Cave Story Review
Cave Story box art
System: Wii (WiiWare), PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Studio Pixel, Nicalis 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Nicalis 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: March 22, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

Many of today's gamers got their start with the NES. They recall fondly the days when video games were hard, when "saving" was a luxury if it existed at all, when game music and real-world music sounded completely different, and when two dimensions and 8 bits were all it took to engross a player in a whole fictional world.

Cave Story screenshot

No one wants to go back to that era completely. We love our HDTVs, our quarter-billion polygons per second, our third dimension, our photorealism. We also love a trip down memory lane, however, and that's exactly what developer Studio Pixel provides with Cave Story. It debuted in 2004 as a freeware PC title, and now a slightly updated version is available for $12 via WiiWare. Longtime fans of the game won't find the new features to be all that impressive (the graphics are a little nicer and sometimes look like they come from the 16-bit era, the music sounds more NES-like, the words have been retranslated, and there are new time-attack and boss-rush modes), but this is still a great adventure, and the opportunity to play it on a sideways Wii-mote or a Classic Controller is irresistible.

Cave Story features just about everything that's great about classic video games. It combines the exploration, hidden items, and inventive boss fights of "Metroidvania," the leveling-up aspects of an RPG, and the demanding platforming feats of old-school Mario games, throwing in some Zelda-style music for good measure. It's maddeningly challenging at times, but somehow, you always feel compelled to give that tough fight just one more shot, and when you give up, you're always back in a half-hour.

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The world here is humongous, rife with hard jumps, screens full of enemies, and menacing bosses. All in all, Cave Story takes about eight hours to complete, though it depends how thorough you are in your exploration and how often you die. Also, there are multiple endings, so many gamers will find it rewarding to re-play the game.

Cave Story screenshot

The developers also nailed the control scheme. We recommend the Classic Controller; though it's more SNES than NES, it feels more natural, and the D-pad grinds into your fingers less. The jumping feels just the way it used to in Mario games: the longer you hold the button, the higher you go, and you can change direction in mid-air. It creates the perfect blend of control and challenge for Cave Story's often-tough platforming sections. Shooting, meanwhile, is Mega Man-inspired (and you can't fire diagonally). To switch weapons, all you have to do is tap a shoulder button.

Cave Story avoids many of the pitfalls of early games. Save points are sprinkled liberally throughout the world, at least most of the time, so until you're familiar with the game, you won't find yourself beating the same section over and over again just to get to the hard part. There are three difficulty levels, which makes the game accessible to a wider audience. Also, while the world is huge and completely open, a teleporting hub is provided, and each section is actually somewhat linear. This both cuts down on commuting time and allows the developers to make each screen challenging in itself (as you won't have to walk through it a thousand times looking for stuff).

Cave Story screenshot

The ideas don't all come directly from older games. Cave Story has a weapon system all its own. As you progress, you find various guns, each of which has three levels of power. When you kill enemies, one of the power-ups you can receive increases your weapon's level meter, and whenever you take damage, your current weapon's meter depletes a little. Interestingly, you can kill an enemy with one weapon and use the resulting power-ups to charge a different gun. Because your guns can lose levels in addition to gaining them, you're constantly on your toes trying to keep your growing collection of killing machines at full charge.

Screenshots / Images
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