Cave Story (Dokotsu Monogatari) is a game designed and created by Daisuke Amaya (Art-name Pixel). Pixel spent over five years creating this game by himself. He designed the game, produced the art work and character designs, and even wrote the games 8-bit style soundtrack on his own. I find it truly remarkable that a game of this quality can come from just a single man, but somehow, it has.
Not only did Pixel create the game on his own, but he released it as a freeware game for the PC in 2004. That's right, he spent over 5 years creating a spectacular game and he allowed the world to play it completely free of charge. Just the idea of that is reason enough for you to give this game a try and I would strongly encourage you to pay the 1200 Wii points to download the Wiiware version released for the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console in 2010. I have just completed the game and I would like to review it in hopes of getting you to play it yourself.
So on with the review. Cave Story takes on an 8-bit style reminiscent of the NES era. If you were alive when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released, you'll know this style well. I personally love it. The character sprites are simple and cute. The background art is colorful and creative. The music is wonderful 8-bit goodness which fits the style perfectly. The controls are simple and work incredibly well. The story is compelling. What more could you want from a 12 dollar game? And that's assuming you purchase the Wii version. Otherwise, you get all of this for FREE. Anyways, let's take a further look into each of these elements.
The characters in Cave Story are fairly simple but have enough backstory to build a decent connection throughout the game. Your main character is named Quote. As you begin your journey, you'll meet rabbit-like creatures called Mimiga who need your help. From there, you'll run into plenty of colorful creatures both friend and foe. I was quite surprised that the story was interesting in Cave Story.
I was expecting a typical 8-bit game with nearly no plot and was pleasantly surprised when I ran into plot twists, choices to make, and even alternate endings. While the story and character development is no role playing game, it was quite fulfilling and Pixel did a nice job writing it.
The artwork in Cave Story was very unique. Granted, it was similar to older 8-bit NES graphics, but they were upgraded just enough to really add a new feel to the game. As you travel through the side-scrolling world, the background art looks wonderful. In a lot of areas it is just simple still background art, but in others it is a colorful, vibrant background moving at different speeds giving you a great feeling as your blast your enemies out of the way. Speaking of blasting your enemies out of the way, the bosses of this game are amazing.
The amount of action and intensity built into each boss was invigorating. Once you start fighting a boss, you're on the edge of your seat struggling to stay alive while colorful explosions and bullets are flying all around you. It's truly a rare experience and I suggest you experience these bosses for yourself. Another great element of the graphics are the weapons. The weapons look excellent.
It's hard to explain in words, but as you shoot your enemies, the bullets and explosions look remarkable. They explode in many different shapes and colors that create very exciting visuals. As you collect weapons throughout the game, they will start at level 1. As you kill enemies, they will drop small golden triangles that you can collect to fill up your weapons. Once your weapon reaches a full bar, it will upgrade to level 2 and can also be upgraded to a maximum level of 3. This means your weapon is more powerful, has a different range, and sometimes even special abilities. Also, as you take damage from enemies, you not only lose life but your weapon will also lose its levels.
So if you are fighting and you take a lot of damage, your weapon will drop from level 3 to level 1 losing its effectiveness. I cannot recall seeing a weapon leveling system similar to this in any game I've played in the past, but I really enjoyed it. As you fight more difficult enemies and bosses, you have to strategically choose which weapon to use as well as being aware of their levels. Certain weapons are effective on particular bosses, but once they drop from level 3 to level 2, they may lose that effectiveness. It may sound a little complicated, but once you try it for yourself I am certain you will enjoy it.
Cave Story also offers plenty to do once you've completed the game. You get new areas to explore, new modes to play, and a few other new options. Another excellent feature they added to the game is that you are given the option of whether you want to play with the original PC graphics and music or the new Wiiware versions. You can mix and match, using the old PC music with the new Wiiware graphics and vice versa. I thought this was a great idea and allows you to see the game in its original form or its upgraded form.
There are a few musical glitches in the Wiiware version, but overall it is very well done and most will prefer the new graphics and audio. My one complaint about the game is that the triangle shards that the enemies drop make a piercing sound when they bounce on the ground. I was playing with my stereo turned up and I could not take this sound. I had to turn the volume on my stereo down or you could choose to lower the sound effects setting from the options menu.
Overall, Cave Story is one of my favorite downloadable games and by far the best freeware PC game I have ever seen. I highly recommend that everyone play this game and I suggest paying the 12 dollars to get it on the Wii's virtual console. I feel like I easily got a $30-40 value from this purchase and if I had taken the option of downloading the free PC version I would have felt the need to donate some money to this man. It is remarkable to see that one man's creativity, skill, and passion can create such an excellent game.