The last few years have seen many independent developers attempt to expand on the traditional platformer style, usually either by re-imagining the concept or by combining it with elements that are common place amongst more modern games. Few however attempt to make a platformer that wouldn’t be out of place with its ancestors, in both regards to game play and graphics. Cave Story+ is one of those rare few, being first released over 7 years ago makes it even rarer as there was nary an indie scene to speak of, and it’s recent re-release on steam (and inclusion in the Humble Bundle) has seen it meet many more eyeballs, including my own.
Without so much as little bit of back story or title sequences explaining things you’re dumped straight into the game. You, although you’ll only find this out as you work your way through the game, are an amnesiac robot who’s managed to find himself in the middle of a plot being hatched by someone simply referred to as the Doctor. His plot seems to revolve around the native inhabitants of the area called the Mimiga, a race of humanoid rabbit looking folk. You then dive into the various sections of the world in order to help out the Mimiga and hopefully foil the plot of the Doctor.
I hate to start off the review with a criticism like this but the absence of some form of a tutorial makes the first hour or so (and some sections later on) with Cave Story+ a little frustrating. Whilst the arrow keys control movement the jump button isn’t up or space (it’s x) and fire is z. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, I’d just check the options menu I hear you say, well unfortunately that’s not accessible once you start playing the game. You’ll have to quit to the main menu in order to be able to view the key bindings. It’s a shame really as this game has gone through several revisions since it was first released and I can’t be the only one who thought this wasn’t ideal, so my mind boggles as to why it’s still that way.
Cave Story+ does get points though for having art work that would not be out of place in games that were almost a decade its senior. Whilst there’s no real evocative mood along the lines of other recent pixelart games like Gemini Rue and To The Moon the artwork does a good job of paying homage to the games that inspired it. My only complaint about it would be that it’s sometimes hard to tell which things are meant to be interactive and which things aren’t, although to be fair that was true of the games that Cave Story+ seeks to emulate and is probably intentional.
Like it’s ancestors Cave Story+’s story is driven by the good old fashioned wall of scrolling text. There’s a good amount of dialogue in Cave Story+ as well, enough so that the back stories of each character get filled out well enough that you can understand their motivations in the story. This makes up somewhat for the beginning’s complete lack of information and confusing switching between you and another character.
One annoying part though was the limited way in which to skip dialogue. You can hold down the enter key to make it scroll faster but you’ll have to hit it again every time they reach the end of their section of dialogue. This wouldn’t be too bad but there are some sections where you’re required to make a choice, and with the default always being “Yes” this means that it’s quite easy to make a wrong choice at a point (as I did a few times). You can reload to do it again, but there’s also the issue with that as should you fail at a section and restart at your last save point you’ll have to go through all the dialogue again, even if there are no choices to be made.
Combat in Cave Story+ though is surprisingly inventive, varied and above all fun. Whilst you start out with only a single gun, what appears to be a Revolver named the Polar Star, your arsenal quickly expands to multiple weapons. Each of the weapons has their own unique ability, like bouncing balls of fire or a gun that blows protecting bubbles around you, and depending on your situation there will be a weapon that’s ideal for that particular engagement. This is what makes Cave Story+ so appealing, but it doesn’t stop there.
As you defeat enemies they drop little glowing triangles and collecting these will level up the weapon you currently have equipped. Each weapon changes significantly as it progresses through the levels and at the final level they usually have some kind of added bonus that makes them really worth while. My weapon of choice was the Machine Gun as it’s level 3 ability is to be able to push you upwards if you fire it downwards, making the platforming sections much easier and a lot of fights trivial. This is followed in close second by the sword which functions as an area of effect weapon at its highest level and is particularly devastating against bosses.
The weapon system also plays a heavy part in the strategies that you’ll form as you go through Cave Story+. You see when you get hit both your life and current weapon level will go down and depending on the weapon this can mean an instance de-level (like with the sword). For some boss fights then, when its impossible to not get hit, switching between the appropriate weapon and another one you don’t care about can mean the difference between beating the boss easily or stumbling your way through with the wrong weapon for the job. It’s immensely satisfying and is undoubtedly why Cave Story+ has a following like it does.
As for the overall story itself I could take it or leave it as there’s nothing particularly memorable about any of the characters which I’d say is due to the limited amount of dialogue in it. Sure there’s enough to keep the story going but after being spoiled with great stories recently, even ones without dialogue, I can’t help but feel that Cave Story+ doesn’t deliver in the story department. I’m putting myself at odds here with the greater community who commend Cave Story+’s err story but I stand by my comments.
Despite all these difficulties though Cave Story+ is still at its heart very fun to play. I didn’t catch myself wondering why I was playing this game, questioning whether or not I was doing it just for the review, which speaks volumes to Cave Story+’s game play. If you’re a fan of the old school style platformers then Cave Story+ is right up your alley and even if you’re not it still stands on its own as a really enjoyable game, even if it suffers from some solvable problems.
Cave Story+ (or some form of it) is available right now on PC, OSX, WiiWare and DSiWare right now for $9.99, $9.99 and some amount of Nintendo points. Game was played entirely on the PC on the Easy difficult setting with around 5 hours played and 45% of the achievements unlocked.