Cave Story is far from new having first released way back in 2004.  Its had many ports and updated versions along the way, but the Switch version was my first run through the indie fan favorite.  After finally playing through it, it’s easy to see why.  Cave Story+ packs a ton of quality into a small package.

Fun to look at and hard to survive. What more can you ask for?

  • TL;DR: A classic Metroidvania game with challenging combat and a distinct visual style
  • Platforms: PC, Switch (reviewed)
  • Developer: Nicalis
  • Time Played: 6:10
  • What I Played: Completed the game on normal difficulty

The narrative in Cave Story is a bit confusing at first.  A boy with no memories wakes up in a cave, finds a gun, and falls into a hole where he meets up with a village of rabbit-like creatures known as Mimiga.  Bits and pieces of the story, including dragons, robots, and teleportation, unfold as you try to save the Mimiga from the clutches of the evil Doctor and his plans for world domination.

Cave Story is a Metroidvania game through and through.  It’s a 2D platformer with a focus on shooting, platforming, and exploration.  There are a handful of weapons to find like a fireball, machine gun, and missile launcher.  One of the more interesting mechanics is the weapon level up system.  Enemies drop shiny gold capsules of experience that don’t level you up but instead level up your equipped weapon.  Each weapon can be upgraded from level one to three increasing its firepower, range, and sometimes how it behaves altogether.  Any damage you take not only lowers your health but your gun’s experience as well.  Each hit is a double whammy that not only brings you closer to death but makes killing enemies harder in the process.

Each of the environments in Cave Story is unique.  The first zone, Egg Corridor, is a single long hallway with over a dozen unhatched dragon eggs (it makes sense when you play) and a prowling enemy at the very bottom of the zone with an automatic death touch.  The Bushlands are filled with jumping enemies, spikes, and backtracking to gather materials for a bomb.  Sand Zone has a distinct desert feel with appropriately sun- and bone-themed enemies.  It’s impressive that a single developer can make such varied environments that still feel connected.

The ghost cats that shoot snowballs are some of the more frustrating enemies.

Combat is a challenge in Cave Story even on normal difficulty.  There’s no blocking, armor, evasion, or anything like that.  You simply have to fight fire with fire by aiming, jumping, and shooting.  You eventually come across a jetpack about halfway into the game which, after fighting for your life on the ground for so long, is a huge turn.  I’m sure Cave Story veterans have other tips, but my favorite discovery was using the level three machine gun to lift yourself by aiming straight down.

I’d be lying if I said the visual style of Cave Story wasn’t a draw for me.  The old school RPG Maker aesthetic is a perfect fit for this type of game and feels so right on the Switch both in TV and handheld modes.  Chiptune tracks for each zone and boss battle really bring it all together.  On top of the frenetic combat and wonderful visual style, Cave Story+ packs in excellent replayability with multiple endings, difficulties, and challenge modes.  The physical Switch version even packs in a soundtrack and a legitimate instruction booklet with tips, tricks, and artwork.

Gators chomping at you from below, angry stone suns bouncing around you — Cave Story is a tough, highly polished game.

This is one of my shortest reviews but I think I’ve described Cave Story pretty well.  It’s a classic Metroidvania game with tight pacing, challenging combat, a distinct visual style, and replayability.  If you’ve waited as long to play Cave Story as I have, wait no longer.  Cave Story+ is a rock solid game.

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