Warning: Long Post (wall of text)
I had no previous knowledge about this game going in, other than a vague awareness of Redditors touting it and having 4.5 stars on Steam. Still, something was there that called me to play. Not sure, a sense of nostalgia maybe? One day last year, I finally made the effort to play. "OK, fine. Let's see what the hype is about." That for-duty-sake feeling many gamers with large backlogs are familiar with. On my first try it felt too strange, too foreign. I didn't understand what was happening, how the weapons or environment worked, or especially who these weird, um, rabbit things were? So, I ended up quitting out after 2 hours. The vibe just wasn't happening for me.
Fast forward to last week sometime. I'm burnt out on gaming, and I needed something, ANYTHING to distract my mind and unwind. My eyes fall again upon Cave Story. "Meh, why the hell not," I say to myself. This time I open it up with absolutely zero expectations. I still have a nagging curiosity about what the buzz is about. Finally, after one year has passed, I feel the interest and motivation to play.
As I'm playing, I get these flashbacks to Mega Man on NES and Super Metroid on SNES. The story begins to come together, and finally I understand those weird rabbit things are the good guys. Ok, and I'm actually the android killing machine with the ability for empathy, a là Blade Runner? Cool, I dig it. My second try, I start to appreciate the weird humor and quirky world of the creator(s). Giant toasters named Balrog smash through walls saying "Oh yeaaaahhhh" like the Kool Aid man, ancient rusty robots, frogs dressed like doctors, a giant cat driving a tank, and someone named Cthulhu wearing a dinosaur outfit I never understood in the foggiest – these are just some things I witnessed. I get it now, I'm feeling the vibe. It's an "Alice in Wonderland with Eastern flare" type of game from the mind of a single Japanese developer who made the entire game solo (I would learn this later). That in itself is impressive, I don't care who you are.
When everything clicks, it just clicks. You know the feeling? I am entirely locked in and focused, blowing through the entire game in 5 hours. The pacing is brisk – perhaps a little too brisk. The stages feel refreshingly inspired and challenging. Nothing about it felt boring or repetitive cough, Mighty No. 9, cough. Yes, the story may be simple, but it has this real knack for drawing you in and making you feel connected. I start caring about the characters. I felt palpable sadness when one character didn't make it
Now, maybe the preceding paragraphs leave you the impression that this game is a masterpiece. I want to clarify something. Although I do feel Cave Story is a masterpiece, it's a flawed one. First and foremost is the length of the game – it's extremely short, only 5-6 hours in length. You can get different endings and increase the difficulty level, but I felt it's not worth the reward of replaying when so little changes. Parts of the game show a definite rawness and unsophistication. For example, the music in the desert zone is extremely grating and made me want to tear my hair out. Other parts just didn't feel polished at all – the waterways, for example, where moving the joystick didn't change where my character went in the water pipes. These are mostly minor flaws in my POV, but they do detract from the overall experience.
I try to be measured about the backlog games I review, to strike a balance between enthusiasm and criticism. I heartily recommend Cave Story to anyone who enjoys the 2D platforming genre, but know it is very short and has some real flaws. Ultimately, I'm glad I played the game and wanted more. Thanks for reading!
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