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First Impressions: Cave Story

Posted by Sean Aaron

The seminal indie game finally comes to Nintendo

Cave Story is like a Cinderella tale of indie game development, arriving at a time when the conventional wisdom was that the days of a lone programmer creating a complex and compelling game were behind us; it proved that the old spirit of the 8-bit era is still alive and well in the 21st century. Independent studio Nicalis has been fortunate enough to work with the creator, Pixel, to bring this modern classic to WiiWare.

We know this is possibly the most anticipated WiiWare title for many and the wait is nearly over (at least in North America, with a confirmed March 22 release date), but we're happy to tease you with a little preview of the game first. Out of respect for Cave Story's creator, and to not spoil too much for those who have never played the PC version, we won't be revealing many details about the game, but instead share some overall feelings about it which should hopefully address any questions or fears. This preview is based upon the final version of the game which has already gone through the approval process at Nintendo.

When you first fire up Cave Story you're treated to an intro that will remind you of an old 8-bit computer game – a feeling that persists through play in the main story mode conveyed by the visuals and style of play. Although Cave Story is a platforming game, it doesn't resemble the kind of games you normally associate with the genre like Mario or Sonic: there are no coins or rings to collect and you're not simply running from one end of the screen to the other. Instead it's more like the action adventure titles found on old 8-bit computers: the title is very apt as the story component is a very strong part of the game and the narrative provides the hook that keeps players continuing on to the end. As a consequence there's no lives or scores because the goal is to finish the story, which is teased out via conversations with various interesting characters and some amusing dialogue.

The protagonist has no memory and thus the player is much like the character: trying to feel their way around in a strange new world. Levels are quite large and can be tricky to navigate, but it's well worth exploring – not only to find new items that will help you in your progress, but also to learn more of the story, as there are people to chat with in some unusual places. There's no time limit and there are plentiful save points to aid you in case you make a mistake, though both your weapon power and health bar increase over the course of play to minimise their impact. The platforming elements can be a little tricky, but we didn't encounter anything truly testing: a testament to some excellent level design which emphasises exploration over learning special techniques and therefore accessible to players besides platforming mavens.

Graphically, Cave Story is firmly in the 8-bit era and looks like a long-lost Commodore 64 game. Nicalis have updated the visuals, but it's merely in the form of some nicer textures and cleaner artwork – the essence of the original game's appearance is still there. If you want to experience the game as it originally looked on the PC you're able to do so via the options menu. The soundtrack has been similarly treated with some rearranging and improved fidelity – though again, if you want to hear the original music that's also possible.

The controls make full use of the Wii Remote and will be immediately familiar to anyone who's ever picked up a controller. The Remote is used on its side with standard movement and jumping controls (alternatively you can make use of the Classic Controller). Holding down the jump button will allow you to jump further and higher, there's a button for firing weapons and you'll use (A) and (B) to toggle through them once you acquire more than one. You can view your inventory via (+) , whilst (-) will bring up a map – after you find the map tool. If we have any complaints it's that there's no way to exit back to the main menu we could determine besides hitting Home and resetting the game, though in reality once you start playing it's unlikely you'll want to check out the other modes until you've seen it through to the end!

Cave Story is such a finely crafted game it could easily stand on its own, but there's a few extras to tempt players of the original game (aside from graphical and aural improvements and new character designs from Pixel). Boss Rush allows players to battle the bosses from the game in sequence via a nice museum-like menu interface. Sanctuary Time Attack levels-up players and then pits them against a challenging level which they attempt to complete within a fixed time limit – a good test for the master spelunker, surely? The only other mode we were able to see was the ability to play through the story with one of the other characters encountered in the game, but it's always possible there's an extra surprise hidden there somewhere...

There's little question that Cave Story will be worth the wait for fans of action-platforming and simply compelling storytelling. Hopefully more than just North America will get a chance to play it soon!

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User Comments (58)

Adam

#1

Adam said:

Ooh, another playable character? Neat. Sean, you are a lucky guy getting to play this and Runner so soon.

ZarroTsu

#2

ZarroTsu said:

"The only other mode we were able to see was the ability to play through the story with one of the other characters encountered in the game, but it's always possible there's an extra surprise hidden there somewhere..."

I should hope there's something extra to it, however, it's quite doubtful of a new boss design as far as Nicalis explained in the past. Still, if they out and surprise with a sudden twist with new maps and enemies, it will be quite welcome; otherwise a mere graphic swap feels wasteful (A toddler could do it on the PC version).

Still, my primary hope is that, within the lengthy delay time, they finally got the remixed music down. If it's still the ungodly droning of the preview versions, I'll tear my hair out. And I have a lot of hair.

Sean_Aaron

#3

Sean_Aaron said:

From earlier reports there are five game modes, however I could only see four, so I'm assuming there's another hidden one to unlock.

Agreed Adam, and in both cases the only reason I'm not playing more is that I won't be able to save my progress, so I need to wait for a retail release like everyone else to fully enjoy these games. Cave Story is easily one of the best WiiWare releases to date; I wouldn't hesistate to buy it when it hits the shop.

