Then Indie Scene

In the indie gaming scene, I’ve heard Cave Story referred to as a classic, and I wanted to find out why. Rather than cast my net wide for this installment and gather up a bunch of “C” games to try out, I delved into this single game.

C:

Cave Story (PC, free…and soon to WiiWare)

Playing Cave Story, I can understand how it earned its reputation — it does well by its mix of platforming and exploration. You start in a strange island world in the shoes of a small hero with only nuggets of information. After acquiring a gun and breaking free from a cave, you encounter a race of rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas who just don’t seem to trust you.

 

The story takes off from there, teasing you with questions about a girl named Sue (“Is she all right?”) and a mysterious power known as the Doctor. Over time, these pieces fall into place as you realize where you came from and why the hares are so harried.

It’s not so much about figuring out the story all at once, though — the world itself draws you in as the initial town hub slowly evolves into a gateway to something much larger. When you find a locked door at the lower side of town, you know you’ll be back when you come across the key. Similarly, when you see someone guarding a passageway, you know you’ll be heading that way as soon as you remove the obstacle.

That’s how progression works. You pull off a task to open up something you previously came across, eventually getting a teleporter up and running that takes you to most of the game’s worlds.

Some of these tasks are the dreaded fetch quests (collect five puppies for granny, gather the pieces necessary to make a bomb). While that concept is cliché, the platforming used to get the needed bauble tends to be good, as you navigate among small platforms and spikes, find secret passages, or leap from moving platform to moving platform.

That’s just part of the puzzle, though. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the weapon upgrade system. As enemies perish, they drop ducats that go toward powering up your various weapons — reach level 3 on any, and they shred through most opponents. But as you get hit, your equipped weapon’s power, in addition to your health, begins to drop. Many a boss fight will end with you with a sliver of energy and the weakest of weapons.

When it comes to moving and shooting, Cave Story never matches a fine-tuned Mega Man. The simple controls (jump, move, shoot) perform adequately on the keyboard (I don’t have a gamepad) but certainly aren’t perfect. And swapping between weapons can be a pain in the heat of action.

That action, though, is plenty adequate, and when matched with the interesting trappings, I found plenty to keep me wanting to play the next section, then the one after that….

The thing is, the game is better than any nitpickings indicate. I could poke holes throughout, but as a whole — and considering it was built from just a couple dedicated programmers and is free — I’m blown away. For over a week this game has drawn me in. Sure, “C” is for “Cave Story,” but it works just as well for “classic.”

Previous entries: A, B