Mr. Fister Reviews: Cave Story (WiiWare)

*Note: This review is based on the recently-updated WiiWare version. This update fixed certain bugs and issues like poor sound-mixing and glitchy music. Thus, these issues will not be discussed.


Platform: WiiWare/DSiWare
Publisher: Nicalis
Developer: Studio Pixel/Nicalis
Players: 1

The video gaming industry is one that is dominated by big-time companies and flashy blockbuster titles. This isn't an exclusive affair; all forms of major media are and likely always will be structured in such a manner. However, like the other forms of media, entertainment and satisfaction are found not just in the big names like Mario or Call of Duty, but also in the smallest of titles made by the smallest of teams. None of this is more evident than in the case of Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya. Over the course of 5 years, Pixel designed, programmed, and composed the music to a freeware PC game entirely by himself in his spare time. This game, finally released in Japan in 2004 as Doukutsu Monogatari, was a delightful platformer that harkened back to the glory days of iconic NES games. Fan translations have existed for almost as long, but in 2010, slightly-less-smalltime developing team Nicalis made the first official American release available on WiiWare with updated visuals, music, and some extra modes. This game is known to the rest of the world by its literal translation, Cave Story.

The game starts out simple enough: You are an amnesiac boy who awakens inside a cave. This cave is inhabited by the rabbit-like Mimiga, who live in fear of a malevolent person known only as the Doctor. It's not long before the boy gets sent on a series of misadventures as he meets new people and learns the cave's secrets. There's much more to the story, but just like the games of yesteryear, part of the fun comes from discovering the narrative at your own pace. Nonetheless, the story is brilliantly paced and engaging, with plenty of memorable characters and dark twists to find.

Of equal brilliance is the presentation. Cave Story is largely a throwback to the 2D platformers of old, and the graphics and audio reflect this quite nicely. In-game graphics are pixilated like iconic NES titles and look sharp even on an HDTV. Developer Nicalis saw fit to update the level of detail within the sprites, but there's an option to switch between the new and original graphics at any time. The audio is also suitably retro; you'll hear plenty of bleeps, bloops, and other computer-like sound effects as you run around the caves and watch story events unfold. It can occasionally become overpowering in the more hectic moments when there are several different sounds playing at once, but the audio always manages to evoke that nostalgic feeling without sounding forced.

Cave Story gets slightly crisper on WiiWare, but never betrays its retro roots.

The high point of the presentation is the music. Don't let the obnoxious preview screen on the Wii menu cloud your judgment; much like the graphics and sound effects, Cave Story's music heavily uses the same sounds you would hear in an NES-era game, and it all sounds wonderful. Amaya's original compositions are excellent for both the levels and events during which they play and for getting stuck in your head for hours at a time. Nicalis, however, added their own versions of these compositions into the WiiWare release. These remixes hold their own against the originals (and arguably surpass it in some cases), but like the graphics, there's an option to toggle between the original and new tracks so you aren't forced to listen to one version for the entire game.

In terms of actual gameplay, Cave Story plays like a hybrid of Metroid, Castlevania, and Zelda II: Adventure of Link. You'll run back and forth through different sections of the cave, acquiring new weapons and powerups, and solving rudimentary puzzles. The weapons your hero specializes in range greatly, from expected weapons like a standard pistol and rocket launcher to a wacky gun that shoots bubbles that turn into shurikens. These weapons can be leveled up by collecting EXP chips from fallen enemies, but taking damage causes you to lose EXP and the weapons to become weaker. You'll also have to contend with plenty of jumping sequences that require precise maneuvering and a healthy variety of boss fights that can quickly take you out if you don't pay attention. The WiiWare version benefits from the addition of several control styles, such as the Wii Remote on its side, the Classic Controller, and a Gamecube controller. Your choice will come down to personal preference, but all controls work well.

For the first few levels, Cave Story may seem basic and underwhelming. However, new weapons, bosses, and twists are introduced regularly; just when you think you've mastered all there is to know about the game, it throws something new into the mix and ramps up the difficulty. You might be blasting away enemies with an ally at your side one moment and then be navigating tricky catacombs with a jetpack in the next. By the end of the game, you'll be going up against nightmarishly cruel platforming segments and nearly endless waves of enemies and bosses. Nearly every part of the gameplay, from the level design to the weapons and the enemy behavior, is thought-out and executed with great care. There isn't a single platform that feels out of place or an enemy who feels broken, and it all comes together to create a truly engaging platformer.

The platforming can be downright diabolical in later sections.

If there are any faults to Cave Story, then its brevity would be one of them. As it is a downloadable title, don't expect to get more than 5 hours out of your first playthrough. To help extend replay value, the WiiWare version adds some extra modes like a boss fight rush or the option to play through the entire campaign as a different character. There's also plenty of extra content to discover in the main game like hidden weapons and items, extra boss fights, and even a special ending. Unfortunately, some of these hidden goodies and the requirements to achieve them are incredibly easy to miss; it's almost necessary to use a walkthrough to get certain extras. Some of these hidden extras, like the aforementioned ending, also have plenty of points-of-no-return, so if you miss it and save your game, you'll have to start a new game if you want to get it. Regardless, even if you end up consulting a walkthrough, it's worth it to play through the game again just to find these extras, if only for the sheer fun.

In a word, Cave Story is unbelievable. It's purely astonishing how a game with so much heart, personality, and quality was made not by a famous developer or an experienced team with limitless resources, but from one unassuming man who simply had spare time and a lot of love. An easy recommendation for 1,200 Wii points, Cave Story is a wonderful action-platformer and a shining model of excellence arising from humble beginnings.

Not so sure if it such an easy recommendation for 1200 Wii points when you can get the original for free but it I did enjoy it on PC. The game has a lot of heart and also craft.

More Fun To Compute:
Not so sure if it such an easy recommendation for 1200 Wii points when you can get the original for free but it I did enjoy it on PC. The game has a lot of heart and also craft.

Well, you do get updated visuals and music (it's enjoyable, honest!) along with the aforementioned new modes. Also, Pixel doesn't get any money if you get the PC version, and believe me when I say he deserves that money.


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