Since I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell these feelings I've walked away from Mass Effect 3 with are, it'll be a short blog this week. I bought the last Humble Indie Bundle some time ago, but somehow just noticed the little entry called "Cave Story+" sitting on my Steam list a short couple of days ago. I'd always meant to play it, having read glowing reviews of the WiiWare version upon its release, but it always slid back into that huge indie-game-pool of "oh I'll get around to it some time." Oh, man, do I regret putting it there.
The "story" half of Cave Story
had an intriguing way of sneaking up on me. I begin in a room called "Start Point," which leads me into another room called "First Cave." Proceeding a short distance downward, I pass a few obstacles, obtain a weapon and then go back up. I interpret this as a conventional but well-executed "natural" tutorial, familiarizing and acclimating me with game's rules and structure; I thus expect the game's draw and progression to be Metroidvania-like, with stages labeled and ordered as "caves," and some light, harmless plot sprinkled across the surface. Oh, cute bunny-people - yeah, that seems about right. I assume the increasing volume of words is merely some oddly-paced exposition.
Then somebody drops the word "killed," and things start to get dark.
Being a huge sucker for games with good stories and presentation, I can't say I'm surprised at how quickly and easily Cave Story
drew me in, as I booted it up having read about how I'd receive just that - but there's something about a game that eschews those "surprises" and radical genre shake-ups for rock-solid design and a compelling yarn that flips on all kinds of otherwise rusty happy-switches in my mind. There's a comforting feeling about slotting into this kind of title; one that has its unique little moments but whose greatest strengths lie in taking familiar concepts and executing them to perfection.
Sure, its world isn't nearly as sprawling and labyrinthine as a Metroid
map, being separated into a handful of discrete segments with only a few booster power-ups to complement the prescribed sequence of new weapons and abilities, but exploration isn't its focus - Cave Story
is a much more driven game, carried along by the constant forward momentum supplied by its focused plot. It nails both the moment-to-moment gameplay bites and the all the various curves and flowing shapes that comprise the big-picture pacing - soaring over a long gap by using the recoil of my own machine gun is a thing of beauty, and only once (when I had to collect a bunch of dogs) did I find myself edging towards disengagement.
It's a game which doesn't need to do something big and flashy to prove itself - unlike many titles, my memory of it is more constant and fluid, built off feelings and generalizations rather than specific moments. The wow-factor that is ordinarily triggered by a huge set piece or head-bending plot twist is instead diffused across the entire experience - sure, it had its "oh crap" moments, but for the most part, my pleasure and satisfaction came almost by-the-minute. Nearly every area was filled with little instances which caused me to think, "neat;" here's a character! Here's a new weapon! Here's what that weapon does when you level it up! Here's a new plot development! Here's a new area! Check out this awesome music! Look at Balrog's adorable toaster-buttcrack!
Since it's 1. freeware and 2. dirt-cheap when it's not, I doubt anybody who clicked on this blog hasn't already played Cave Story,
so it's probably time for me to stop preaching to the chiptune-choir; but, in the unlikely event you've yet to discover this little modern classic, go. Play it.
It defies criticism - the only one I could possibly throw at it would be a lack of depth in its mechanics, but I'm more convinced that such simplicity is the point. In this age of blockbuster, multi-million dollar extravaganzas, a retro-infused masterwork like Cave Story
is the best kind of antidote - worth every minute of its five-year development.
LOOK WHO CAME: