Cody Giunta
22 Dec, 2010

Cave Story Review

Wii Review | The ultimate throwback that was worth the wait for Wii.
Nostalgia can be a very perplexing thing, especially within the world of video games. We often praise a new game for tapping into old memories, while at the same time deriding it for using nostalgia as a crutch to get our attention at the expense of a solid playing experience.

Cave Story was born out of a wish by creator Pixel (real name: Daisuke Amaya) to pay homage to many of yesteryear’s action platforming classics, such as the Metroid and Castlevania series. The first iteration of the game was famously made available in Japanese in 2004 via freeware after a five year development cycle. It was a critical darling and steadily built up a reputation for being one of the most critically acclaimed freeware games of all time.

Fast forward to the present, and Pixel’s labour of love has finally made its way to WiiWare, after months of waiting and fans crying out for its release. Many people might question why it should cost 1000 points when it’s freely available on the Internet. Luckily, it happens to be worth it. Though there have been a few tweaks here and there, Cave Story is well worth the price of admission on any platform. With solid level design, finely tuned gameplay mechanics and echoes of many games past, Cave Story is a compelling title that proves that gaming doesn’t just have to be about the number of polygons or what kind of engine is being used. Cave Story is simply a game that will keep you happily engrossed with its sense of fun, adventure and wonder like few others can.

Attack of the zombie baby dragon.

Attack of the zombie baby dragon.
Cave Story begins with your player character waking up in, unsurprisingly, a cave. With no recollection of who you are or how you got there, you explore the area until coming across a village of rabbit-like creatures known as Mimigas. It is from the Mimigas that you learn that an evil Doctor has come from the surface as part of a science expedition, and has horrid designs on the population of creatures. A red flower found inside the caves transforms the usually placid Mimigas into ferocious beasts, and the Doctor plans to use the enraged Mimigas to wage war on the surface world. In addition to the power of the red flowers, the Doctor also wishes to acquire the Demon Crown, a relic with untold powers. It then falls to you to thwart the Doctor’s sinister designs. As you play through the story you will meet many NPCs that add to the story of this cave quite a lot, and, without detailing the plot too greatly, prove to be surprising, joyful and tragic at many turns.

In order to battle the Doctor and his evil forces, you must traverse the vast cavernous world. Doing so is similar to the Metroid series, where you can freely roam around but must complete various tasks and acquire new items in order to open up the entire landscape. To make life just a bit easier for the spelunkers amongst you, there are teleporters dotted throughout many areas to zap you around the world in speedy fashion. Of course, the Doctor isn’t going to make things easy for you, as there are a many enemies and bosses that stand in between you and your goal. Luckily, you will acquire an array of weapons to combat these forces, and no two weapons function in the exact same way. This results in a welcome level of strategy, as some enemies are best attacked with certain weapons over others. Your fireballs, for example, work really well against enemies that stick to the ground, but aren’t as effective against airborne critters. With the exception of your missiles, your weapons have unlimited ammunition that will recharge itself after use. Defeating enemies will produce yellow triangles that will make your weapon rise up to three levels when collected. If you are harmed by enemies, however, you will lose these experience points along with health, and your weapon’s level will drop down accordingly. Outside of your weaponry, you will also find many objects to give yourself some extra abilities, such as breathing underwater and a boost to your jumping ability.

It's quite the ribeting game.

It's quite the ribeting game.
Along the way, you will find many save points which are often accompanied by a health and missile recharging station. To activate them, you must press down on the control pad. The down function is crucial to the game as it also opens doors and allows you to talk to the Mimigas and examine, pick up and activate objects which are required for your quest. Luckily, the emphasis always remains upon adventuring and platform action, and the need to acquire objects never feels like a fetch quest. And even though you will find yourself revisiting some areas it is not to the game’s detriment; they never feel truly safe or stale as plot elements and boss fights can occur at unexpected times. All of these functions are wrapped around a super-slick control scheme that is ever-responsive. In some ways, it could be argued that the use of the Wii remote turned sideways or the classic controller is a better controlling option than what was present for the PC version. The control scheme just feels so natural and right.

