Cave Story+

A game by Studio Pixel and Nicalis for PC, Mac, Wii, DS, and Switch, originally released in 2010.
It was 2004. Sony’s towering obelisk, the polygon-pushing Playstation 2, was teaching mankind to beat each other with bone clubs as it passed on the knowledge that the only truly outstanding games had $10 million budgets and development teams sized in the triple digits. By all accounts, the days of a single developer working on his own to create a worthwhile gaming experience that would reach – and touch – a wide audience, were long past. Gaming hardware in the new millennium had reached a point of complexity that no single individual could hope to harness its power and make anything more complex than a box-moving puzzle game… right?

And then came Daisuke Amaya, better known as Pixel, the creator and sole member of Studio Pixel. In 2004, he released a game that he had developed – on his own – over a span of five years. That game was Doukutsu Monogatari. It was originally released as a Japanese freeware game, and was later translated into English by Gideon Zhi (who also translated La-Mulana, among many other games) to become Cave Story as we know it in the U.S. Since then it has almost made it to a console release on several occasions. Well, that’s not entirely true… it has unofficially seen several console and handheld releases (including some real oddities, like the GP2X and TI-83/84), and ports to several other computer operating systems. But now, for the first time, there is a Pixel-approved console version, which was released on WiiWare and DSiWare as Cave Story, and released on other platforms as Cave Story+ (ed note: All screens contained within this article are from the WiiWare version of the game.)

Unlike previous porting efforts – which Nicalis has kindly asked be ceased – the WiiWare, DSiWare, PC, and Mac releases were done with the direct involvement of Pixel, who created entirely new artwork for all of the major characters to accommodate the game’s new resolutions. In addition, he had a say in the approval of the new artwork (all of the environments have been completely redrawn), gameplay elements, and music used for the updated version of the game.

While the game has been “remastered” in a sense, it is still very much the Cave Story you (may) remember. In fact, given the consistency in the style of the artwork, you may be hard-pressed to distinguish the updated version of the game from the original. Needless to say, it’s a bit prettier, and the sound quality has been brought up a notch. But if you’re a Cave Story purist, Nicalis has left the original version’s visual and aural assets intact. So, you can play with the original graphics and sound if you choose, or even mix it up by playing with the updated graphics and original music, or vice versa.

Updated visuals and music are not available in the DSiWare version of the game. Some other adjustments were made to the DSiWare version, due to the system's lower resolution and the different aspect ratio, to ensure that players are given a roughly equivalent experience to the game's console counterpart, and the game features an unlockable music player.

The PC and Mac versions have the updated graphics from the WiiWare version, as well as the new "Wind Fortress" level designed by Amaya, featuring new unique enemies (and with potential additional downloadable content).

The game has received more than a simple overhaul to its presentation. Several new gameplay and story elements (with a new English translation) have been added to further flesh out the experience and offer some surprises for returning players. In addition, the game now offers several difficulty modes, so newcomers can get their feet wet on Easy, and returning veterans can have a go at Hard. Also included is a Boss Rush mode, which allows you to fight the game’s bosses in sequence, and a Sanctuary Time Attack mode which places you into an environment which must be completed within a specified time limit.

New to the updated version of the game is the ability to unlock Curly Brace as a playable character, and the game now features 3 game save slots, as opposed to the 1 provided in the original. The WiiWare version of the game can be played using either the Classic Controller or the Wii remote turned on its side. It runs at 60fps, and the gameplay speed is about 20% faster than it was in the original. The DSiWare version is, of course, controlled with the DS, but it does not have any added touch-screen controls. The change in format is used primarily to display the map, dialogue, and the player's inventory on the bottom screen, while the action takes place on the top screen. The game has since been released to PC as well.

For those unfamiliar with the game itself, you control an amnesiac named Quote who awakens in a cave, and makes his way to a village populated by rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas. An evil scientist is causing trouble, and you are their only hope. Right away, you’re probably thinking to yourself that you’ve played at least a dozen games with roughly the same premise. What isn’t clear from this description is the game’s overall tone and style – as carried by the dialogue and character designs – and the richness of the gameplay.

Cave Story offers an expansive world, every corner of which can be explored and plumbed for secrets. For the most part, the only thing preventing you from accessing a new area is the abilities or items you have at that time. There is no score, no time limit, and no paths lined with mysteriously hovering coins, gems, or other such doodads. You have unlimited continues and save points are spread liberally throughout the environment. You are meant to take your time, soak things in, and consider where to go next.

Along your journey, you will encounter NPC’s who give you tasks, and help you to unravel the story, some of which is new to the updated version of the game. The story is the primary driver for the game, which can play out in a number of ways, and there are several distinct endings based on the choices you make and the items you have discovered.

As you play, you’ll increase your health and upgrade your weapons. There are numerous weapons in the game, including the 10 weapons from the original, and each has very different speed, power, and range, which greatly affect the gameplay. Even the way that projectiles move varies widely from weapon to weapon, ranging from a regular shot, to a missile, to a bubble-shooting gun, to a sword.

There are several points in the game where you will be offered the choice to swap out one weapon for another, and you’ll never have more than 5 weapons available to you at any given time. However, each weapon can be upgraded independently by picking up the bouncing golden triangles that enemies leave behind. Each weapon has 3 upgrade levels, but taking damage will knock some points from your weapon meter, and the weapon can even be downgraded if you take too much damage. Some weapons have unlimited ammo, while others self-recharge, and still others require ammo pickups in the environment.

You’ll need to be careful when swapping as well, because many weapons have secondary abilities (such as the ability to shoot through walls, or to hover by shooting and aiming downward) which may be more important to you than raw firepower. These things will need to be taken into careful consideration, not only for fighting your way through the standard enemies, but also when facing off against one of the game’s 20+ bosses.

In addition to the wide range of weapons, there are also a number of interesting items, such as a couple of jetpacks, one of which simply adds to your vertical height, while the other allows for long-range flight in any direction. You can also get an air tank which allows you to explore freely underwater, as opposed to contending with your ever-dwindling air gauge. And of course, there are numerous other pickups and keys which allow you access to new areas, and even a Mimiga mask, which lets you blend into the local population.

The game offers a large, richly populated world, with a unique fantasy setting and memorable characters. The new graphics and sound give the game a cleaner presentation, but it still retains the tone of the original 8-bit style, and as mentioned, you have the ability to play with the original graphics and sound. With the updated version of the game, Nicalis hopes to offer something new to returning fans while staying true to the tone and style of the original, and to offer newcomers the chance to finally make Cave Story part of their video game heritage.

Cave Story was originally developed by Daisuke Amaya, who in turn created artwork for the updated release from Nicalis. Amaya also developed Ikachan, which was also originally released as freeware and later offered as a premium downloadable title. Nicalis is the same company that published La-Mulana, VVVVVV, Castle in the Darkness, and Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San.