Can you think of a Game Boy game that you would consider an all-time classic? Can you think of one that, if released today, would be loved by the masses and considered a stand-out title on its own merits? Save me Mr. Tako: Tasukete Tako-San – a name which will appear abridged for the remainder of this review – might be the closest equivalent. With the look, sound, and (slightly better) feel of a classic Game Boy title, it’s a game that banks hard on nostalgia and charm.
You play as an octopus, Tako, on his quest to save the humans from his brother’s bloodthirsty army. The story is somehow both scarce and overbearing, with characters constantly explaining that, yes, the humans and octopuses are at war. The matter is simple: octopuses will die if the humans continue to live – at least according to the octopuses.
The writing in Save me Mr. Tako reads like a roughly translated Japanese import. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the lack of contractions in some cases and bizarrely unnatural and simplistic wording makes me think this is either very poor writing or an homage to stilted translations. Either way, I can’t remember a single interesting line of dialogue from any main or side character during my time with the game, so it’s basically fluff. Or, it would be fluff if you didn’t have to see it so much when playing. As I mentioned above, characters have the tendency to lay out the simplistic plot quite a bit (in unskippable cutscenes, no less).
With third-grade lessons in being yourself, working with others, and reserving judgment towards those unlike you, Save me Mr. Tako feels utterly disingenuous. With a message this vapid, it’s hard to think it’s not being ironic, and I honestly still can’t tell. This layman’s exercise in morality is part of the faux-charm Tako emits from its onset – always smiling, but hollow on the inside.
Enough railing on the narrative and writing, it’s a platforming game, right? Let’s talk gameplay. The main mechanic of Tako is his ability to turn enemies into platforms using his ink. Shoot an enemy and they become frozen in stasis, able to be jumped on or pushed to their death down a pit. This mechanic can be used to access hidden areas and extra gems — collect 100 for an extra life — or to keep out of harm’s way.
There’s also hats to collect, 50 in total, which alter Tako’s abilities. One lets him shoot arrows in a straight line, rather than the arc pattern of his usual ink. There’s another lets him move at super speed, and one that protects the top of his head from falling enemies. Unfortunately, because one hit means instant death, I found myself relegated to the baby-mode hat that lets you take another hit before dying. Anything else felt too risky, and I never felt confident enough to progress without it.
One refreshing aspect of Save Me, Mr. Tako is that levels have a definitive end. There have been so many Metroidvanias and roguelites as of late I had forgotten how nice it feels to reach the end of a self-contained stage. They’re short, and usually not very interesting, but progressing feels notably marked and rewarding.
So how are the levels? For the most part, passable platforming affairs with a handful of inkable enemies – rarely needed to traverse hazards – a checkpoint, and a finish line. I never really felt like their design was making the most of Tako’s main mechanic, but jumping around was fun and easy enough that it never really bothered me. It could be considered meditative to burn through level after level, if only they were connected more logically to the game’s world.
Since levels are isolated, they’re all accessed by doorways. Think Kirby’s & the Amazing Mirror. Each chapter is a long hallway of a dozen or more doors, with arbitrary numbers and symbols indicating what level they correspond to. There are also similar-looking doors for houses, separate areas, and dungeons. I’m sure you’re starting to see the problem. Backtracking for any kind of secrets is a fruitless affair of insanity-inducing door mazes.
I was initially worried that Tako would be too easy. The first couple chapters were lacking in the bottomless pits and cheesy enemies I had become accustomed to in this sort of game. I thought it was strange that I couldn’t accumulate more than nine extra lives, but I figured the difficulty wouldn’t ever exceed the point that I would need them all. I was wrong.
With an absolutely maddening 1-hit policy and stringy extra lives on the “standard” difficulty, Save me Mr. Tako becomes a battle of attrition by the third chapter. With archers waiting just off screen ready to snipe you, homing ghosts and birds, and tricky platforming sections, levels can quickly zap you of your lives. Dungeons run five or ten minutes long (plus a boss), forcing you to start from the beginning should you fall (with only three lives on game-over, mind you). And when I say “dungeon” I really mean “hunt-the-buttons-maze,” because these things are not well-designed. Frustration constantly looms at the thought of repeating these claustrophobic platforming sections, and death comes swiftly.
There’s a reason the mechanics of the Game Boy were left in the 1990’s. Barebones levels and overly punishing difficulty should’ve been buried long ago, but Save me Mr. Tako seems determined to cling to nostalgia in all the wrong ways. Rather than enhancing the experience by creatively blending modern design with classic mechanics ala Shovel Knight or The Messenger, Tako opts instead to be faithfully mediocre. If you couldn’t get enough Game Boy classics and are dying for something to scratch that mono-colored itch, look no further. But if you’re expecting a tight new platformer with creative new ideas or a compelling narrative, give Save me Mr. Tako a hard pass.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nicalis.