Game Pile: Cave Story+

If you’re the kind of person who needs a good, concrete example of what indie development can do, I’d like to point you here, to the crown prince of the one-man-band game development: Cave Story.

Cave Story is a form of wide, expansive, exploration-driven, semi-linear storytelling game in the mould of classics like Castlevania and Metroid, helpfully portmanteau’d into the word metroidvania. You’re given a fairly limited toolset, and sent on errands around the four corners of the world along long, semilinaer paths through a wide variety of enemies with different behaviours and patterns. You’ll learn how to fight everything, you’ll upgrade your weapons, you’ll poke around in the corners for power-ups and little secrets, and the first time you play the game, chances are, you will screw up. It has multiple endings, charming aesthetics including amazing music, and – oh, one other thing.

It’s hard as balls.

I’m not even a bit kidding, finishing Cave Story ‘well’ is astoundingly hard, with a dozen little things that have to be executed properly, puzzles you have to remember, details you have to really look for, and of course, a near-slavish devotion to trying everything you can in the name of doing something that – ideally – matters to you. When you finish this game’s challenges, when you do what the game tells you is hard and lets you avoid doing you will walk out feeling like you’re ten feet tall and made out of biceps.

Then again, any praise I put on Cave Story, even after replaying it through this year, might come from some strange sort of Stockholm syndrome. What am I going to say? I bought this game three times. I bought this game three times after owning it for free. I bought this game for friends, even while I had the free, and freely distributed version, available on my hard drive. What the hell kind of mentality is that? I champion cheap thrills. I strive to wring value for money out of my investments, and can you possibly get a better value for money than free?

First, that’s of course spurious. There are plenty of free games out there that are bad. There are some free games that are good, but let’s not kid ourselves – indie game development almost always benefits from some money invested.

All of which is just superfluous verbiage to the greatest summary of this game I’ve heard: It’s Super Metroid for Badasses.

Verdict

Buy it if:

  • You played it for free – the game is worth supporting.
  • You want an experience reminiscent of classic exploration platformers.

Avoid it if:

  • You’re bad at reaction-time based game play.
  • You hate even the principle of reading FAQs for hints.

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