Originally released for PC by indie developer Pixel in 2004 Cave Story has become something of a cult classic with Metroidvania fans: either you love it or you’ve never heard of it. It’s been released on multiple platforms (mainly Nintendo handhelds) and has apparently sold well enough to warrant demand for a Switch port of the 2011 PC remake. This raises the question: if the Switch version worth the repurchase or if the classic cave crawler is suffering from Skyrim Syndrome?
The controls are precise which is essential for an action platformer like this. That being said they’re also incredibly simple: jumping and shooting are your primary actions.
The combat is one of the high points of Cave Story+. The enemies can seem overwhelming at times, in both number and strength, but the game doesn’t require you to mindlessly mash buttons to dispatch your enemy. There are a variety of weapons available to you that can be used to strategize beyond point and shoot. For example the Rocket Launcher is best used for long range attacks while the Fireball or Blade are better when the enemies get too close for comfort.
The combat is further enhanced by the weapon level system. Whenever you kill an enemy they’ll drop yellow triangles that serve as EXP for your weapons. Each weapon has three levels that increase its power, but you lose weapon EXP whenever you take damage. What it essentially boils down to is the more enemies you kill without taking damage, the better your weapon. This mechanic keeps the game from being too easy, especially later in the game.
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The platforming aspect is also top notch. Your movements are fluid and tight. Platformers like this live or die by the controls, but you’ll never find yourself fighting through sloppy controls in Cave Story+. There are some challenging platforming bits, but nothing that feels cheap or unfair.
World / Level Design
The game takes place entirely in a massive cave with several different ecosystems and a variety of different enemies. The map is incredibly varied and expansive, but the game is relatively linear so you won’t get lost unless you go a while without playing.
The story in Cave Story is pretty minimal, like most games in the genre. The main character has amnesia and helps a group of rabbit-like creatures in their plight against a mysterious trio led by the even more mysterious Doctor. Admittedly the plot is kind of throw-away (with a few notable moments that shine among the rest), but the dialogue is phenomenally funny. Whenever Balrog is on screen you’ll want to actually read his text boxes, but the entire script is good. There are also multiple endings, but I won’t say more about those for spoiler’s sake.
One of my favorite aspects of this updated version of Cave Story is the optional graphics update: you have the option of playing the entire game in its original pixelated glory or with all new character sprites and environmental textures all of which are sleek and modern. This can be switched at the main menu at any point in the story. This option allows for Metroid veterans and New Super Mario Bros noobs to find a happy medium.
Music / Sound Design
Like the graphics, Cave Story+ allows you to choose between 8 bit beeps and boops or orchestrated versions of the overworld music. Whichever you choose you’ll be in for something special. The soundtrack (which is also included with the Switch Physics release) is just as carefully crafted and appealing as the game’s visuals.
Final Score: 84%
Cave Story+ is the definitive version of the 2004 indie classic. That being said it isn’t actually that different from the other releases (WiiWare, DSiware, 3DS, PC, PSP). The new graphical and music options are cool, but the base game is essentially the same. If you’ve never played it before I would definitely recommend buying Cave Story+ over an earlier release, but if you’ve already got it on another platform I’m not sure the improvements are worth a repurchase.
The linear nature of the game also leaves little room for exploration. Yes there are missle and energy expansions, but unless you’re determined to get 100% completion there really isn’t an in-game motive for exploration in the way Metroidvania fans are accustomed. Overall the game is amazing but it’s starting to show its age.
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