Backlog Gaming: Cave Story 3D

4:00 PM

Ah, Cave Story. A beloved indie game from Japan, and likely, one of the first ones to become such a big success. It's probably known first for it's brutal difficulty, then for it's music, and then probably it's story. Oh, and let's not forget that the whole this was originally a one man production from Studio Pixel. The original is available for free, but also, remastered versions are available for purchase on Steam, the Nintendo eShop, and other fine places where video games are sold.

Putting it out there, I didn't finish it. I'm at the penultimate cave - an optional one required for the best ending (Bloodstained Labyrinth / Sacred Grounds, for those wondering). The Last Cave and the subsequent caves see a big jump in difficulty that cause them to raise sodium levels to boiling points. I spent maybe 4-5 hours just trying to get through The Last Cave (not actually the last cave), and can see myself spending at least that or more for the Labyrinth.

Despite not finishing it, I feel like I've played enough, seen enough and read enough to pass a fairly educated judgement on this one. Also, I am terrible at platformers.

Starting with pros, Cave Story was, and still is, an extremely well designed game. It's an example of the "show, don't tell" philosophy of design, whereby the levels are built to teach you mechanics, should you be willing to experiment and figure things out. A good example is the machine gun. Once you unlock the second half of the stage, there are a series of breaking blocks where you have to go down. So you jump and fire down at the blocks. In doing this, you'll (hopefully) learn that aiming the gun down lets you fly for as long as you have ammo to fire. The game gives very little explanation of it's mechanics outside of it's core controls, and forces the player to experiment.

The weapons are all very different, and when they're used effectively, make you feel like the smartest person alive. The weapons, and how they level up can allow you to make the most of a situation. The Bubbline, at level 3, can fire a stream of bubbles that float around you. Letting go of the shoot button will send them flying across the screen. Effective at knocking out low health flying enemies, but also serves as a pretty darn good shield against destructible projectiles that bosses throw at you. The fireball is a great weapon that travels along the ground - perfect for the critters in the Sand Zone. It also bounces off walls, letting you get to enemies at dead angles. The blade, while spammable at level 2, becomes a hard hitting AoE weapon at level 3, letting you take out Presses, hiding in nooks above you, just waiting to instantly kill you.

The music is great. Catchy melodies in areas you spend enough time in that they'll sink in. When you've spent over two hours trying to beat a level over and over again, however, you'll never want to hear it again. Just listen to the main theme! It's great, though I might say that a lot of the music is oddly upbeat, against the general tone of adversity. At the same time, I can't picture Cave Story with a different sound track, so it's all good.

On to the cons. I played the 3D remaster on the 3DS, done by NISAmerica, with Pixel giving input. For those interested, I recommend picking up the eShop port of Cave Story+ 3DS, done by Nicalis. It maintains the original pixel art and designs of the original game, and (personal opinion), is probably easier to see in. Cave Story 3D (not to be confused with Cave Story+ 3DS) has completely redone graphics - gone are the pixel art, replaced by fresh rendered environments and sprites. While it looks quite nice, I feel that it might be too much of a modernization. Not that I have a problem with it, because the pixel style isn't for everybody. NISA's version allows more people to experience the suffering wonder of Cave Story. However, I do think that they went a bit overboard with it. Lighting could have been done a wee bit better, as some dark areas are darker than they really should be, making it difficult to make out where the instant kill spike traps are. They, while red and should stand out, are hard to see against the dimly lit levels.

Another con, again personal opinion, is how complex the endings can be. There are several endings, ranging for "bad" to "best". Retrospectively, they make a whole lot of sense. Getting the Booster 0.8 from the professor means that the bottom of that pit he falls into is his grave. Not exploring the first Core boss room means that you'll miss the Tow Line, miss out on saving Curly, and ultimately be barred from the best end. It's things like these, while I acknowledge that it cultivates discussion and replayability, it is almost impossible to get the best ending without a guide. It's a game that doesn't tell you much, forces you to explore and really work your ass off if you want that best ending.

* * * * *

I'll probably come back to it sometime. The difficulty I had with the last few caves was rage inducing, but also the amount of time I sunk into a small section makes wonder if the last 3 caves equal the amount of time it took just to get to that point. Is the time I spent on the last 30% of the game equal to that other 70%? It might very well be true.

I'm so close to finishing it that it'd be a waste to not go for it. Reading up on the various ports, I discovered that the version I'm playing has a slight tweak to up the difficulty, so I might grab the Nicalis port to see if I can do any better in that.

Next game to take down, Etrian Odyssey 4 - an equally difficult and unforgiving game. 

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