Cave Story is an independent game by Daisuke ''Pixel'' Amaya. He created everything in the game. Over a five year time period. That includes everything from artwork to the music. Originally a free download in 2004, Cave Story has grown a large following, that spawned various ports across many platforms. This version however, is probably the best of them all. The publisher Nicalis gave the game a complete graphical overhaul. Sprites are a lot more detailed. There's even three different soundtracks to choose from. The original and two remixed ones. But enough about that, let me explain why I love this game.
The game is a 2D action platformer, borrowing a lot of elements from the Metroid series. You start off with your first weapon, the Polar Star. A gun which has infinite ammunition, and you can fire in four directions. What's interesting is that there's a unique weapon leveling system. Defeated enemies drop these yellow triangles. When you collect enough, your weapon can level up. Getting more powerful each time. You can only go to level 3 maximum. But it doesn't last forever either. When you take damage you lose some of your weapon's experience, so it can drop to lower levels again. It's not only the Polar Star, you will eventually find a Missile launcher too. This one has a limited ammunition supply. You will need to collect spare missiles from fallen enemies. You can find missile upgrades to be able to carry more. Speaking of upgrades, there's also health upgrades you can find, so you can take more damage.
It's no lie. The game has a story too. At first, I thought it was rather simple. But as the game progressed, I started running into more and more new characters. I wanted to know more about them, and I wanted to understand the story behind the cave we're in, and about the main character, which the game doesn't tell you about until much later. It really develops into something bigger later on. I enjoy the sense of scale. A cool thing about it is that there's three different endings. There's the bad ending, the normal ending, and the best ending. Ranging from easy to obtain, to more difficult. One thing I don't like is that the best ending will be near impossible for a new player to obtain without the help of a walkthrough of some kind. It can be done, but it's hard. There are a few key moments in the game where the choices you make will affect whether or not you'll be able to get it.
The music is fantastic. There's not one track I dislike. During my first playthrough, when I ran into a new music track, I thought to myself that this would be as good as it would get. But it would never be the case. A new better music track would always appear. I liked it that much. The melodies are so memorable. I love how it perfectly finds balance between awesome upbeat songs, and relaxing ambient themes. As mentioned before, the game has three different soundtracks. There's the classic original soundtrack, from the 2004 release. The ''New'' remixed soundtrack from the Wii Ware version. And then there's the Remastered soundtrack from Cave Story 3D. Even though I enjoy them all, if I had to rank them I'd say that the Remastered soundtrack is my favorite, and the ''New'' soundtrack is my least favorite. Again, they're all really good and distinct. But the Remastered one takes the cake for me.
In terms of difficulty, I think the game nailed it. I don't feel like I was ever really frustrated. Well, maybe on the final boss... but that's usually to be expected anyway. The game starts off in a small cave area with death spikes that will kill you instantly. You have no power. Until you find your first health upgrade, and then your first weapon, the Polar Star. And then from there, you just feel like you're getting stronger and stronger. It's really cool how getting one small upgrade can boost your confidence by a lot. To mix things up, this version has three difficulties. Easy, Normal, and Hard. Easy is well... easy. Only difference from Normal is that the damage you take is cut in half. I reccomend it for new players, trying it for the first time. Normal isn't that bad either, it's really well balanced. Hard mode on the other hand... you only have a maximum health of 3. You can't obtain the missile launcher, and there's no upgrades whatsoever.
What's unfortunate about the game is that it's a little bit short. The game can be finished in around 4-5 hours on your first playthrough. But I can't take away points for length, because the game is still fantastic, and I'm evaluating the experience that's there. This version of the game also has quite a bit of bonus content. This adds a lot of extra replay value. You can unlock a different version of the main game fairly early. There's also a few challenge modes. Some of which are very difficult. They force you to master some of the items you've obtained over the course of the main game, and will test your patience. You can't just go in shoothing everything, you need to carefully time your every jump and plan the targets to fire at.
Even with all I've said, I don't think I've covered everything. The great gameplay, the engaging story, the fantastic music, the perfect difficulty, and the awesome pixel art create not only one of the greatest indie games ever, but one of my favorite games of all-time. Everybody who enjoys 2D platformers should definitely play this game. If you're still not convinced about the game, but you're still curious, you can always download and play the original version from 2004 for free. Even though it doesn't have a lot of features from the newer versions, the gameplay and story remains intact. If you enjoy it, I hope you will buy this version to support the developer, and this amazing game.