These are stories most videogame fans are familiar with, but I had one of my own as well: a girl and her Charmander.
As an eight-year-old kid who was deeply fascinated with fire, I quickly grew attached to the Pokémon. Unlike the adorable, toothy critter we love today, Charmander had a slightly different appearance two decades ago; it bore a greater resemblance to the repulsive house geckos that inhabit my home. But the flame at the tip of its tail tells me that this creature was adept with fire, and was therefore capable of causing wanton destruction.
Giddy at the prospect of unbridled power, I chose Charmander as my starter Pokémon—and thus began a heart-warming tale for the ages.
Blame it on the nostalgia perhaps, but I think only early fans of Pokémon would have understood the sense of thrilling trepidation of stepping into the wilderness for the first time, accompanied only by your starter Pokémon. Charmander became a lifelong companion on my journey across the Kanto region. We battled Team Rocket, competed against gym leaders, and pointed a middle finger to anyone who didn’t believe a child could travel the country alone and create her own legacy.
This starry-eyed wonder may be what many developers, who probably subsisted on a diet of classic titles like Contra, Metroid and Super Mario Bros themselves, wanted to capture in their videogames. One such title is Eagle Island, an upcoming platformer starring a young falconer and his faithful owl.
As the falconer Quill, you’re on a journey to save an avian friend, while retrieving three sacred totems that were stolen by a malevolent eagle god. But enemies like poison-secreting mushrooms and predatory eagles stand in your way, and getting rid of them means, to my slack-jawed surprise, chucking your owl companion Koji towards them (Koji recovers remarkably quickly though). The videogame also mixes in familiar Metroidvania elements, such as a large explorable map and collectible perks.
Eagle Island may not have deviated much from the platformer formula, but part of its charm lies in the breath-taking details of its environment, which is teeming with life. Walk through a dandelion patch, and watch them scatter and float towards the sky. Or slow down your pace, and spot a tiny green frog, its throat bulging periodically, resting near a pond. Such details evoke a feeling of discovery and awe, much like what famed videogame designer and creator of The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, experienced when he wandered into a cave with only a homemade lantern as a young boy.
Making the expedition more captivating is the emotional bond between the boy and his owl. Exploring an enchanted island alone has its perils, but doing so with a fearless owl that would gladly careen towards your enemies at a wave of your hand makes the trip exhilarating. It reminds me of my adventures with Charmander again as an eight-year-old—just a plucky kid and her stalwart companion trying to make the world a better place. It’s an experience that Eagle Island has helped me relive once more.
The game’s Kickstarter campaign may have concluded, but you can download an early access demo of Eagle Island at itch.io.