Ever wondered what Super Mario Bros would be like if it had an intelligent story? Ever wanted to know what it would be like if some of the high reflexes needed were replaced by cunning and wits? Not to mention if the acid-trip like environment were to become a consistent gameworld? What you would get, is a game that's far more challenging, charming and fun. That game is Cave Story (aka Doukutsu Monogatari).
You start out when you awaken in a small cave of what seems like an entire complex of large and small caves and corridors, and will soon enough find out in what kind of world you are. It won't take long before you meet the Mimigas, rabbit or dog-like intelligent creatures that act and think exactly like humans. Almost as soon as you've met them, one gets kidnapped. This is the start of your epic journey through the wonderous world of Cave Story.
The story's built up like the best. It starts out by introducing you to the world. Slowly but surely, things unravel, with new information and plot twists as you go. This is done so masterfully that it will keep you captivated and absorbed in the game from the very moment you start playing right to the very end. Before you know it, it'll be morning again and you'll still be clutching the game, wanting to see how it goes on. To top it all off, there are three different endings you can play for, so when you replay the game it could very well be that the game develops with new and different plot twists, new items and other locations you can access.
Graphics are like those of the console games from the nineties. They're colourful, atmospheric, charming and cute. Even if you didn't understand what it's about, you'll still keep playing the game, simply to see what treats await your eyes next. Not to mention it's still possible to finish the game, even without understanding it. Anyway, when talking to certain NPC's, a portrait of them will appear next to what they say. These portraits are in a simple anime-style, but with an amazing eye for emotion. Thanks to this, the graphics add to the depth of the game.
In this game, you'll always have music and sounds. The sound effects are the simple sounds of your gun blasting and the hopping and buzzing of enemies. The music, on the contrary, is extensive. It sounds a bit like music from the NES, but with better voices and overall quality. The music plays as themes of characters. If there's no significant NPC coming into play, it plays the location's music in a loop. You'd think that looped music would get boring as quickly as the third time it loops. That's not the case with these songs. They stay pleasant to listen to, no matter how many times you've heard them.
Gameplay's pretty straightforward. In the settings, you can choose to play with either the keyboard or a gamepad. While a gamepad seems more fitting for this kind of game, the keyboard controls are laid out so it's easy to use. You cycle through weapons with Q and W, open inventory, jump, shoot and use the map (once you've found it) with A, Z, S and X. Even the clumsiest person can't miss getting these controls right. When you kill an enemy, they often explode into yellow triangles. You'll have to collect these to level up a weapon. There's a progress bar that shows how much longer it'll take before your weapon levels up... or leveled down, as you'll lose some experience when you get hit by an enemy. The maximum level of each weapon is three. Any more would be too much a bother, any less would either make the game more difficult or kill the challenge.
All in all, Cave Story is a charming gem which you can just play over and over. The atmosphere created by perfectly matching graphics, music and story while the gameplay stays as simple as it can get makes this game into one everybody can enjoy, no matter how young or old, game master or first-time gamer.
Review by: Raf