Cave Story review

written 2023-10-07

Cave Story is an old action platformer I played in 2023/10. I played Nicalis's Cave Story+ version. I quit at the final boss and do not recommend the game.


Mostly, gameplay consists of using guns to fight enemies that have contact damage and sometimes projectiles. You have a variable-height jump, and late in the game you get a jetpack. You find more weapons throughout the game and I had 4 by the end. They don't have limited ammo (except one, but it's refilled at save points in addition to enemy drops).

The movement feels bad to me because of all the inertia. There's inertia on your running, even more inertia in the air, and the jump also ascends kinda slowly.

There's a strange weapon level system. So, each weapon has a separate meter, I don't know if it's ever named in-game but apparently people call it energy. Picking up energy cystals dropped from enemies fills the current weapon's meter, which severely upgrades it. But weapon level is capped at 3 and taking damage downgrades it, so it's not a permanent upgrade system so much as a weapon health system. I dislike this system because it creates a positive feedback loop where taking damage cripples your offensive ability and also makes it harder to avoid more damage (weapons double as defense tools because your shots can destroy most enemy projectiles).


It uses a traditional RPG save system (saving can only be done at certain points and dying is like going back in time to the last save). There are no consumables.

A big problem is that most boss fights are far away from the nearest save, forcing you to spend a while (sometimes as much as 90 seconds) getting back to the arena for each try. Also, there is *no way to fast forward dialogue*! And most boss fights have conversations before them that you have to sit through for each try. I can't overstate how much this sucks the joy out of what would otherwise be fun boss fights.

I don't know why Wikipedia calls it a metroidvania. It's a linear RPG.

Why I quit

Because the endgame requires you to go through *4 bosses in a row without saves*. This is absolutely unforgivable. I thought maybe I'd put up with the 3rd, but when I saw the 4th and I didn't beat it on my first try, I deleted the game immediately and didn't look back.


Spoilers in this section.

The story's concept is fine, but not developed enough to be very interesting. A game that's trying to be a game first doesn't necessarily need an interesting story, but the few things I do find remarkable about it are bad things.

I find its uses of character death manipulative. It kills off all the cute, likable characters for no reason and with little fanfare. Not much dialogue, they just... get killed... often by *the player being forced to kill them*... and then the game moves on immediately. Their deaths don't even get any musical attention.

I'm also bothered that it glorifies an immoral character. There's a character who's the "leader" of a peaceful village, and he's literally named "King", and at one point the villain kidnaps someone he likes, so he kidnaps another innocent villager planning to trade prisoners with the villain. I could buy this as the action of a desperate person who's given up on the possibility of really resisting the villain. But then I spoke to him outside the cage holding the character he imprisoned, and he said something like "This is what happens to those who defy the order of the village!". This made him a villain to me. He's gloating about having the power to imprison others. But then later in the game he's martyred like a hero and the player gets a weapon that "contains the spirit of King". Ew.

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