Start Date: June 26, 2016
End Date: July 3, 2016
After I beat Manos: The Hands of Fate in just over an hour, my hunger for old-school platforming was not yet satiated, so I decided to turn to a game that’s been on my backlog for years. I first wrote about Cave Story on my old blog in 2008, having “just discovered it” at the time:
Look at that glowing-ass review, written by someone who – at the time – had played through maybe 10% of the game. It’s telling that the screenshot I included was the very first starting point. Needless to say, I didn’t end up beating Cave Story back in 2008. I restarted the game a half-dozen more times over the subsequent years, but I never got very far before I stopped playing for one reason or another. Until this year, when I finally fucking finished it!
NOTE: There have been a bunch of new versions and updates to Cave Story over the years (including a beautiful-looking 3DS remake), but I played the original, absolutely free version which is available here.
So that old blog entry up there actually does a pretty good job describing Cave Story. Nice work, me! This game is a Metroidvania title with simple RPG elements, quirky environments and an above-average story and characters! You play as Quote, an amnesiac boy who wakes up in a labyrinthine cavern and finds himself in the middle of a war between a race of subterranean rabbit-people and an army of robots. Man, that sure sounds stupid when I type it out, but it’s actually a pretty engaging story.
Quote’s journey takes him through a lot of caves of course, but the game offers a surprising amount of environmental variety. My favorite place was the adorable little town where the rabbit creatures lived:
There are also underground rivers, temples, and laboratories. Progressing further into the game even takes us out of the caves entirely, onto the surface and beyond. But yeah, for the most part it is mostly just caves.
The game is called Cave Story, after all. And this isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination – it helps foster the claustrophobic Metroid-esque atmosphere that games like this thrive on. The level design here is really outstanding – Metroidvania games need to rely on a lot of backtracking, which can easily get dull if handled poorly, but Cave Story strikes just the right balance. There’s no feeling more exhilarating than returning to an area that was previously overwhelming, and just plowing through it with your newfound abilities. This concept is referred to as “high value per area” in this excellent game design analysis video, which illustrates the genius of Cave Story better than I ever could:
The attention to detail in this game is simply astounding, and all the more impressive when you realize that the whole thing was developed by one dude.
I’ve played a lot of Metroidvania games over the years (and have highlighted several of them on this blog), but Cave Story is by far the best one that doesn’t actually have the word “Metroid” in its title. If you’re a fan of that genre, don’t make the same mistake I did and put this game off for 8 years. Go buy the game – or download it for free – and fucking play it!