Cave Story Review for Nintendo Wii

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.

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.

We have only a few complaints. By far the biggest is that each boss fight is preceded by some dialogue, which you can’t skip. The save points are (usually) close enough that you can get back to the action in a minute or so, but we’d have preferred instant re-tries, especially considering how hard some of these fights are. When you spend more time running through the dialogue (or in some cases, working your way back through the level) than you do fighting the boss, it’s a problem, and on the harder fights, some gamers will just flat-out give up. It’s frankly astounding that no one thought to add a “skip cutscene” feature.

Cave Story screenshot

Our second complaint is that, for a game that lets you level up your character with HP boosts, there sure are a lot of one-hit kills. It’s an apparent nod to Mario games (falling in a pit is usually what does it), but it gets frustrating, especially when you’re just retreading ground to get back to the teleporter. The incessant re-spawning of enemies also makes retreading ground a pain when you have to do it.

The third problem is that the story is a bit silly and nonsensical, combining a fantasy world with dragons and talking non-humans, the modern world of chatty instant messages, and a future world of teleportation. Apparently, some man called “the doctor” is kidnapping members of a race called Mimigas. Players sit through a fair amount of dialogue, so it would be nice if the tale were a little more interesting.

Nonetheless, Cave Story is a great game. It feels like some sort of gem from a bygone era that, while complete, never saw the light of day (think Star Fox 2). It’s debatable whether gamers should fork over the $12 for the WiiWare experience or stick to the free PC download, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that everyone should get this game in some form.

It looks like a very well-done NES game, just as it’s intended to. 5.0 Control
The developers absolutely nailed the feel of old-school platformers. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Like the graphics, they’re old-school, but they’re well-done. 4.1

Play Value
The new features (relative to the free PC game) don’t really justify the $12 price tag, but the Classic Controller compatibility might. Regardless, it’s a great game that provides hours of fun.

4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • A faithful NES-style Metroidvania adventure.
  • New features, including boss-rush mode.
  • A huge, open world filled with bosses and platforming puzzles.

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