When Cave Story originally released in 2004, old-school design philosophies and pixel art were still unique and refreshing. The market is different in 2017, however, and even with updated HD pixel graphics, the complete package of Cave Story+ doesn’t offer much compared to its contemporary old-school indie peers.
What Is It?
Cave Story+ for the Nintendo Switch is a port of the 2014 upgrade to the 2010 Wii version of the 2004 freeware PC game. Chances are, if you’ve ever been interested in Cave Story, you’ve already played it. In fact, it’s old enough now that it may reside in a nostalgic corner of your heart as a cool game you played as a kid. It’s still a cool game, but a lot of cool games have been made since then, and Cave Story+ doesn’t stand out like it would have a decade ago.
Why Should I Care?
Don’t get me wrong; the core design holds up, especially the combat. For those who may have avoided Cave Story all these years, here’s a quick refresher: Cave Story is a 2D action platformer with a focus on projectile combat. The story is simple and unobtrusive, and there are even a few player decisions that affect the trajectory of the game, both in gameplay and narrative. Although it may look like it has the exploration hooks of a Metroid game, Cave Story is fairly linear, and only one ability actually grants access to new areas.
The gameplay is all about the combat. The mix of 2D platforming and projectile combat is still fun, and even after more than a decade, the weapon upgrading mechanic remains unique. Enemies drop little triangles that fill a meter for each weapon to make them more powerful, and damage taken reduces that meter, like a twist on the mechanic in Blaster Master. The weapons are varied and useful in different circumstances and against different enemies, and discovering when to use them most effectively is fun.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
While the core design of Cave Story holds up, the full package of Cave Story+ doesn’t offer much else, which is a glaring shortcoming in a time when 2D indie games like Shovel Knight include several reasons to replay the entire game. The Switch release offers everything from the 2014 PC release, which I’ll detail below, but nothing new. The developer has promised a co-op mode exclusive to the Switch version, but that won’t arrive for a few months after release.
Cave Story+ includes three difficulty settings, but Easy and Hard are nothing more than tweaks to damage given and damage received; nothing else is changed from Normal difficulty. Hard mode even strips out health upgrades, which turns a difficult mode into a challenge for masochists (and this is coming from someone who loves a good challenge).
There are also six time trials that range from short and fun to long and frustrating, complete with online leaderboards. The best of these is a machine gun trial that tests your mobility rather than your combat skills, and shaving off seconds is fun and rewarding. The rest are either too long or have difficult combat, which doesn’t translate well to a time trial.
Curly’s Story returns as an unlockable mode if you find a specific item in the game, but it’s only a character swap that plays identically to the normal mode, though Curly does speak occasionally, whereas the original protagonist, Quote, is always silent. Unless you simply want to play through the game again anyway, the mode isn’t different enough to be worth the time.
In fact, I would extend that statement to the rest of the game, as well. Unless you’ve never played Cave Story or are really itching to play it again, Cave Story+ on the Switch isn’t really worth the time, and $30 is a steep price for an old game with no new features. Collectors may be interested in the physical version, which comes with an instruction booklet, the soundtrack, and a keychain, for the same price as the digital version, but for most people, the value proposition isn’t very good.
In order to sell me on a new version of Cave Story in 2017, I needed to see a significant amount of new content—new weapons, new areas, new playable characters, new choices. Without any of those things, Cave Story+ is a short, simple, fun experience that doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by similar games in the time since Cave Story originally released.