Ah, metroidvania, if it was a place I would move there, unfortunately it’s just a genre. Fortunately it’s a game genre that’s almost always good. Cave story is a game that was created entirely by one man who also had a love for both Metroid and Castlevania. It came out originally in 2004, but was re-released recently on Steam as Cave Story+ with updated graphics and sound. Cave Story is one man’s work of love, paying homage to its side scrolling, item collecting, and grandparents while being its own delightful little entry into the genre. Cave Story+ just makes the whole game a bit jazzier, but doesn’t change any of the core game play. That said, although it does update the graphics and sound, don’t expect anything cutting edge, Cave Story is true to its NES loving roots.
Cave Story takes place in a setting that can only be described as bizarre. It reminds me of playing games on the NES where any old monster could be thrown in without explanation. Remember when you used to play a game and a flying, horned, eggplant would start lobbing books at you and you wouldn’t blink an eye? The Cave Story setting is definitely reminiscent of those days. You will find yourself in different “zones” surrounded by varying degrees of strange enemies. Watch out for the giant parrots that hold dinosaur skulls that shoot bones at you. Although it is strange, it’s a charming setting, featuring bunny people, evil doctors, and amnesiac robots. Everything feels like it belongs there and the strangeness works. The story is also a bit wacky; you’re trapped on a floating island with an evil doctor performing experiments on the innocent bunny people. There is a nice amount of depth to it though, with characters referencing events from the past and how you and the people around you fit into the history. Strange as it all is, it makes sense in its own way and makes the game very endearing.
The game play, is as you would expect from a metroidvania game. You start with basic guns and items and slowly upgrade them with the upgrades allowing you further access to the world around you. There are bosses, who are most of the time rather cute and whom you may well feel bad about covering in bullet holes. The progression in Cave Story is a lot simpler than other games in the genre, probably due to the fact it only had one man working on it rather than a whole team. Some points need a little a bit of lateral thinking, resembling an adventure game more than a Metroidvania, or require you to speak to the correct person before progressing. This added an adventure like element that mixes up the game nicely and helps you appreciate the strange, cute world of Cave Story even more.
The combat feels very solid, and things never get too busy or frustrating. That said, the combat never really ramps up to any real difficulty and I was able to get rid of most of the bosses on the first shot. Although the combat and game play is a trip back to the days of the NES, fortunately modern-day game design is considered and save points are prevalent throughout the game. You will never find yourself howling in rage after dying and having to hack your way through 2 hours of corridors to get back to the boss. A nice addition to the game is the ability to level up your weapons. Along with dropping the normal health and missile packs, enemies also drop little yellow triangles. These are like experience points for your weapon that allow you to buff your weapons up to three levels, each with varying effects and damage. Now the interesting thing here is that as you take damage, the experience of your gun drops, allowing it to drop in levels. Take too much damage during a boss fight and you will find yourself ineffectually pewpew’ing with the level 1 variant of your favorite gun.
The game probably could do with a bit of beefing up, you will zoom past a lot of the areas and bosses very easily, but this at least keeps the story moving and everything fresh. There are a lot of nice little touches, like a machine gun upgraded to third level will allow you to shoot down and use it as a hovering device, and a quest where you pick up little puppies and deliver them to an old woman. There’s nothing new or particularly innovative about a Cave Story, it’s just a basic little Metroidvania adventure, made impressive by the fact it was created by just one man. You will finish it quickly without much of a challenge but you will enjoy every moment of it. The graphics are dated, but that’s intentional to give you that sense of nostalgia of bygone glory days of the NES.
If you have ever enjoyed any other Metroidvania’s then it’s hard to not recommend Cave Story+, which you can pick up for 10 bucks on Steam. It’s got a lot of personality, weirdness and tight game play. Hopefully every sale will increase the likely hood of Daisuke Amaya creating another wonderful gem like Cave Story. I give Cave Story+ a 4 out of 5 stars.
Michael Raston is a gamer in his mid twenties. After wasting most of his life playing games, he has decided to start writing about them. Check out more of his ramblings at http://lowerguk.tumblr.com/ or send him an email; firstname.lastname@example.org