To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Game Boy, 23-year-old French developer Christophe Galati began development on a game. On 29th September 2014, the first prototype of what would later become Save Me Mr. Tako: Tasukete Tako-San was released. Four years later, the game found a distributor in indie mega-publisher Nicalis and is now launching on Nintendo Switch. After having played through this indie effort, it's clear that it's a loving homage to Nintendo's venerable portable in ways too numerous to list without taking a deep dive. It's a good thing you're here, dear reader, as that's exactly what we plan to do.
The terms 'love letter' has been thrown around a bit too much for this reviewer's taste in recent years, but Save Me Mr. Tako is exactly that. The attention to detail is amazing. The first and most obvious thing players will notice is the fact that the game is presented in four colours, just like it would be were it launching on the original Game Boy. If you'd like to add a pop of colour, tapping either shoulder button will shift the palette, much like one could on the Game Boy Color. If you were more of a Super Game Boy player, you can also add borders to your screen to mimic that functionality as well. No matter how you played Game Boy games back in the day, you can recreate your experience here.
That attention to detail doesn't just extend to colours and screen borders though; most sprites in the game are created to match the Game Boy's 16x16 pixel limitation, and the songs have been composed using just four audio channels, again to match the limitations of the original hardware. The developer stated on their blog there is a fifth audio channel present in the game, however, eliminating the need to disable one to play sound effects. It isn't accurate to the original hardware, but it's a welcome addition as the music is an absolute joy to listen to. The soundtrack was composed Marc-Antoine Archier who had previously never done any work of this type. In this case, the first time is the charm. Each of Mr. Tako's 110 songs is memorable and the best of them stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest tracks we've heard produced on the handheld - that's no exaggeration.
Save Me Mr. Tako is much more than a game that leans on nostalgia, however; it's an enthralling action-platformer that borrows elements from some of the Game Boy's most beloved franchises. The overworld is reminiscent of the original Game Boy Kirby titles, the platforming and powerups remind us of Mario, and the dungeon designs follow the classic Zelda formula. Imagine the best bits of those three series blended together, and you're not far off.
The game tells the story of the titular hero, Tako, and his brother Bako. The world is torn asunder by war between the humans and octopus armies, and Tako must journey from the depths of the sea to the surface through sandy beaches and across snowy mountaintops to fight alongside the humans. The tools? His ink and any one of fifty different hats, which grant him powers such as the ability to throw bombs, use a sword or take additional hits. Finding those hats is part of what makes this game so great; each level contains secret paths which will put your old-school platforming skills to the test. You'll need to run and jump your way to every hidden corner of each stage to find these power-ups, too - exploration is a must here.
Speaking of platforming, Tako controls fairly well, but falters in some areas. He can jump incredibly high and feels a bit floaty in the air. His default attack is to shoot ink at enemies, which fires out at a rapid-fire pace. Your ink supply is regulated by a meter, and when you hit an enemy with it they'll be frozen in place, even in mid-air. This mechanic is important as jumping on inked enemies is key to reaching most of the game's many collectables. Also scattered throughout the levels are gems, which are treated the same way coins are in many retro games: collect 100 of them and you'll next an extra life.
Despite how fun it is, Save Me Mr. Tako isn't without flaws. In a few instances, we found our adorable eight-tentacled hero inexplicably dying when approaching but not actually making contact with spikes. Hitboxes seem to be problematic in other areas, as well. During various parts of the game, you'll take on the role of a human character roughly twice the size of Tako, but it seems you can only collect gems if you jump into them, even if your character's body appears to be physically touching them. The sense we get from this is that the human characters' hitboxes may be the same ones used for Tako, but for obvious reasons we're unable to verify that. Elsewhere, dying before a boss forces you to sit through any cutscenes that precede it without any way to skip them; if you have trouble with any of the bosses this will quickly become annoying, especially when you consider that Tako dies in a single hit unless you've got a hat equipped that allows you to survive a bit more punishment.
Between the main and side quests, it's easy to sink at least 20 hours into Save Me Mr. Tako. Despite paying homage to the Game Boy, this game feels much longer than most games on the platform. Side quests can be a bit annoying, however, as there's no mechanism in the game to track these quests, meaning you'll need to write them down or find a guide. This is accurate to how most Game Boy games operated decades ago, but not all elements of '90s game design have aged well, and this is a prime example of that.
These complaints might seem game-breaking, but that really isn't the case. The level design is mostly excellent and stages are engaging and challenging as a result. Enemy placement is great, especially in the latter half where precise timing is required. Towards the end of the game, this makes for exciting instances in which you'll not only need to dodge enemies, but time when you shoot them with ink to turn them into platforms that you'll need to get through the level. There were more than a few times where we'd inch Tako along one pixel at a time to lure an enemy into attacking.
Save Me Mr. Tako is a lovingly crafted throwback to the days of the Game Boy. While we found some rough spots with the lack of side quest tracking and ropey collision detection, they weren't enough to take away from our overall enjoyment of the game. Tako is a lovable character in a quality platformer that would have been right at home on the system it pays homage to. If you love the Game Boy - flaws and all - then you'll absolutely adore this game.