Of all the indie games I have played, one of my favourite has to be Cave Story. It has a lovely story, adoreable pixel art graphics, a nice soundtrack, and really good gameplay. And to cap it all, the entire game was made by one guy.
The game started as the project of Daisuke Amaya (art name Pixel), who made it in his spare time (he had much more of it then, and it looks like he will never make another game, to my great sadness). Originally it was in Japanese (he is), and called 洞窟物語 or Doukutsu Monogatari. It was (and is) released on the internet as a free download. Later, fans released the Japanese translation pack, which is when the West picked up on it. Later, him (Amaya), Nifflas (a Swedish gamedev guy, maker of Saira and Nightsky, as well as the excellent Knytt and Knytt Stories), and several other people (including the one-and-only Danny Baranowsky for the new soundtrack) worked on a remastered one, with new, better pixel art and better music. The actual game, however, stayed exactly the same, as it should. This one is on WiiWare and Steam, and called Cave Story+. There is also one which just has fancy 3D graphics, but I don’t know so much about it. Nowadays, there is an unofficial fan site, lots of unofficial pixel art, etc. Just Google Image search “Cave Story”.
When asked about the genre, I would say run-and-gun, as well as having Metroidvania elements.It’s a 2D platformer, but it also has guns in it. They’re not overly realistic, usually with unlimited ammo and no reloading. Jumping on your enemies will hurt you, and you have a health bar that fills up when you collect little floating hearts, and increases when you get heart containers, like the Legend of Zelda franchise. When you kill enemies, they drop little bouncing tetrahedrons that level your weapon up when you collect them. As they level up, your weapons fire faster, more powerfully, etc. However, being hit makes you DROP points – you can level down!!! Another problem one encounters is the fact that your weapon’s level will not go beyond 3, and then soaks up all the XP, so you have to switch to other weapons to collect the XP. You meet checkpoints at which you can save, and return to them when you die. These are not too frequent, which is both good and bad (challenging but can be irritating). They are also usually accompanied by a complete health refill.
The gameplay usually revolves around fighting your was down long, corridor-like levels, split up with bosses (which can be very difficult indeed), fetch missions (eg get all the old lady’s dogs back for her) and scripted chunks of the story. The controls are much looser than Super Meat Boy’s (for example), which can be a nuisance, but add to the difficulty.
The storyline revolves around a floating island, on which live somewhat rabbit-like people called the Mimiga. The island was ruled by people wearing the mysterious Demon Crown, which has now been taken by an antagonist called the Doctor. You can see him wearing the Demon Crown, which gives him mysterious powers. His aim at is to get his hands on certain red flowers (which kill the Mimiga). I won’t spoil the storyline for you. You play as an unnamed robot (who you can see above). Amaya nicknamed the robot “Quote”.
The storyline is originally linear, for about half the game, but then your decisions start to have an effect (for example, about halfway though you can take the “coward’s ending” and escape the island on a dragon leaving the Doctor to enslave the Mimiga). There are several characters who you become attatched to, for example Sue and Professor Booster, as well as Balrog, the big (evil) rectangular robot who is made to fight you over and over again by his sadistic sister, Misery.
There’s something about this game that is just NICE. It’s got lovely characters, a great story, great gameplay, and a LOT of charm. Not many games are as charming as this one.
Finally, here is some very good Cave Story fan art, and then the links.
Obviously, they changed how Quote looks, but the rest is so awesome it’s forgiveable.
Right, now for the links. First, I strongly recommend you buy it on Steam (Cave Story+ – the art looks much better and the remastered soundtrack is REALLY nice. I aslo think Daisuke Amaya deserves a reward for his masterpiece (and perhaps a sequel???) The steam page is here.
If you’re a cheapo (or have no money, or just want to see what the old one’s like), the old (and free) version is here, with the English translation pack here. The pack has to be applied to the first download, unless you’re fine playing in Japanese (but most people aren’t, and the story is important). You can find a list to all the ports, translations, etc. on the unofficial site here .
Verdict: 10/10 (One of my favourite games ever!) A brilliant, perfectly made game with almost nothing wrong with it.
Thank you, Mr. Amaya!