When Cave Story arrived as a PC freeware title in 2004 it, quite rightly, gained a cult following. Here was a game which offered a platform adventure with a depth that was hitherto unseen outside of full blown commercial games, but was free to anyone with access to a PC who cared to download it. It also arrived at the time when 3D was in full swing and there was a distinct lack or 2D titles. Now with such titles being brought back into the gaming fold with gusto thanks to services like WiiWare, there’s a certain delicious irony about Cave Story arriving on the recently established platform.
With Nicalis helping to port the game to a chargeable format, perhaps the biggest question remains whether or not it’s actually worth the money. After all, the game is six years old and we all know that such an extensive period in this medium can take its toll on even the most hallowed of titles which were `of their time`.
Following the adventure of the main character Quote, the game throws the player in at the deep end, with him having lost his memory and trying to piece things together. The game lives or dies on its ability to actually capture the player in the here and now, succeeding admirably thanks to its charming pixel art style, mixed with some solid 2D platforming. Cave Story really does capture that old style essence of adventuring for items and progressing through the side scrolling platforming levels. There are items to collect, lots of places to explore, fetch quests to complete and even backtracking through areas, all of which are the certified hallmarks for the genre. Cave Story manages to carry them all off with charm, but at the same time retaining that edge which reminds you that you’re playing, what remains to this day, a labour of love rather than a cynical commercial outing.
The game cleverly employs a power up system so that, while defeated enemies drop hearts to replenish health, the obscure line up of weapons can also be upgraded by collecting the experience chits. Being hit by enemies doesn’t just decrease your health but the level of your weapon too, meaning if you aren’t careful your hand cannon will revert to a peashooter when you need it most. Die and the game is not particularly forgiving, putting you back to your previous save. Thankfully the save points themselves are plentiful, but the player will need to get into the habit of saving often if they’re to avoid having to redo chunks of the game, particularly after a frantic boss battle.
While some recent remake games can be accused of cashing in, it would be hard to argue that this version of Cave Story isn’t worth every penny. Along with the basic elements of gameplay holding up as well as they did back then, the game has had its sprites redrawn and music updated. For those that have played the game before and had their memories dulled over time, the game includes options to switch between the old and new styles to prove this isn’t just a straightforward cut and paste. It’s also the first time the game has received an official translation into English and it’s arguably all the better for it, giving it a more modern day relevance alongside the original feel. There are also some new additions such as the Boss Rush mode and Curley’s Story, the chance to play the game from a slightly different perspective as another character.
All this means the WiiWare release is considerably more than a quick cash in. Perhaps the single greatest addition is the most natural; the ability to play the game on a controller, streamlining an experience which was often frustrating when using a PC’s keyboard.
Die hard fans of Cave Story will certainly love this release and, any snobbery aside, will be glad that with this version allows a whole new generation of players to discover why their cherished game is so highly regarded.