If you’ve never heard of Cave Story, don’t feel too bad. While the 2004 game may be one of the least obscure titles as far as PC-developed indie games go, it still remains under the radar of most. Let that no longer be the case. Now that Cave Story has emerged from its freeware shackles, anyone and everyone is urged to download the game via Nintendo’s WiiWare service. Really, it’s the perfect fit. Nintendo has always lead the charge when it comes to charm in video games, and this is as charming as they come; wholly deserving of its $12 asking price.
The premise is simple. You take control of protagonist Quote, a robot that finds himself coming to in the middle of a dark cave with no recollection of how he ended up there. Thus kicks off a game in the map-roaming, back-tracking tradition of Metroid and post-Symphony of the Night games in the Castlevania series. The way through this underground world isn’t direct, but it’s also not mucked up by logical head-scratching; each goal transitioning smoothly, making for a journey that’s rarely frustrating.
Okay, that’s kind of a lie. While you may not get lost terribly often, you will die a lot. The key to survival is keeping your weapons upgraded, which involves a constant tug-of-war as defeated enemies give experience, and receiving damage from them takes it away. Most of the normal minions—from swooping bats to some typically-peaceful Mimigas (rabbit-like locals) driven wild by a strange red flower—won’t give too much of a headache, but bosses are strong and plentiful.
In that respect, it’s worth noting how important sense of discovery is to the whole package. Of course, this is one of the key reasons classic games have endured over time, and it’s in no short supply here. The story is conveyed in an appropriately low-key manner. Dialogue exchanges occur around the comparatively silent Quote, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen next, especially in new areas. At any given moment a boss could come plummeting from the ceiling, issuing forth an unexpected challenge for which Quote may or may not be prepared. Never has frequently saving at one of the many rest areas been more crucial.
Cave Story is impressively authentic, and completely manages to stray from any sense of being a forced old school throwback. The love put into its development—originally created single-handedly for PC by one man who goes by the name Pixel (Daisuke Amaya)—is clear from beginning to end. There was a noticeable moment after about an hour or so of playing it that it clicked, providing some strange sense of nostalgia for a Super Nintendo game that didn’t exist.
Though I never played the PC version of Cave Story, I’ve seen enough to understand how impressive Nicalis’s port to WiiWare is. After all, the original was really a fan-made translation of a Japanese indie game, so this version has an official air about it, complete with a fresh translation, upgraded graphics, and a gorgeous remastered soundtrack. Since anyone can download the original’s music for free, I urge you to check it out if you’ve never heard it, and then play the Wii version. It’s a much fuller sound that brings out the beauty of the classic compositions without sacrificing what made them special in the first place.
That line of thought pretty much sums up this port, and ultimately Cave Story itself. In no way does this beefed-up port betray the original. It merely serves to enhance an already excellent game. This one comes with the highest of recommendations.
Developer: Studio Pixel
System: Nintendo Wii