“This Old Neon strives to publish reviews with at least two opposing voices: one largely positive or sympathetic, and the other more critical and demanding” (Review Policy). Both reviewers provide honest evaluations of the game; thus, a sympathetic review may not always be fully positive, and a critical one need not be completely negative. There will be intersections, overlaps, agreements, and divergences. It is the readers’ prerogative to navigate these as they see fit. – JC
A Solid 2D Adventure
Cave Story launched for free on PC in 2004 and has appeared on every Nintendo console and handheld since Nicalis started working with developer Pixel in 2010. Now that Cave Story+ has made its home on Nintendo Switch, it’s time to take another look. You’ll jump and shoot your way through multiple levels, acquire new weapons and power-ups, and meet several zany characters along the way—all the staples you would hope for in a good 2D adventure.
One of the main features of Cave Story is levelling up your weapons. You earn several new weapons throughout your adventure, and each one can be levelled up a maximum of three times. You level them up by collecting experience points dropped by defeated enemies, and lose experience by taking damage. This back-and-forth system of gaining and losing experience is one of Cave Story’s strongest features.
With each level, a weapon becomes stronger, but also often changes in some way. It can be as simple as larger bullets, or completely change the physics of a weapon. One gun in particular, when fully levelled up, launches you into the air when you shoot the ground giving it a platforming edge. You come to rely on these weapons when they are fully levelled-up, and really feel the pressure when they are levelled-down after getting hit. This system encourages you both to be smart about how you approach enemies so as to not get hit, and to seek out enemies when low on experience. During the game’s several boss battles, it’s crucial to preserve your weapon as much as you can so you can deal maximum damage for the longest amount of time.
For the most part, weapons only have combat use: you don’t need them to progress through an area, nor will you go back to previously cleared areas to make new discoveries with your new equipment. This is a bit disappointing, as it could have made the new weapons and abilities you receive feel more useful, and the areas more memorable.
The story features a variety of eccentric characters with an atmosphere reminiscent of EarthBound. The characters shrine brighter than the story itself, which is mostly a standard tale of an evil villain trying to take over the world. The game’s offbeat humour is charming, but unskippable dialogue before and after boss battles can become irritating. It unfortunately dampens the boss battles a bit as they are fun on their own, but it’s not fun knowing you’re going to have to sit through the same dialogue again when you fail to beat a boss.
As it is mostly a straight run to the finish, Cave Story will last you a few hours. There are a few secret endings to go back for, and a hard mode available from the start. You can switch between the remastered and original music, but they cannot be switched on the fly and require you to exit to the main menu in order to adjust them, making the process a tad cumbersome.
An Almost Definitive Story
Cave Story is a well-loved classic that scarcely needs an introduction, much less a review. But Nicalis’s comprehensive latest iteration warrants renewed attention, both as an argument for the merits of active, ongoing maintenance of a legacy, and (more importantly) as a proof of concept for the Nintendo Switch.
Cave Story began as a Herculean one-person effort to create a full-scale game from scratch. As the game has been ported to various platforms since its PC debut in 2004, it has accumulated features, updates, and improvements almost as quickly as it has attracted fans. Cave Story+ is the culmination (so far) of those updates.
The latest iteration on Switch features visual updates including new water effects and animated facial expressions during dialogue. It also offers multiple soundtrack remixes, and the soundtrack is filled with great tunes that patiently build up to memorable melodies. It can be hard to decide which to choose, since every remix sounds good. Nicalis has even teased free additions to the soundtrack selection on Twitter.
The developer’s apparent willingness to continue supporting the game after release is one of the more promising highlights of this release. At launch, Cave Story+ lacked an option to select the original retro graphics, present in other versions of the game. Nicalis has indicated that this option will be added to the Switch version this month. They are also adding a two-player mode this summer, possibly in the same update.
Strangely lacking, especially given the developer’s devotion to giving players as many options as possible, is the ability to customize controls. The multiple controller options provided by the Switch would seem to make button remapping a natural inclusion, but if Nicalis has any plans on this front, they haven’t teased them yet. Still, customizable controls would be a worthy addition to a game that seems designed to provide players freedom and flexibility in how they enjoy it.
What really makes this edition of the game shine is the ability to play it at home or on the go. Some games benefit more than others from portability, and some feel better on a big screen surrounded by the comforts of home, but Cave Story+ bridges the gap.
The graphics are crisp and bright on the Switch screen, and the onboard speakers are more than capable of doing the various soundtracks justice. The game provides frequent enough opportunities to save for portable play, and the Switch’s sleep mode makes starting and stopping easy anyway. At home, some of the remixed basslines can be speaker-rattling. Well-known problems with d-pad precision on Nintendo’s official Pro controller may make third-parties like 8bitdo more appealing for play from the couch.
Being able to take a game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe into the wild to play with friends makes sense from a purely logistical standpoint, but Cave Story+—a natural portable game that’s also fully at home on a living room television—is exactly what Nintendo needs to justify the Switch’s unique dual-format capabilities.
Cave Story+ was developed and published by Nicalis. It was released on Nintendo Switch on Tuesday, 20 June, 2017.
Nicalis provided a copy of Cave Story+ for JC. Wendel paid for his own copy. Neither reviewer was in direct contact with Nicalis.
Join the conversation! Comment on this review at This Old Neon‘s community forums.