Wonderful WiiWare: Cave Story [Review]

Sometimes it seems WiiWare is the ultimate showcase of “hit or miss” titles, with offerings ranging from the wildly pointless and stupid, to amazingly inspired and engaging.  I’m proud to say that the Cave Story is the latter, and by far one of the most complete and satisfying WiiWare titles to date.

Those familiar with indie gaming on the PC might remember Cave Story as Doukutsu Monogatari, developed solely by Daisuke Amaya and released for free in 2004.  The game quickly gained popularity and was translated into english by fans – it spent years as a cult indie classic until it was picked up by Nicalis, who brought it to WiiWare.  Is a freeware PC game worth 1200 Wii points? Absolutely.

Cave Story’s WiiWare update includes updated graphics, remixed music, new control schemes, and new game modes – and while all of these are fantastic additions, it’s the triumphs of the original game that really make this title shine.  Cave Story is primarily a platform explorer, and feels very much like a mix between Gradius type shooters, Metroid/Castlevania explorers, a healthy dose of Megaman/Contra type shooting platformers, all with a dash of RPG storytelling. Visually, looks like it belongs somewhere between the NES and SNES. It’s a game that looks simple, but has a lot going for it.

The player starts off with amnesia in a cave, and must explore the local area to find their first weapon.  Weapons will “level-up” as you collect golden shards dropped by defeated enemies, and “level-down” as the player takes damage. Soon the player will discover a village inhabited by small rabbit like creatures called Mimiga, which has been ravaged by recent attacks by an adversary known as “The Doctor.” With no memory and nothing better to do, our hero has no choice but to help out.

As you take our hero through the endless caverns, mazes, and unrelenting armies of dangerous creatures, you’ll discover new weapons, new paths, and subtle choices that will drastically effect your gameplay experience.  Seemingly minute decisions will change the storyline, the places you visit, and ultimately lead you to a different ending – you won’t notice a lot of these choices on your first play through, but their availability greatly extends Cave Story’s replay value.  Cave Story begs the lay to ask “What if,” and seek out new areas and rediscover old ones – leaving one feeling as if anything really could happen in this seemingly simple world. It’s easy to underestimate how rich an experience Cave Story can be to the ambitious spelunker.

Cave Story feels at home on WiiWare – from it’s catchy opening title to it’s classic control scheme – it’s a game that feels so perfectly matched to the Wii Classic Controller, it’s difficult to imagine playing though it using the PC keyboard controls of the originating freeware title. The new features only add delicious frosting to an already delectable treat – an additional mode where players can play through the story as fan favorite “Curly Brace,” and a “Sanctuary” challenge mode.  The player can even chose between any combination of the new or classic graphics and music – allowing them to experience the original game with the modern control scheme.

Verdict? Cave Story is a “buy it” game – as a wholly new experience with great gameplay, great music, with a unique setting, it stands out is a legitimately good game that you will more than likely enjoy.  In many ways, it feels like stepping into the past, and playing the greatest SNES game that never was.  It’s something to appreciate, a unique and nostalgic inspired throwback that could have been only been made, as it was, in 2004.  It’s retrospective with a classic feel. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s Cave Story – spelunk and enjoy.