I picked up Cave Story + on Steam the other day. Not because I knew anything about Cave Story, mind you. It was a bit of a sudden decision made on the fly after reading the game’s description wherein I found out it had some retro graphics and was “reminiscent of old school Metroid.” After reading this, I blacked out for a while on the floor, and when I came to I found that I had purchased Cave Story + for just under $10. It turns out I’m pretty glad that I did. Cave Story is a 2D side scrolling exploration shooter by a group known as Studio Pixel, which messily feasts upon your nostalgia and secrets a charming game about some robots, some scientists and some rabbit people who may or may not be weapons of mass destruction.
Everything about Cave Story is a call back to the days of video games long past. You start the game as a boy who wakes up in a cave, which is conveniently called “Starting Point,” with no real idea of who or where he is. After walking through a cave and stealing a gun from a sleeping hermit, you’re in business. Time to WRECK SOME FACES.
Granted, most of these faces are just in the forms of bats or these weird blobby things, who are intent on spitting on you or sitting on your face, depending on where you find them. That’s not the point. Where Cave Story differs from straight up exploration games like Metroid and Shadow Complex is that you actually have a plot. As the story advances, NPCs will tell you which zone to teleport to and unleash havoc upon, all while strongly implying that they’re sending you because you’re all hells of expendable.
After wandering through the first cave (conveniently labelled as the “first cave”) your amnesiac young boy will drop straight into the heart of the Mimiga village. This is a race of peaceful if somewhat irritating rabbit creatures who are being spirited away one by one by a mysterious man known only as the Doctor, who is wearing a silly crown, and his two cronies, who are a witch and the offspring of the Kool Aid Man and a toaster.
Side tangent: Yes. I did initially flip out when I found out the villain’s name was The Doctor. After watching as much Dr. Who as I have, it was pretty hard to not think of the silly British cult icon every time they said his name. Turns out, he’s not so much The Doctor with The Tardis and The Shenanigans that has seeped into pop culture after fifty years of bad sci-fi television, and is more of a medical doctor, who is also a humongous dick. That is all.
Here’s the good thing about Cave Story. First, it’s cheap on Steam, and free if you don’t mind slightly reduced graphics and having to install an English patch for it elsewhere on the internet. (Try this one if you want to go that route: http://www.cavestory.org/downloads_game.php) For the amount of time and/or money you’d put into acquiring this game, you’re not going to find a better 2D platformer outside of the old NES and SNES consoles. Seriously, if this game had been made back when I was growing up, it would have been one of my favorites. The plot, exploration and sense that I’m royally screwing everything up are just priceless, and there are different ways to play and endings to obtain, weapons to mess around with, ect ect.
The weapon system is simultaneously the best and worst thing about this game. You’re only able to hold five weapons at a time, which means you need to seriously think about which ones you want to have with you. Each weapon can be leveled up by collecting these yellow triforce piece looking things, which greatly increases rate of fire, range, damage, and adds other benefits. For example, part way through the game I traded up my original pea shooter for a machine gun. At level 3, this gun can act like an impromptu jet pack and can help me reach different locations and higher platforms.
But… on the down side, since I traded in my original gun for a machine gun, I was unable to get other weapons later on. And some of those weapons are needed in order to get the best ending in the game. Here’s the thing about Cave Story: You are going to fuck it up. It’s going to be horrible. People around you will be dying left and right, unless you have peeked at a walkthrough beforehand in order to avoid the hideous screaming death of everyone you know and love. You’re decision to swap weapons on a whim will have long-lasting repercussions on the plot. Some will even significantly hurt your ability to travel and get to other locations and higher rooms. You can make the wrong decisions, though Cave Story will never tell you what the right ones were until it is too late. Hell, in many cases you’ll probably be oblivious to the fact that you’ve screwed anything up at all until you’re locked out from the end game.
Still, Cave Story is a great way to pass the time, especially if you’re jonsing for the old school days of exploring caves and killin’ Metroids. The game gives you the pure joy of exploration and upgrading, of high stakes and mutant rabbits. Anyone who hates Cave Story hates video games. And also probably the Japanese. Did I mention? This game is all hells of Japanese.
One piece of advice? Drain your robot girlfriend. How? I HAVE NO IDEA.