With Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San, developer Cristophe Galati set out with a clear goal: to recapture the experience of playing games on the original Game Boy, complete with a monochrome display that belies a colourful adventure. He’s not the first to do so and he won’t be the last, but this retro-inspired endeavour is a big success all the same.
That inspiration is apparent from the moment you first fire up the game, as it defaults to that kind of hideous but iconic “pea soup” colour that anyone who’s played an original Game Boy will be familiar with. If the green isn’t your style, Save me Mr Tako includes a range of different colour schemes, mostly based on the various different palette options for playing an older Game Boy game on a Game Boy Color, though I believe some are original. Most importantly, none of these different options contains more than four colours—authenticity is key in this sort of homage.
Tap into the options menu, and you’ll see more Game Boy goodness in the options to play in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and / or with a Super Game Boy-style background image to surround the action. When you start playing the game proper, you’ll find it’s built for the Game Boy’s two-button setup (four, if you include Start and Select). Top that off with a decidedly Game Boy-esque soundtrack—a simple, single-layered chiptune melody that’s all the more catchy for its simplicity—and you’ve got the makings of a very authentic throwback to those old days.
But Save me Mr Tako isn’t just nostalgia-bait. There’s a very enjoyable platformer beneath all that retro goodness, and one that’s surprisingly modern despite the presentation. Game Boy games haven’t aged well—platformers especially—but Tako leaves those frustrations at the door.
Taking place in a world in which humans and octopi are at war (and on relatively even footing, as far as technology goes), Save me Mr Tako casts you as the titular Mr Tako. Despite being the brother of one of the octopus army’s most decorated heroes, Mr Tako is a peaceful soul who’s more interested in ending the war than seeing either side crush the other.
Thus, he sets out on a quest to do just that, with the backing of a magical fairy, the octopus princess, and a growing band of peacemakers. It’s almost JRPG-ish in structure: an unassuming young hero on a journey that ends up being a quest to save the world, which takes him through towns and dungeons, recruiting new allies and growing stronger along the way.
In a similar vein, it has that same charm and humour you’d expect of something like Dragon Quest. It’s silly, and plenty aware of the fact, but not the point that it gets lost in its own self-awareness. It’s ambitious, not in terms of pushing the boundaries of storytelling, but in the ambitions of its heroes that some would call naive. Most of all, it’s earnest—silly as a story about a low-res octopus travelling the world to end a war between his people and humankind may seem, it believes in itself enough that you can’t help but root for its heroes. Such qualities are common in a lot of games, but to me, they’re among the defining traits of the classic JRPG.
But Save me Mr Tako isn’t a JRPG. It’s a platformer that, in classic platformer style, cleverly mixes action and puzzle-solving as you work your way to the end of each level. In this case, Mr Tako’s ability to shoot balls of ink are the key to making your way through the game, as they temporarily hinder any enemy hit and turn them into platforms that you can use to reach higher areas or overcome obstacles.
While ink is Tako’s bread and butter, there’s also a hefty selection of hats to collect, each of which gives the cephalopod hero a new ability. The archer’s hat turns his ink shots in arrows that can travel much farther (while still keeping their ink qualities), an umbrella hat protects him from falling hazards, and so on. The catch is that you can only wear one hat at a time, and carry one more as a backup in case you lose the first one by getting hit. You can only swap them between levels or at checkpoints—and in the case of the latter, only once per checkpoint per life.
This system could become frustrating if it meant you were constantly put in situations where you were stuck without the right tools to proceed, but Save me Mr Tako is good at avoiding that. It does a good job of hinting at what sorts of things you might expect to see in upcoming levels, and even if you find yourself with the wrong hat—or no hat at all!—you can always proceed to the end of the level, at least. Worst case, you come back again with a different hat to collect all the secrets you missed before, and with relatively short levels, that’s far from an odious ask.
Though the individual levels are short, Save me Mr Tako is an unexpectedly expansive game, spanning six “worlds” with some eight levels each, and a few different multi-level dungeons besides. That’s not unusual for a game with a big budget and big team, but for something made almost entirely by one person, it’s an impressive feat. It never overstays its welcome, either, with constantly evolving level design and frequent new hats to open your options.
For better or worse, the game gets rather challenging, even on its so-called easy mode. As far as I can tell, the only difference is that you start with more lives (20, as opposed to the three you get on normal mode), but the game itself is still every bit as challenging. This is in keeping with the retro theme, given that games from the Game Boy era were notoriously difficult in general, but it’s something to keep in mind. I don’t think a more forgiving easy mode—one that, say, allowed Tako a few more hits before dying and being sent back to a checkpoint—would detract from the game, for those people who want an easier time of it.
Save me Mr Tako doesn’t push any boundaries, but it knows what it wants to do, and it does it well. In a sea of retro-inspired games, it stands out, in part due to its Game Boy authenticity, but mostly just because there’s a solid, enjoyable game underneath that.
|Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San
|Developer: Christophe Galati
|Publisher: Nicalis, Inc.
|Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
|Release Date: 30 October 2018
|The publisher supplied a copy of the game for this review.