s clear that the developer was a fan of those sort of games and while that might not be the result of a childhood in the 2000s growing up poor, the game feels like a love letter in every way.
The game itself boasts more than 50 levels but there is so much content packed into the game that even having beaten it twice now there are things left to do. The hats, the thing that make Mr Tako look cute as heck while wearing them provide you with different abilities and while you have to find them first, and I haven’t found them all yet replaying levels with different hats makes them feel like an entirely difference experience. Call me basic, if you will but most of the time the hat I tended to use just provided me with an extra hit, as I tended to replay recklessly. This is a game that I feel would be good for speedrunning with its short but difficult levels and I played it accordingly.
A lot of the hats have variations on common tropes in video games, so you’re provided with a spreadshot where you shoot 3 ink shots, or a speed up to your movements or bigger (but slower) shots but even if they are almost cliché that doesn’t mean they’re fun. In fact that particular sentence could very well describe the entire game. It’s nothing that you haven’t seen before, especially if you’re nostalgic for the Gameboy as I am, but it’s all executed so well it plays greatly.
The main gimmick of Save Mr Tako is that when you hit an enemy with a shot of ink they freeze on the spot. Such a simple idea might not seem like it would change things much but it absolutely does. At a surface level it allows you to cross gaps you can’t jump over by freezing an enemy in mid air and using it as a temporary platform, but I soon realised you can do much more than that.
One of the most memorable moments of my playthrough of the game was when I noticed that there was a collectible I could barely see while jumping as it was so far up and that would be impossible to get. The intended way to get it would be to find an entrance to a door that would lead to it, as I could see a door right next to the collectible but I had other ideas. Slowly, using enemies that respawned when I went off screen and the correct timing I used my ink shot to build a stairway to the collectible. It took 6 enemies and some pretty tight platforming but soon enough I had it. Save me Mr Tako is fun in the best of ways, as it allows you to do things however you want. It’s not a puzzle games, not in the least, but it shares that feeling of satisfaction that a puzzle with multiple answers gives you when you finally crack it.
Really Save me Mr Tako is not a flawless game, and some of the limitations it mirrors could be seen as pushing it back but I love it a lot more than I thought I would. Even as it brings to mind the worst of the Gameboy era, and you don’t have to look far to look, it’s a game I’d recommend even to those who aren’t nostalgic for the device. Games and technology have evolved a lot over the last 30 years, there’s no doubt about that, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with going back.
A review copy was provided.