Supermegaman

#4

Supermegaman said:

Looks good! Ill wait for the review, but im almost sure i will get this... Ive heard things about a pc demo? Maybe Ill look into that...

ODOGG618

#5

ODOGG618 said:

Sean, you're one of the best writers on the site. :)

Edit - we've removed some comments from this post to focus on the game at hand. Cheers - Moderating team

RaylaxStaff

#8

Raylax said:

Hurrah, it exists :P

Now hurry up and give us an EU release date, Nicalis D:

Radbot42

#12

Radbot42 said:

ISn't this supposed to have classic controller support also. And if it does what are the controls for that?

Sean_Aaron

#13

Sean_Aaron said:

No info on the price, "controls make full use of the Wii Remote" is a more elegant way of saying all the buttons are used (there is no motion, though, so technically not correct if you want to get pedantic). No clue about CC support, but it would make sense. I should note that the Ops Guide from the Home menu (not the Detailed one, which isn't availble to me with the pre-release code) makes no reference to the Classic Controller - not that I see any need for it.

deadly_by_design

#14

deadly_by_design said:

With the inclusion of the DLC content, I'm hoping the price stays at or below 1500. 1000 would be ideal, but releasing at any price would be progress.

I toyed with the early stages of the PC version, but have been saving myself for the WiiWare release. Nice to see it actually releasing, but I have to wonder what Nintendo was thinking. All of that promotion at shows, etc, then yanking it into obscurity.

pixelman

#15

pixelman said:

Adam got in a first comment? That's like, a first. Ha ha.

ahem, are there online leaderboards in this game for time attack/boss rush/anything?

Sean_Aaron

#16

Sean_Aaron said:

@Pixelman: well, it's a final build, but I couldn't see anything related to online (no shop area for DLC either). Guess we'll have to wait for the final release.

citizenerased

#17

citizenerased said:

""controls make full use of the Wii Remote" is a more elegant way of saying all the buttons are used (there is no motion, though, so technically not correct if you want to get pedantic)."

Wasn't trying to get pedantic or trying to bash your article, but I did skim through it twice to see how the motion controls and pointer controls were used because I was worried they had ruined the controls.

#18

said:

oh well. I hope it doesn't cost more than 1000 pts

Percentful

#19

Percentful said:

I hope this will cost 1000 or less when it comes out. I doubt I would buy it for 1500.

Amorous_Badger

#20

Amorous_Badger said:

Are the controls better than the rather fiddly keubpard controls for the PC/mac version?

I tried dl-ing this and found it unplayable due to finicky controls.

WolfRamHeart

#21

WolfRamHeart said:

I really envy you Sean. You are very lucky getting to play this before the rest of us. Thanks for the great impressions. It sounds like this game will actually live up to the hype. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.

#26

said:

.....on a second thought, I have been waiting 2 years for that game so I'll buy it no matter the price :P

ejamer

#28

ejamer said:

Can't wait to find out how much this game will cost. I've got my fingers firmly crossed that it'll be 1000 points or less since that would mean immediate purchase. Otherwise Cave Story Wii will have to wait until my points get refilled next month, and there has already been more than enough waiting for this great title.

i_am_error

#29

i_am_error said:

Is it widescreen? Some videos from past October on Gamespot were widecreen (not streched)... but now, it appears to be solely running in 4:3.

MrPinguy

#31

MrPinguy said:

The other playable character must be Curly.
Hope that it have significant game play differences.

Ren

#32

Ren said:

Finally tried the PC/Mac version, and I'm totally hooked. I'm thinking maybe I should wait before finishing it, though, and get this one. Wiimote play would be much more comfortable (I don't see why anyone would need classic support, it's pretty much a nes style game i.e. attack, jump, move). I'm very excited, the slight graphics smoothing will be very fun, and cool if theres 16x9 support, though not really necessary. This is great news, and well written (informative/ spoiler free) for those who don't know the game; thanks Sean.

Sean_Aaron

#34

Sean_Aaron said:

No multiplayer that I could see and I don't think it would work too well because there are sections that are tricky enough for one player - this isn't New Super Mario Bros. Wii ya know!

I had no issues with the controls - rock solid, no issues pulling off jumps into tight spots. It does indeed support widescreen (either that or I didn't notice everything was stretched out - the characters do look a bit odd to begin with!) and 480p. I think even 1500 would be fair, it's easily a full retail game.

OldBoy

#35

OldBoy said:

I downloaded this for PC but didn't like the keyboard controls. I've been looking forward to the WW release for ages,as what I did play on PC was really great.I'll pay whatever they want, just release the bloody game will ya Nintendo!!

Snoopy

#36

Snoopy said:

yay. i think this game will be great. but on the info video it looks like there are 2 char playing.

Sean_Aaron

#37

Sean_Aaron said:

I see what you mean Snoopy, but I think that's an NPC.

