It has been on WiiWare, Nintendo DSiWare, and Nintendo 3DS, but, up until now, somehow I had never gotten around to playing Cave Story. But now, with the suped-up Cave Story+ having seen release on Nintendo Switch, I was determined to make sure that I took the chance to set out to save the floppy-eared Mimigas.
Waking in a cave and unable to recollect how you got there, this revered action-adventure game casts players as a young hero suffering from amnesia who, after leaping over red spikes, dodging blood-sucking bats, and stealing the Polar Star gun from a snoozing gunsmith, tumbles into Mimiga Village.
He soon learns that a Doctor has been showing up in the village to kidnap, or even kill, the Mimiga. The situation only worsens when it is revealed that the Doctor plans to forcefully feed the captured Mimiga red flowers, plants that, once eaten, see them become uncontrollably violent – a side effect that he wants to use to take over the surface world.
I wouldn’t want to ruin any more than that, especially for those, like me, that will be playing Cave Story+ for the first time. But know that the story will continue to motivate your experience and push you through to completion, with many twists and turns catching you by surprise along the way.
There are three difficulty settings to choose between, with Easy being recommended for first-time players, Original for those retreading old ground, and Hard, for anyone that wants to ramp up the challenge. With a control scheme that is easy to grasp, the player will spend their time leaping around each environment blasting enemies with the weapons that they start to hoard over time. Evaluating and responding to an enemy’s attack pattern is key to your survival, with damage depleting your health meter, and, if completely sapped, will see you allowed to retry from your last save point.
The gameplay mechanic that astounded me when I realised what was happening (which seems silly considering that the game is now several years old), is that enemies that you take out may drop triangle-shaped objects. I wasn’t particularly sure what these did at first, as, whether by design or not, Cave Story+ doesn’t do a great job at explaining anything vital that underpins the experience to you, but they steadily build an experience gauge for whichever weapon you are carrying at the time.
As the weapon levels up, so does your damage output. The Polar Star, for example, at Level 1 shoots a slightly underwhelming laser, but at Level 2 that laser is doubled up, with it becoming far more potent at Level 3 with a wider beam. And then, in comparison, the Rocket Launcher fires a single rocket at Level 1, broadens the explosion area at Level 2, and unleashes three rockets at Level 3.
If that sounds like an unfair advantage, taking damage will result in you losing experience for the weapon that you are wielding. That means that reckless and misjudged movement can risk weakening your character back down to basics, which is something that you will want to avoid – especially when more and more enemies start to get thrown in your direction.
It’s that risk and reward that makes this such a phenomenally engrossing gameplay mechanic, something that I have never come across before that not only pushes players to take out as many enemies as they can but teaches the importance in being wary and understanding your limits at the same time – or otherwise be met with an early demise.
What makes Cave Story+ all the more remarkable is that it was developed by one man, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, in his free time over five years. Nicalis has since worked hard to help modernise and introduce more content to the game, and, even since launch, has added a Classic Graphics option and a Co-op mode. Throwing in a second player is as much of a joy as you’d expect, a chance to share the adventure and make it feel more chaotic.
Whether dodging that little white thing in Egg Corridor, chucking Jellyfish Juice on fireplaces, or gathering up puppies, the floating island is a fascinating place to explore with perhaps the most glorious chiptune soundtrack that you could ever blast into your eardrums.
It’s a testament to what an incredible achievement Cave Story+ was, or is, that it still holds up so well, remaining to be an engaging and well-paced adventure from start to finish. I had never expected to fall head over heels for the game as much as I did, wrongly believing that perhaps it wasn’t really for me. But, now that the Mimigas have been saved, all is right the world once more.