Reviews: Cave Story

The Complete Package

Despite being made by one guy, this game feels very complete and fulfilling. Cave Story is a platformer-shooter-adventure type of game that was released as freeware. That's right: it's completely free. However, some remakes with updated graphics and added content, most notably Cave Story+, have been released for sale on the PC and other consoles.

Although Cave Story plays out akin to a Metroidvania game, there's less open-ended exploration; the gameplay and the story are mostly a linear experience. You start out controlling a silent, nameless boy who awakens within... a cave. Early on, you pick up your first weapon, with which you can shoot in four directions, but not diagonally. Triangular golden crystals can be accumulated to power up your weapons, but taking damage will make them power down. More weapons and tools show up as you proceed, giving more options and freedom for absolutely fun gameplay. Learning how and when to use your weapons, however, is a challenge in itself.

The narrative gradually unravels as you venture forward and interact with the many characters, revealing a cute race of rabbit creatures, a mad scientist, and strangely enough, a combination of magical and science fantasy elements. Despite the 8-bit appearance and said cute rabbits, Cave Story takes some surprisingly dark turns of events. There's hope, but it has to be earned. Overall, the story and characters are pretty good; nothing phenomenal, but suitable enough for this game.

The game has an old-fashioned style in some respects. Your reaction to this may depend on your tastes. The graphics and visuals have an NES-era aesthetic, as does the soundtrack. There is a large and diverse collection of music, and each song is very evocative of the present situation. And many of them are quite catchy.

If you're new to platform shooters or 2D Metroidvania, Cave Story can be a challenge, and you're going to die several times. Fortunately, the game provides several save points and rests; just be sure to use these. Where the game gets really challenging, however, is in achieving the best ending. Cave Story technically has three different endings, and the one you reach is determined by certain actions you take. Figuring out the proper conditions to fulfill for the best ending is an exercise in counterintuitiveness. Without a guide, you will not figure out how to get it on your first try (if at all). Just play the game and enjoy yourself on your first playthrough. When you do fulfill the ridiculously esoteric conditions, however, the game's difficulty ramps up severely at certain points, most notably at the end. Be warned: it is no walk in the park.

Altogether, Cave Story is an admirable example for indie games. There's little excuse to not at least try it out; it's available for free download online. Alternatively, you can purchase a version on sale for extra content or to support the creator. This game's basically the complete package.

The (Free) Diamond In The Rough

Note: This review was written using the graphics and music of Cave Story+, which are all-new and remastered, respectively.

Cave Story is perhaps one of those freeware games; The rare kind that succeed so well that, when Nintendo placed it on the Wii Shop Channel, it sold so quickly that you could count the number of people who didn't know of it's success on as many hands as there were non-Wii owners, and in it's heyday, that was basically nobody. It was a rousing success, made by one man, over the course of YEARS. For this review, I used Cave Story +, on the Steam store.

GRAPHICS: The old ones are nice and NES-like, and the new ones emulate the SNES or the Genesis far more. Both get the job done, mind you; It's up to your preference.

MUSIC: Beautiful. Simply beautiful. The older music does feel a bit bleepy for my tastes, but that's me. I prefer the remastering, which adds a whole new depth to these songs. The 'new' music doesn't add much; Go with Remastered.

GAMEPLAY: YES. Cave Story's main strength is in it's gameplay. You have a variety of weapons, all of them do different things, and all of them are completely nuts. From a pea shooter to a rocket launcher to one that goes through walls, you'll find something for your playstyle.

WORKABILITY: There's no glitches, no bugs. Everything's polished all around.

PRICE-TO-PLAY RATIO: It's free. If you want the + version, which only adds new graphics and music, from what I can tell anyways, it's 10 USD. It's nothing special, price-wise, but it's got a lot of meat on it's bones, so 10$ is a low price point.

STORY: Weak. Characters are often flat personalities, and while there is SOME lore, you really have to be aiming to understand it, and it's easily skippable.

OVERALL: 9.8/10. The weak story does almost nothing to diminish the fact that this game, in both it's original and + forms, is nothing short of a masterpiece. I recommend getting the + version, if only because it's on Steam, and graphics and music can be toggled to the old if you prefer that, and it comes with all the nice, shiny doodads Steam lobs into everything. Even if you don't, this game's available for free. You have no excuses. Go play Cave Story.

Cave Story

Pixel has been compared to Miyamoto for his ability to teach without tutorials. Indeed, Cave Story shares many traits with Miyamoto's magnum opus (Mario, not Zelda): bare-bones plot, but amazing gameplay and music. What makes this even more astonishing is that this was all made by one man over the course of three years. Let's see Cave Story's strengths and flaws:

  • Graphics: 7/10. Nothing special here.

  • Story: 6/10. Cave Story's plot is really lacking. The characters are shallow, the story's easy to grasp, there isn't much to it. All I can say for it is that it's at least more complex than your average Kirby plot.

  • Gameplay: 10/10. What it lacks in story, it makes up for in GAMEPLAY. The gameplay is smooth, easy to grasp yet consistently difficult (the comparison to Miyamoto is not undeserved)...in short, the gameplay is amazing. This game proves that linearity is not a bad thing at all: indeed, in the hands of those as skillful as Pixel, it is quite the opposite.

  • Music: 10/10. While the soundtrack is impressive by itself, it is made even better when you consider it was composed by one man. The music can evoke whatever the hell it wants to: fear (Oppression), sadness (Moonsong), calm (Geothermal, Balcony) or even OH YEAH! (Balrog's Theme)

  • Overall: 9/10. This masterpiece is only hampered by its story, and even then its lack of plot can be excused by the sheer effort and time needed to create a complex one. Download it, or buy it on Steam or Wii Ware. This is a must-have for any respectable indie gamer.

Freeware Masterpiece

It's hard for a freeware developer to create something that can get known well enough to make money, which is why most simply give up and charge flat out for their underdeveloped project that ultimately fades into obscurity.

Cave Story is far from obscure, and it's free. For years it's been free. And the only revenue that comes from it is the Wii Ware adaption made specifically because it's just so popular that people are willing to pay money to play it on the TV.

But popularity doesn't make a game. It takes the heart of the developers, or in this case developer. Cave Story is that rare type of game that was developed entirely by one person: "Pixel". He spent years perfecting this 2D shooter, and does it show?

Well, pretty much yeah. If you like 2D shooters at all, you'll like Cave Story (unless you only like "Hardcore" games, and don't actually know how to get to the Hell level). The style of Pixel's work is a unique blend of a dystopian future and a fantasy cave-exploration setting, which sounds like an odd marriage but works quite well. As far as game plot goes, you're a white guy with a gun in a cave full of rabbits, and you've got to figure out the rest on your own. Maybe it doesn't appeal to everyone to have a mysterious plot, but you could actually consider this a pretty good story with just a few text-heavy moments, most of which are interwoven into gameplay. Through it, you get the sense of a deeper world, outside the game, and not just the Earth as you might know it, either.

Cave Story plays like you'd expect, and explains how to play on the title screen. Z is jump, x is shoot, arrows move. Down enters doors, which is a bit unintuitive, and jumping physics in the game take some getting used to, but with a bit of adjustment, players will find that it's simple but elegant control. Oh, and there are weapons. Lots and lots of weapons from standard gun to machine gun to rolling fireballs and some weird contrivances that make your experience unique depending on your gun-choosing tactics.

Is Cave Story earning the popularity it has on the internet? Well, if you like Metroid, Megaman, Castlevania, or pretty much any other 2D game of yore, you'll probably fall in love with Cave Story.
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