The original Save me Mr Tako was a great game. A passion project created mostly by a solo developer, Christophe Galati, it was a throwback to the Game Boy classics of old, and a decidedly charming one at that. But what sounds like a fraught relationship with publisher Nicalis—who apparently refused to release a patch with various improvements to the game based on player feedback—resulted in the two parting ways last year, and Mr Tako disappearing from storefronts.
But with those ties cut and Galati now in full control of his own work, Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition is here with a suite of tweaks and new features taking what was an impressive game to begin with to even greater heights.
Save me Mr Tako is simple in concept: in a fantasy world where humans and octopi are at war, an unlikely cephalopod hero finds himself on a journey to make peace between the two. Armed with ink shots and a growing assortment of hats that grant special powers, Tako travels across ocean and land to try to negotiate peace between his warmongering brother and the cruel, ambitious rulers of the human kingdoms, fighting all sorts of monsters and exploring quirky, platform-based environments along the way.
But a simple concept belies a game with a lot of depth. The influence of games like Kirby’s Dream Land is apparent in the moment-to-moment play of Mr Tako, but it takes just as much inspiration from grand, epic JRPGs, with a world-spanning, story-centric adventure to match. There’s a surprising amount of depth to what at first glimpse seems like a rudimentary “save the world” adventure, with plenty of colourful yet complex characters to join Tako and fight against him, and plenty of nuance in how it grapples with the realities of war and the struggles Tako faces in being, in essence, a mediator between both sides. Save me Mr Tako is, by turns, playful yet tragic, with an expansive world to explore and a lot of heart and thoughtfulness to go with it.
It backs that up with an enjoyable platform game that encouraged exploration and experimentation with the different hats and powers available to Tako. Individual levels are short but dense, typically with a bunch of secrets to uncover and the occasional side quest to undertake. And of course, all this is dressed in an authentic Game Boy aesthetic, with that trademark combination of expressive pixel art and limited colour palette—pea soup green by default, but with a bunch of other styles available—that gave Game Boy games their unique character. Chiptune music and a control scheme that could easily be mapped to the old handheld’s four buttons round out the authenticity of this retro throwback.
But the one big stumbling block with the original release of Save me Mr Tako was its difficulty, with one-hit kills and some enemy placements that could lead to sudden, unexpected, frustrating deaths—a common thing in the Game Boy days, but something that can be needlessly frustrating today. One of the biggest changes in Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition is the addition of “Hearts Mode”, an easier difficulty that gives you three hit points instead of the usual one. With a little room for error, Hearts Mode takes all that frustration out of the picture and lets you just enjoy the world and story of Save me Mr Tako. The original difficulty remains intact (though renamed to “Classic Mode”), with a special bonus for those who can beat the game on it, and you can freely change difficulty mid-game now—so people who enjoy that old-school challenge can still find it, but it’s no longer the only way to play.
That may be the biggest change in Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition, but there are plenty of other little tweaks to smooth out the gameplay across the board. Level design and enemy placements have been fine-tuned to smooth out the difficulty curve, and there’s now an NPC in every town you can speak to to get hints about what to do next if you get lost. The physics and camera systems have been improved to give you better control and visibility over Tako, you can swap back and forth between hats when you find a new one instead of just losing the old one, and ink—which is sometimes necessary to solve puzzles and move forward—now automatically regenerates a little bit when you run out completely.
One nice little cosmetic touch for Definitive Edition is an optional “Auto” option for the colour palette. In the original game, there were 16 different four-colour palettes to choose from, but they could only be changed manually from the main menu screen—in practice, most players would probably experiment a little bit, then pick one and stick with it for the rest of the game. The new Auto option lets the palette change automatically based on location: a blue one for under the sea, a yellow one for a sunny beach area, white and light-blue for a snow-capped mountain, and so on. The palettes themselves are the same as what was in the original, but when they’re thematically matched to the locations in the game, they work so much better.
This new release also packs a new, much-improved English localisation—in part because licensing meant the original one that Nicalis worked on couldn’t be reused, but also because the story that Save me Mr Tako tells deserves a good script. There was nothing wrong with the original, per se, but Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition has a lot more character, and is a lot more emotive. There’s also a new collection of wallpaper art for the Game Boy-authentic 4:3 display mode, and a jukebox in the main menu that you can use to just listen to all the lovely chiptune music that Marc-Antoine Archer composed for the game.
Though the circumstances that made a whole new release necessary are disappointing (for Christophe Galati more than anyone, I’d imagine), Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition really does live up to the “Definitive” part of its name. It keeps intact everything that made Save me Mr Tako so great back in 2018—the authentic Game Boy look and feel, the vibrant world, the nifty platforming, the surprisingly deep and heartfelt story—but with a bunch of welcome tweaks, balance improvements, and new features that really bring out the best of a delightful, if overlooked, indie gem.
Title: Save me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition
Developer: Christophe Galati
Publisher: Christophe Galati / Limited Run Games
Platforms: PC (Steam, reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release date: 6 May 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.