I really like Cave Story. It’s one of my favourite games. It’s a great little platformer with some exploration elements to it. For a while there I thought of it as Metroid like because it used exploration as a mechanic – mostly you spent time looking around for things to take you forward. Some further thought has me wondering if I’m just mistaking something important about the game, and what got me wondering about it was the Invisible Jellyfish of Chaco’s House.
In Cave Story there comes a part of the game where you, on the way to somewhere, hit a door and a wall. Through the door, there’s a bunny named Chaco, who will tell you that to go onward, you need the juice of a jellyfish that’s back the way you came. If you’re like me you thought: What jellyfish? I didn’t pass any jellyfish. Maybe there’s a hidden thing back there I missed that the game now wants me to go back and look at.
Nope! You turn around and head back and now the space you were in is full of jellyfish!
Now, playwise this is a lot of fun! You’re now being conditioned to handle the area you just moved through in reverse, except now it has different things in it and needs different stuff and that’s super cool! It’s not a bad moment! But when you look at it, it made me wonder if exploration is really the thing that Cave Story was about.
Then I thought more about it and… largely, Cave Story is a pretty linear game but it has a nonlinear story. There are some diversions, some cul-de-sacs, some small things you can do on the way, and some priorities you can finish in other order, but the routes of the game always meet up at the same point. You still have to do most of the game’s events in the same a-b-c sequence, and you find them by moving away from the last thing towards the next thing.
Still love the game, but I was thinking about it wrong.