Game Review - 'Cave Story+'

4 stars for 'Cave Story+'

Of all the many independently made video games floating around out there, there aren't likely to be many as instantly recognizable as Cave Story. Made by a single man in his spare time over a period of five years, and translated into English from its native Japanese by a loyal group of fans, the original freeware release of Cave Story quickly came to represent the standard against which all independently made games should be measured. Honestly, if you have any interest in independent gaming, than this is one that you have probably already played.

For those that haven't, though, the most important thing you would need to know is that Cave Story is an obvious, and deliberate, throw-back to an older (and, you could argue, out-dated) style of game. It is a 2D platform game similar to old console classics like the original Metroid and Castlevania games. Nostalgia is an obvious source of the game's appeal for many older gamers, though that is hardly the only thing it has to offer.

Cave Story+ is a retail version of the original free game, available on Steam, which has been improved in a variety of ways (as indicated by the addition of the '+' to the title. See what they did there?). The obviously pixellated sprites have had their rough edges smoothed down, and are now noticeably more detailed when compared to the original. Though, they still manage to retain their old-fashioned charm. The original music has also been redone, with two new versions of each 8-bit track added. The remixed versions of the original are actually quite good - but, the entirely new versions which have also been added aren't quite as successful. Thankfully, though, you always have the freedom to choose which you want playing. There are also new modes of play which can be unlocked - and, which serve to increase the game's longevity.

Beyond that, though, it is exactly the same game - so, of course, the decision of whether to put down any money for this when the freeware version is still readily available is something that you will have to answer for yourself.

You find yourself cast in the role of an unnamed kid - suffering from a dose of amnesia as he wakes in a cave. Without knowing how and why you came to be here, you are simply left to explore - eventually finding your first weapon, and finally finding your way to a nearby village. This village happens to be inhabited by a strange race of humanoid rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas. They don't know who you are, or why you're there, either - but, they seem to have plenty of problems of their own. The Mimiga live in fear of a figure that they call the Doctor, who often comes to steal away villagers for his own purposes. Sure enough, it is not long after your arrival that you will see this for yourself, as the Doctor's henchmen arrive and kidnap one of your new friends. You will quickly find yourself left with nothing else to do but try help - setting off to try to rescue this poor creature while, hopefully, learning a bit more about yourself in the process.

If you've played the freeware version, then your experience will be much the same. You will still find yourself quickly won over by the ridiculously adorable Mimigas. And you will, hopefully, by moved to try to protect them from the sinister Doctor and his hired muscle.

For my part, the additional layers of polish (combined with the opportunity to throw a little well-earned money in the general direction of the game's creator) was more than enough to justify the purchase - though, your own mileage may vary. The only real problem with this improved '+' addition of the game comes from an unexpected source, though - the actual translation of the game's story. As a part of the general attempts to polish the game for a retail release, a new translation was also prepared. The problem, though, is that this new translation is actually inferior to the fan-made one of the freeware version in a variety of ways. It's not that the story becomes difficult to follow, or that the game has suddenly become filled with grammatical mistakes - it's just that the new translation manages to strip some of the charm which the original held. It could very well be that this is a complete non-issue to anyone who is new to the game. But, either way, there are many long-time fans who much prefer the original translation (even going as far as finding ways to restore it to the retail version of the game)

Any other problems that the game may have are ones that it shares with the original freeware version. This type of 2D plat-former thrived on the early Nintendo and Sega consoles. That is where they made their home. There were platform games available on the PC at around the same time, sure - but, they always seemed to be at their best on console. Trying to play this sort of game on the PC, where you will be required to use a keyboard, will be one of the earliest challenges. With your fingers positioned over the directional arrows, you may find that you simply aren't as capable of pulling off the precise movements required as you might have been with a game-pad in hand. That was the experience I had with the game, at least. It's manageable, though - and, it shouldn't spoil your enjoyment of the experience.

Cave Story+ manages to tick all the boxes of the classic 2D plat-former games. There are epic boss-fights, and sections requiring some impressive manual dexterity. It comes with a wide selection of impressive weaponry to use against your enemies - and, an impressive selection of different types of foes to use them against. It also manages to tell a story which, while starting out cute and cheerful, manages to turn significantly more serious, and even sombre, as you progress. There are also alternate endings to aim for, which further increase the game's replay value - though, to be honest, the path to the hidden 'perfect' ending is so counter-intuitive that you will need a walk-through on hand to get there.

Cave Story+ can be either an impressive dose of nostalgia for older gamers, or a look back at the best of what older generations of games had to offer for younger ones. Either way, it is definitely worth your time.

© 2013 Dallas Matier

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