Cave Story+ Review
Studio Pixel (PC); Nicalis (WiiWare/DSiWare/3DS)
Studio Pixel (PC); Nicalis (WiiWare/DSiWare); NIS America (3DS)
3DS, DSi, Linux, Mac, PC, Wii
3DS: November 8, 2011; Linux/Mac/PC: December 20, 2004; DSi: November 29, 2010; Wii: March 22, 2010
A love letter to a long lost daddy
Usually we find the most endearing aspects of our lives appear when we least expect them to. I stumbled across Cave Story in a moment of sheer boredom but have fallen deeply in love with it, because while unpretentious and humble it simultaneously delivers a charming, enchanting adventure with levels of accessibility that will fulfil players of all skill levels.
I cannot begin a discussion of Cave Story without first mentioning the soundtrack, the likes of which I have never heard before in my life. The composer (and also sole-creator, Pixel) manages to capture the essence of an entire era of videogaming in some very catchy and memorable numbers. The music takes in all ranges and always fits the mood of the scene, oftentimes reflecting the strange isolation you feel throughout the game. Indeed, the first playthrough feels almost dreamlike at times as you explore this bizarre yet strangely familiar world. The setting itself is brilliantly defined as enigmatic and mysterious, offering up its secrets little by little as you explore and uncover until the final picture is made clear in a very satisfying way. Clues to your progression follow a similar vein in that the next step is not always very obvious and will sometimes require some thinking on your part, not that there are any actual puzzles in the game.
Most of the thinking comes from the combat which becomes increasingly more difficult as the game progresses, but with excellent response times and some cleverly designed enemies the challenge is never offset by unfair gameplay. You will also come across a selection of weapons all with some character to them and a few quite unique to Cave Story. The Nemesis, for example, is most powerful at its lowest level which makes using it a challenge in itself as you must avoid collecting tokens from destroyed enemies. Cave Story makes use of these clever quirks with challenges specifically designed to test your skills in these areas, with the hardest straining every reflex muscle in your body to its fullest in an extremely tough but highly satisfying gauntlet.
What is most evident as you play this game though is its hidden inner beauty, a lovingly-crafted memorial to videogames gone by. You only need to remember that this game was made by one person over five years to understand the respect he has for the past that inspired Cave Story. It is a sparkle that can be found in the fully-formed characters who seem to be more lifelike than most 3D avatars have ever mustered, and in the story so confidently told despite its graphical ‘limitations’. One moment in particular made me pause in shock: it wasn’t a twist or a reveal, but a simple act of humanity reminiscent of a certain memorable moment from Final Fantasy VII, and it pleased me greatly to think that the last time a game made me do that was probably Final Fantasy VII. It just goes to show you that more polygons doesn’t mean more pathos.
The ‘+’ version contains updated graphics and music on the original, which I prefer though you are still at liberty to revert to the initial renditions. There are also extra challenge rooms which require you to perform certain undisclosed tasks in the single-player. On that note it should be pointed out that there is one very significant point which will drastically alter the rest of the game and lengthen the ending considerably should you make the less-obvious choice, though there is no precedent for doing so and you will likely miss it without forewarning from the internet.
Cave Story’s great achievement is in its ability to make the journey personal to you without branching storylines and a karma rating. It is a game made up of the history of games and therefore will speak to everyone in a different way. What it says to you is as personal as the stories you love and the friends you keep. And in that lies the heart of what videogames are all about.
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