The unique side-scrolling shooter Cave Story has picked up quite a following over the years. Originally released as a freeware title by the one man team of Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, one of the industry’s best kept secrets is finally getting a proper console debut. Technical issues mar what should otherwise be a significantly upgraded port, but it’s still a grand game.
Cave Story stars a tiny robot who quickly becomes embroiled in a dispute between a village of mimigas, rabbit-like creatures, and the game’s villain, who is referred to as simply “The Doctor.” He begins without any sort of weapon, but soon picks up a variety of firearms and other tools in his quest to save his friend Sue. Cave Story eventually goes on to feature an experience akin to an open-ended version of Treasure’s classic shooter Gunstar Heroes, with all the havoc that entails.
The weapons include a missile launcher and machine gun, and later on, fireballs and throwing swords. All of them can upgraded through up to three levels by collecting items from fallen enemies, and they hit the level cap pretty quickly. Taking damage lowers the upgrade meter though, so the trick is to maintain maximum firepower while weaving through the reams of foes.
One of the game’s niftier elements is a jetpack, which is necessary for getting around higher walls and exploring every inch of the levels. And indeed, exploration is the name of the game here. The exits to most of the levels must be reached in a very roundabout fashion, even when they lie at the far end of what amounts to a tunnel. Finding the keys and other items needed to progress often means backtracking through the level or finding a hidden doorway, and the jetpack allows Cave Story to make use of vertical space as much as horizontal. The excellent level design goes a long way toward enhancing the exploration, which serves as the game’s main hook.
In part to justify the 1200 Wii Points ($12 in non-Mario Monopoly money), Studio Pixel has added a number of extras that should’ve made this the definitive version of Cave Story. The graphics have been given a fresh coat of paint and are now quite a bit more colorful, and the wonderful soundtrack have been remixed. For those who have gotten used to the classic though, it’s also possible to play with the original graphics and sound.
Unfortunately, remixing the music has resulted in some odd technical problems with audio. The original music is a little too low, even at maximum level, meaning that the volume on the sound effects has to be lowered to hear it properly. The new soundtrack also seems to have been mixed improperly, with certain instruments like drums seemingly absent. Even with those issues, Cave Story’s music still stands out as being complex but catchy, even with some of the audio mixing issues.
I also encountered a rather unfortunate glitch when I opened my map in the Outer Wall stage. My Wii locked up on me and I had to power it down to reboot. Cave Story is still a terrific game in its own right, but it’s impossible to ignore some of the glitches. None destroy the experience, but they mar what should have been a greatly improved port. Problems noted, it’s still a fantastic game.
A Whimsical World
Cave Story somehow manages to be both intense and incredibly relaxing. Although the game throws plenty of challenge at you, there’s something soothing about its overall look. The tiny sprites might take some getting used to, but Cave Story’s art style is very charming and only serves to enhance the game’s retro ambience.
The art style isn’t the only hook that should lure you in to play. Cave Story’s intensity stems from the number of monsters it packs into every inch of its levels. Your upgraded weapons can generally defeat them after a couple of hits, but the game just keeps throwing creatures at you, making it easy to get overwhelmed, which is a good thing in this case. Seasoned veterans of the genre won’t have too much trouble plowing through this adventure, but it’s satisfying -- casual gamer or side-scroller devotee -- to pop hordes of foes while zipping through with a jet pack.
That’s ultimately the reason that Cave Story is a necessary WiiWare purchase. While the glitches and bad audio mixing are notable and annoying, they still can’t drag down an overall fantastic retro experience. Cave Story boasts a wide-range of entertaining levels, a unique style and a marvelous soundtrack. Even those who have already played it to the death on the PC should give it a look, if only to see Daisuke Amaya’s unique world in action in the living room on a big screen.