To be completely clear this is a review I’ve been wanting to write because this is one of my favorite games I’ve played this year. This game was already originally released in 2004 as ‘Cave Story’ and I’ll be reviewing ‘Cave Story+’ which was released some time after on Steam as an enhanced edition. If I spoil anything of the first few hours of gameplay for you I am not sorry – take it as judgement for not playing this undercover wonder.
Before you go any further you also must be aware that I’m listening to this song from the game soundtrack while I’m writing this, on repeat. It’s one of the many brilliantly orchestrated songs in the game that give it so much character that I could barely ever stop playing. It should also be noted that the original game was made by only one person and I have tremendous respect for that.
The general story behind Cave Story+ (beware of slight spoilers) is that you, a mute soldier, wake up in a strange cave. You venture through the cave and uncover a pistol which you’re instantly familiar with, followed by a cave-dwelling species that you don’t quite recognize as well as your gun. It starts a chain reaction in which you get thrust into an adventure from teleporter to teleporter attempting to thwart the plans of an evil doctor. You run into and befriend a spunky girl and a few more friends along the way to help you on your questing.
Now to discuss the game itself: a side-scrolling title with guns and a whole lot of jumping/dodging. Cave story utilizes a unique blend between Contra-styled shooters and bullet-hell games that most won’t notice.
Dodging is something the game doesn’t tell you to do, it just happens naturally and there’s a lot of it. The first real boss fight is against an enemy named Balrog who is a gigantic lunch-box looking enemy (actually a toaster) who happens to weigh a whole lot and can shoot at you just as much. Your goal is just to defeat him and escape although you eventually end up having to jump and dodge around his attacks towards the end – this is just the beginning.
In a later fight with the same boss he seems to have a transformation and as toads begin to fall from the sky he starts shooting strange red projectiles your way. Managing your focus between shooting the projectiles and the toads becomes a daunting task as you get your first glimpse of the difficulty Cave Story+ plans on bringing to the table.
It’s not a difficulty that will make you throw any hardware across the room but it’s just enough to keep you interested and wanting to beat it.
The game will feel a lot like Metal Slug, Contra and even Megaman but it’s important to note one major difference with a lot of games you’ll see in our modern age: the weapons.
Of course you start with only one weapon, your trusty pistol, but you unlock quite a few more as you progress through the game. They all act fairly uniquely and also have some very interesting features upon leveling up. Oh yea, your weapons level up. When you defeat enemies they drop these noisy little orange triangles that bounce around and do a terrific job of grabbing your attention – these give your equipped weapon experience. When you get hit, you weapon loses experience.
It’s important to note that this is the character progression in the game, mechanically speaking. Your own protagonist will never become faster or stronger (excluding health) but his weapons will, and do they ever kick some ass. The standard pistol just gains more damage which is visibly noticeable; the other weapons also gain more damage but because they all act differently it feels great to level each one to their max levels.
Something (I should say ‘another’ thing) I love about Cave Story+ is dying in it. That may sound odd, but honestly I like dying in this game because I love what dying makes you learn – you need to save. A lot. There’s so many save points throughout the game that you begin to absolutely pray you find more as you progress through the game. That’s not something I usually appreciate in a game but it’s almost enjoyable to have a reason to replay some classic sections of the game.
Cave Story+ is on the surface a game about exploration and combat with the evil Doctor’s minions trying to get in your way. What it really becomes however is a game about the exploration of your own character and the people you’re fighting for. With a classic approach to story telling pulling from classics like Zelda and Megaman, Cave Story+ will put you on a pretty enjoyable path that you won’t want to stop traveling.
And don’t forget that the soundtrack is both engaging and down right brilliant in all definitions of the word.