Game Review: Cave Story (eShop)
I feel slightly guilty having taken so long to play Cave Story. I downloaded its original freeware PC port a long time ago, but I never quite got around to paying much attention to it. The game was created by Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, a lone Japanese developer who put together the game’s music, story and of course gameplay all by himself. Recently, I got my hands on the 3DS eShop version- I’m amazed. This is a platformer that belongs in everybody’s library for having top-notch gameplay, an interesting world with nicely fleshed-out characters and a zany, engaging story. It’s been released on quite a few platforms (there’s a retail version of Cave Story for the 3DS that’s different from the eShop version), and if you don’t have a 3DS you can buy the game for your Wii, Mac or PC.
To start with, the game’s presentation is very strong. While there’s no tutorial (it’s not really necessary as you’ll pick up the controls very quickly), the game’s story is well told through a series of non-intrusive cutscenes and environments. If there’s one area CS specializes in, it’s timing, as the story’s pacing couldn’t have been better. CS is the story of an island that’s home to adorable rabbit-like creatures, the Mimiga, and has seen some hard times. You play as an adorable silent robot named Quote who wakes up in cave and manages to find his way out to a grand adventure. I don’t want to give too much about the story away in case you haven’t played it, but CS played a real number on my feelings- I was surprised how much I really felt for the characters as the game progressed.
Aesthetically, the game is very strong- even though the 3DS eShop version of Cave Story doesn’t boast the graphical enhancement of its retail version, it still looks amazing- the game’s environments excellently convey a sense of scale that I don’t see or feel too often in other 2D platformers. What’s more, there was a ton of detail put into the environments- everything just seemed alive. The sprites for the characters looked pretty good as well, and while the game can be played in 3D, it did make things a bit more difficult. The trouble is, the 3D works best for passive viewing or slower levels- keeping your 3DS in the ‘sweet spot’ during boss battles is pretty difficult. Still, it was nice to turn on the 3D during cutscenes- it added to the game as the animated background layers scrolled on by as you ran along the foreground. It was a good way of adding the illusion of depth to a 2D game. If you have a good set of still hands, you might enjoy playing through the game with the 3D engaged. Otherwise, save it for cutscenes.
The game’s music is absolutely incredible. The soundtrack is composed of beautiful chiptunes, and the title theme is unforgettable. Again, I was surprised by all the emotion this little game carries with it, and the music is no exception. Towards the game’s end, there’s a song that’s very gentle, and it conveys the feeling that you’ve fought hard and are about to fight once more, but it doesn’t give the feeling of “big boss battles ahead” so much as a feeling that you’ll be heading home soon over a final hurdle. It’s a pity, really, but my words feel like a weak medium for conveying the feeling the music of Cave Story leaves you with. Here’s a nice piano medley– you might notice that the music is absolutely glorious and feel as though you’re ascending. Rest assured, this is normal.
As far as gameplay goes, Cave Story is especially brilliant. You go through a series of caves, laboratories a desert and other areas in a Metroidvania-esque, somewhat open fashion. As you explore each area, you encounter new characters and find new items that come in handy throughout your quest, and there’s secrets aplenty. If you enjoy exploration in your platformers, you’ll absolutely adore Cave Story. The tremendous variety of imaginative weapons is pretty awesome- your machine gun can become a jetpack of sorts. How? After defeating enemies, sometimes they’ll drop little yellow triangles. These upgrade weapons, and while they’re plentiful, it’s also easy to get your weapons downgraded by taking damage- this is pretty terrifying during a boss battle. Said boss battles are almost always scary, and require good timing- often, the boss battles are rather bullet-hell-esque, and are filled with projectiles that need dodging. They’re pretty taxing, though you’ll probably leap for joy after beating them. Just resist the temptation to hurl your handheld at a wall whenever you die- you can expect to do that pretty often.
Cave Story has multiple endings- a bad ending that should make you feel like a miserable coward, a good ending and a great ending. I’ve seen two of the three thus far, as the third ending, while amazing, is also difficult, and it’s easy to mess up early in the game. If you’re so inclined and unconcerned about spoilers, you could look up the methods to gaining the best ending as it’s neither simple nor obvious. Still, it’s a nice touch and a great challenge if that’s what you’re looking for.
Some other features in this version of CS are a jukebox that collects songs from the game for your listening pleasure later on along with a couple unlockable modes depending on how well you play through the game, both being welcome additions. Having only achieved the good ending- not the great one- I didn’t get to play those modes, but from what I’ve seen they’re a welcome addition that surely play as well as the rest of the game. I really like the way CS for the 3DS handles its menus as well, specifically with regard to items. Want to look at an item you picked up? Just tap the lower screen and the game pauses, allowing you to get a full description of whatever item you’re interested in, along with the option to equip it when possible. It’s a simple system that doesn’t break the game’s flow. It’s a little thing, really, but it contributes to the game in a notable way.
Overall, the eShop version of Cave Story is worth owning, and while it doesn’t have the extra bells and whistles of the retail 3DS version, it’s still a great game. The story is engaging, the characters are fascinating and gameplay is top-notch. I don’t have any real complaints about Cave Story besides the occasional difficulty spikes- the game lulls you into a false sense of security with relatively easily beaten monsters populating the levels, and suddenly a boss starts breathing fire and only has one vulnerability that’s accessible for a few seconds- it gets kind of crazy sometimes. Still, it’s a welcome challenge in a game that absolutely deserves to be placed in some sort of platformer hall of fame with the likes of Metroid, Mario and Earthworm Jim. You will not be disappointed by Cave Story in any of its forms, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.