The graphics for Cave Story are retro, to describe them at their simplest level. The WiiWare version has seen the visuals updated slightly, but it manages to be imbued with a really unique sense of charm and style that perfectly suits its classic 2D presentation. It's something of a moot point anyway, as players can switch between the old and new graphics and music from the options menu. Even though it is something of a throwback, there is still a lot of detail to be had in the new textures and the various character sprites seen throughout the game. Pixel never became lazy with crafting the many levels and enemies, as almost every character and enemy has unique elements of visual design that differentiate it from everything else.

Why yes you are!

Why yes you are!
As with its visuals, the music of Cave Story is also a homage to games of the past. Its MIDI-like beats may be basic in terms of their base sound level, but their composition is truly superb. Many of the tunes you will hear, from the title screen credits to the many area songs, end up being ear worms that will rattle around in your head after playing it. Likewise, the various sound effects of Cave Story are also of a retro nature and prove to be nicely varied across the board, from the individual effects for your weapons at their many levels to the sounds that are made by defeating and being defeated by enemies.

Cave Story is so enjoyable at its core that it would be highly recommended for multiple playthroughs even if it had no deviations. It will take some time to beat, as it can be a difficult game, but it is always a fair game, and you will never feel cheated by any of your deaths. They just propel you to persevere. However, its lifespan is increased significantly with a few other optionsd. Depending on who you trade weapons with, you will receive weapons that will operate in completely different fashions. In this way, it’s impossible to acquire every weapon available to you on a first playthrough. Outside of this, performing some decisions and saving or defeating some characters will yield slightly different plot divergences and even different endings. Without spoiling too much of the plot away, the three endings on offer can be radically different from one another, with one of these being a true/best ending which will only be seen by the greatest and most tenacious Cave Story players. On top of this, the WiiWare version comes with time attack and boss rush modes, along with the ability to play through the game as one of your character’s allies.


It’s difficult to find anything negative about Cave Story, which has practically no flaws to speak of. Previous WiiWare versions released in the US had some notable glitches in the soundtrack, but these have since been ironed out for our release. Outside of this, the level of polish is so extreme that there isn’t anything that could be considered glitch or a bug – even though there can be a lot of enemies onscreen at once, especially in the latter stages, there is no drop in framerate and no collision detection issues. Some might argue that having to pay for the game after years of it being free on the Internet may be a drawback, but it’s not the exact same game. The only other possible flaw that could be levelled at Cave Story is its retro presentation, but you would already have to have a predisposition against retro style to not appreciate it, it’s just that charming and appealing. If you grew up on a steady diet of 8-16 bit era games, then it’s impossible not to appreciate the old school feel combined with superb gameplay, and even if you didn’t experience such a style in your youth you’re bound to appreciate Cave Story's inherent gameplay appeal anyway.

As a tribute to the past, Cave Story succeeds immeasurably, but it doesn’t rely on its reverence to get by, as each and every other element of the game is outstanding and breaches upon perfection. It echoes gaming greats, but is also startlingly unique. With an varied and strategic weapon system, a brilliantly realised open world and a plot with twists, turns and many unconventional surprises, Cave Story is a game for our times that should not be missed. So get into a little fight, but don’t be scared – because it’s simply one of the best games on WiiWare.
The Score
A title that is both retro and refreshing and ever so polished, Cave Story is not to be missed by anybody. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Cave Story Content

Cave Story 3DS announced
11 Feb, 2011 3D spelunking.
Nintendo Store Update - 10/12/10
10 Dec, 2010 Now this is a Story all about how my Cave got flip-turned upside down, and I'd to take a minute just sit right there, I'll tell you how you can all download it on WiiWare.
Toy Story 3: The Video Game Review
19 Jul, 2010 Is this Woody up to our standards?
3 years ago
Nice review dude. I did grow up with 8-16 bit era games, so I'm looking forward to enjoying the hell out of this game. Bought it but haven't actually played through it properly. icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
AWESOME, bought it though havent really played it yet. Great review, makes me really look forward to playing.
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