Whilst it is cool I got to play this early, I still have to wait for retail like the rest of you because it's not like I have it on my own Wii and I'd hate to get far in the game just to start over again! Hopefully the European release won't be far behind, otherwise I just may have to buy it for my NA Wii.

Supermegaman

#38

Supermegaman said:

I just downloaded it for the computer, and its really cool!
So is this the same game as the computer one? Or is the wiiware one any different? Even if its not, this looks to be worth it, if only for the controls.
So unless this one is different from the computer one, im not gonna get farther and spoil it for myself!

Wyrmling

#40

Wyrmling said:

@Supermegaman: It's the same story, so I wouldn't play any further into the PC version if you plan on playing the Wii one. The Wii one also has a couple of extras like higher resolution graphics and a redone soundtrack as well as a couple of surprises being added in as well.

I personally can't wait for this because my computer can no longer run it at a decent frame rate. I made a Balrog cubecraft today during my lunch at work in anticipation.

ejamer

#41

ejamer said:

"I think even 1500 would be fair, it's easily a full retail game."

Oh, I totally agree that 1500 points would still be fair and would be happy to pay that price. It would just take a bit longer to buy (since I've only been saving 1000 points), but would still be on my console before long.

Rerun

#42

Rerun said:

Looks impressive. I will wait for the full review though since I need to get an new card for this one. I have 1700 points left and that's allocated to MegaMan 10 (and Bass DLC) which I'll be downloading this weekend.

Odnetnin

#43

Odnetnin said:

They incorporated all of the DLC into the final game now, guys. Those are the four or five modes Sean is talking about.
Really ticked about the no returning to the main menu bit.

Sean_Aaron

#46

Sean_Aaron said:

@Odnetnin: Ah, you're right, I forgot they did away with the DLC idea - I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be five modes in total though - I suppose we'll just have to find out by finishing the game!

The Classic Controller is indeed supported, so I've added a small note to indicate that. X/Y fire, A/B jump and L/R toggles weapons. Otherwise controls are the same - no analogue stick support (not that it would be appropriate) and no button remapping though that's the layout I would have selected (well, since I'd use the CC PRO I'd prefer ZL/ZR for weapon cycling).

GreenSpleen

#48

GreenSpleen said:

Cant wait for this one. Nice write up as usual Sean. Does anyone know about how long the game should take to complete? Thats my only complaint with some of the WiiWare games, they are great but usually end a little too quick.

Bigby

#49

Bigby said:

I just watched the video and it looks horrible... Im starting to think that im really out of touch.
I mean, why did Nintendo even come out with the Wii if the only thing on it are 8 bit games...

MrPinguy

#50

MrPinguy said:

@Bigby
You just need to look for more in this site to see how wrong you are.
And Cave Story is far from "8-Bit" game.

Sean_Aaron

#51

Sean_Aaron said:

Well, not everyone is going to like the retro styling, but what can you say? There's a big audience for that; especially on the Wii.

@GreenSpleen: Took me a couple of hours to beat the first couple of bosses, but I think some of the later levels are tougher and there's something like 15 in all? I'd say 15-20 hours easy - you'll get your money's worth if that's your concern!

GreenSpleen

#53

GreenSpleen said:

Thanks Sean. I was hoping for at least 8-10 hours so if its more than that, well, thats awesome. Some retail $50 games dont take that long. This will probably be priced at 1500 pts and sounds worth every penny. March sure has turned into a major gaming month for me... Endless Ocean, Red Steel 2, Mega Man 10, Cave Story, Rage of the Gladiator, Max and the Magic Marker and WarioWare D.I.Y. Man Im gonna be one tired dude from staying up late! Tired... but HAPPY! Let the games begin!

@ Bigby

Maybe your just one of the youngsters... they seem to be the ones that dont get the retro gaming craze now days. I'm 35 and grew up on Atari, the NES, commodore 64, etc. Games dont have to look like James Cameron directed them to be fun and challenging. Ive got around 60 WiiWare/VC games and my 9 year old son has developed a great love for the old school games I used to play. I love telling him how when I was a kid games cost a quarter and there were these things called 'Arcades' we used to ride our bikes to and play all day. Of course we rode up hill both ways to get there and back....

Namo

#54

Namo said:

@53 How do you ride uphill both ways? :P

If anything, you "Youngsters" (I'm 16, ha) should get this game solely for the perfect story, charming characters, and surprising depth. The original game took over 5 years to make by one person, and just like any Metal Gear title, you can just feel the hard work and love the creator put into this game.

Wamtu

#55

Wamtu said:

Hmm...maybe I'll get this. It sounds fun, and though retro-styled graphics usually annoy me, since this was made by an independent developer it's actually impressive (When a big company does it, it just seems like they were being cheap). Oh, and all you guys upset about the long delay? Remember, "A delayed game is eventually good, a rushed game is forever bad." -Shigeru Miyamoto.

Namo

#57

Namo said:

@55

For some reason, Duke Nukem Forever comes to mind.

But in this case, Cave Story will be excellent. Prediction: Its sales will break a world record!

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