Cave Story is one of those games with a title that tells the player everything they need to know. There’s a cave and a story going on in it. By the nature of this story it’s got so many spoilers that it’s difficult to say anything about it. Let’s just say that you’re a “soldier from the surface” and that you’re going to be thrown into some turmoil. I hope you like Megaman because you’re gonna jump, shoot, and find a whole bunch of cool weapons to fight some bad guys.
Save story is a game that was made by one man, Daisuke Amaya. He programmed, wrote, developed, designed, and composed the whole project. It may have taken him five years to do it and when he was done he gave it away. This game is the definition of indie. It’s design is simple in all ways, characters, music, plot, gameplay but from that simple design complexity rises from the sheer number of factors that are thrown at the player. Amaya began working on Cave Story in 1999 when he was in university and continued working on it until 2004 while he was a software programmer.
It’s free distribution and eventual translation into English lead to a release Wii virtual console in 2010, on the Steam distribution platform in 2011 as Cave Story +, and as a fully remastered version called Cave Story 3D. Cave Story + is a paltry 9.99 so, although you can download it for free, I urge you to pay for it if you can no matter what platform you prefer. Cave Story + even has some cool stuff in it that’s not in the original like a boss rush, and Hard Mode– A mode that leaves the player at 3 HP through the whole game.
Cave story was released on December 20th 2004. It’s competition was World of Warcraft (PC), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Playstation 2), and The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth (PC)
If you’ve been playing videogames for a long time you’ll probably run out of fingers and toes counting the number of times that characters get or have amnesia in games. It’s a really popular trope in RPGs to create some dramatic irony or create some sort of prophecy. I can think of Final Fantasy games in which multiple characters have MULTIPLE BOUTS of amnesia. Do writers know how extremely rare that amnesia is? Our dear hero in this game is also suffering amnesia and I won’t say why for spoilery reasons but lemme just say it makes perfect sense. It’s not about a blow to the head, brainwashing by a vague yet menacing organization, or something that happened when he was too young to remember it.
The game is pretty simple. Our soldier from the surface can jump, shoot, and move and that’s about it. He also has the rare ability among run and gun protagonists to aim up and down. You’ll encounter enemies and obstacles aplenty, almost no two of which are alike.
A unique aspect of the game is that weapons upgrade system. Weapons have levels from 1 to 3. Enemies drops chips when they die which contribute what basically amount to experience points for weapons. Weapons get substantially better as they level up, get useful abilities (like shooting through walls), and they do more damage– with one exception. The trick is that weapons lose these level up points when you take damage. If you keep getting hit then you’re gonna have to change your weapons or scramble to find more upgrade chips. It’s a really interesting system that encourages exploring the weapon space.
Weapons are also the form of currency in the game. Some weapons are discovered through exploration while others can be traded away for different– not strictly better weapons. The weapons each offer something to someone’s playstyle. Unfortunately each trade is non-refundable so you’ll have to have fun with your saves if you want to experiment.
The game is all about exploration. It’s loosely based on Metroid and it shows. There are secret passages and all sorts of strange places to find and explore. It’s the player’s responsibility to find important, but non-vital items, like the map or the Bubbler gun.
This game has got a bunch of endings and they’re all about how far you push the story. You can give up and just try to survive. Or you can go all out, save the day, and find out the answer to the mystery of the caverns. It’s up to you.
There’s a weapon in this game called the Nemesis. Unlike the other weapons in the game it gets worse the more you upgrade it. At level 1 it fires giant lightning bolts that deal intense damage. At level 3 it shoots ducks– like rubber ducks. It’s satisfying to get knocked around by a boss for a bit and then take out the Nemesis and get some payback.
The bosses in this game are phenomenal. They start off insanely simple but eventually the screen is being saturated with enemies and attacks and you’ve got to keep on to your wits just to survive. Experimenting with different weapons can also make some boss fights much easier to handle.
The music in this game is incredible. Amaya didn’t really know how to compose music so he made a program to compose music for him. He would take the raw output, tune it a little, and find the right area for it. The music fits these places incredibly, I’m taken in by it every time I play– My favorite song is Labyrinth Fight.
The characters are pretty simple in this game but there are so many that stand out to me. Their simple designs express a lot about their character.
The plot is simple and delightful. It’s a battle against greed, violence, and a battle for identity.
The path to the secret true ending is a motherfucker. Some of the things that you’re expected to do are totally illogical based on the circumstances– One of the steps you have to take is to abandon someone so that they can survive. You heard that right, you abandon the guy and he lives, if you help him out then he dies. Some steps require immensely precise actions, if you miss any of them then you’d better hope you didn’t save or you have to start the whole game over.
Cave Story brings some of the most pathos evoking moments in any 2-D shooter that I’ve ever played. I laughed, I cried, I kicked some serious butt, saved the day, and solve a cosmic mystery. I can’t say that about most games that I bought for ten dollars.
Next Week: Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)