Old school charm
Cave Story is, at first glance, a game we all played sometime around 1990. It certainly evokes the feel of classic 2D action games such as Mega Man, Metroid, or Castlevania, yet Cave Story is very much a product of the new millennium. As such, it combines old school aesthetics with modern gameplay conventions to great effect, and wraps it all together in a cheap, content heavy package. In other words, Cave Story is awesome.
At its core, Cave Story is a 2D sidescrolling shooter. You spend the better part of the game exploring a series of interconnected areas, all the while fighting all sorts of baddies and picking up all sorts of goodies. The level designs are top notch, and the game moves at a brisk, entertaining pace (with plenty of well-placed checkpoints) that feels about perfect. The enemy designs are equally fantastic, especially the bosses. Cave Story also doesn't shy away from offering players a stiff challenge, and it does a great job at communicating where you're supposed to go and how you're supposed to defeat each enemy. It's a fair challenge, and one that I greatly appreciated. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Cave Story's gameplay, however, is how you maintain your weapons. Killing enemies gains experience for your weapons, but taking damage will cause them to lose experience. It's a well executed balancing act that encourages the player to remain fully engaged at all times.
All in all, the core structure of Cave Story is incredibly well done, and its gameplay is at least as good as the classics it clearly takes inspiration from. Not only does it combine and modernize those formulas in smart ways, but it also provides some unique features all of its own. There are also plenty of decision points that can create branching paths, offering various endings and even bonus levels as a result. This gives the game a ton of replay value for die hard fans, and yet I also feel that there's plenty of content here for those only planning to play through the game once. Cave Story took me a good 5-6 hours to complete, which is absolutely fantastic given the game's $12 price point. This is one game that offers players a ton of bang for their buck, and that it all manages to be of high quality only furthers its value. Said quality extends to the game's presentation as well, as the visuals and audio are just spectacular. Everything is oozing with some serious old school charm, all the way down to the entertaining story and endearing characters.
Cave Story is a game that was very obviously made by someone who loves games- and not just NES games. There's a clear understanding of what makes games fun at work here, both on a technical level as well as an artistic one. That it packs a lot of content into a tidy $12 package only makes the whole thing that much sweeter. A lot of heart went into Cave Story's creation, and unless you're the type of grouch that deliberately shuns old school games, this is one that I can recommend without reservation.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.