Review: Cave Story+ (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

I’ve developed a system that I really like when playing some of these more obscure games in my library. Here’s what I do: I boot up the game without any inkling of what it could be and I play it for however much time I feel compelled to.  After my initial reaction, I then read up on the game, if I feel compelled to do so.  Obviously with a game like Call of Duty there’s already a predisposition about what I’m getting into, and not much I could gather from reading other material about the game, but games like Cave Story+ or Spelunky, it was really interesting to see how my uninitiated opinion of the game was different (or the same) as the rest of the world’s.

This time around, my opinion was relatively different than that of the world at large.  According to Wikipedia, Cave Story was met with huge praise back when it was released in 2004.  One of the pioneers in the indie “Metroidvania” craze, it’s probably responsible for a lot of those types of games that we still see pouring out today.  I liked what I played of Cave Story+ (I’m not sure what the + means).  I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it.  It was fine.  I love Metroidvania style games, but Cave Story just didn’t really click with me.

There were certain points during my time with the game where I thought, ‘Oooh, that’s a really cool idea’.  The way the weapons level up is a good example of this.  For every moment like that though, there seemed to be a sigh of, ‘Ugh, what is this about’.  A good example of that would be the music, which I found to be terribly grating.

Two of the major reasons that Cave Story got such good reviews were story, and game length.  Because I wasn’t able to spend 8+ hours with it, neither of those things factored into my opinion.  Had I stuck with Cave Story for a significantly longer period of time, perhaps I’d have eventually come around more.  It also doesn’t help that I missed the zeitgeist on this game.  I feel like some of the more popular indie games kind of have a coolness bubble that inevitably pops, and then all of us who weren’t in on it when it was cool get left in the dust.  For me, I know that I’m more likely to stick with a game if I see people tweeting or talking about it on a podcast.

As a small aside, doing reviews for this blog has had the additional effect of making me seriously question my prior purchasing habits.  Most of the games in my library fall into one of two categories.  Either I was really excited about the game and bought it at launch, or I bought it during a Steam sale when it was 75+% off.  In this regard, I don’t feel terrible about buying things like Cave Story.  At the very least I supported a dev who did something that most people think was cool.  By buying his game, in some small way I help encourage him to make more games.  Perhaps his next one we’ll be my favorite game of all time.  On the other hand though, you wouldn’t flush $5 bills down the toilet, right?  While it’s not a lot of money, it’s not an amount you’d just give away just because you didn’t care.  So when I spend even $5 on a game that I end up either not playing, or not enjoying, I’m essentially just flushing that money away.  Playing through my backlog makes me realize that I’ve handed out a lot of small amounts for a lot of games I’m not likely to play or like.  Silver lining though, every time there is a Steam sale, there is less for me to spend money on because I own so much of it already.