58. Cave Story: An Isolation Story.


From the first time I laid eyes on the seminal indie game Cave Story I loved it. For that reason this can't be a review and, although this text by nature may look something like that, it'll have to be a kind of meditation on the game.

I should also admit that I — possibly pretentiously — have a soft spot for indie games. As it is with music for me I'm prone to appreciate a somewhat "rugged" and "homegrown" quality instead of having things being buried beneath a pristine surface.
   It doesn't mean that indie titles are sub-par or unpolished, but small development teams, perhaps only one developer, comes through as have more individuality.

Two other games I like in the category are Frogatto; a mostly Free Software (or "Open Source" if you like) platformer. The other is the incredibly addicting SuperTuxKart, a game I've played an almost embarrassing amount since I discovered it a little less than a year ago.


Anyway, some background: Cave Story was a reasonably early digitally distributed indie venture. Produced by Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya it follows a robot, 'Quote', traversing various caves (surprise) on a floating island inhabited by mean guys and the less mean rabbit-like race of Mimigas.
   There's a dose of Japanese tropes spread throughout the game, but I wouldn't put too much emphasis on it. You could say that a game like FEZ use similar visual elements and it's not Japanese. I'd settle on calling it a 'game' clear and simple.

Cave Story use pixelized graphics, a huge plus for me, it has an awesome 'experience points'-based weapon system and of course a substantial dose of Metroid in it being of the Metroidvania genre.
   I'm a sucker for basically any given Metroid game, and the indie game AM2R, so even in theory I probably couldn't dislike it.

About Not Being a Robot

In practice I'm a human of course, even if I sort of envy Quote's disposition once in a while, but I think that a lot of what I like and think about Cave Story is firmly rooted in feelings. The first time I played it I really needed to bury my head into something to keep it from going elsewhere.

I was younger, talking in past tense implies it I guess, but I lived on my own. I'm not much for nostalgia so just view that as an observation of the setting. For whatever reason I mostly played it in my mother's kitchen and my mother's place has pretty much always had an "open door policy".

So in my own asocial (not antisocial) way I got to see people while also having an excuse to keep them from talking too much to me, haha. Sometimes I played outdoors. My life wasn't that bad, but I experienced a certain amount of strife during that period.
   To have this newfound, both mentally and game-wise, isolated island to inhabit brought me joy as corny as it may sound. Well almost newfound, I had noticed the game some time before, I just never got around to play it.*

Other Games

As hinted I've played other games that also set me in a certain mode of thinking: Paper Mario 2 (as I choose to call it), Metroid Prime, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Metroid, Pokémon Red/Blue (often with the help of a Pokémon Stadium, thus not being restricted to playing with other people) and a last mention I actually played with other people most of the time: Age of Empires II.
   There's a bunch of other games in that vein, but notice the pattern here. I mostly play alone and the above games are high-profile titles.

Cave Story, while having been given some attention, I stumbled into more or less blindly and I think there was a certain "surprise factor" to it when I found out exactly how good it was. You can't plan those things. It just happens and it's always nice when it does.

Closing Remarks

Lets leave the past where it should be: behind us, and fast-forward to the present. During the last, shall we say about 6-7 year, period I switched to a GNU/Linux-based operating system. This in itself has given me a huge amount of satisfaction — like Quote I'm a purpose-filled explorer — but the downside is that some games can be harder harder to run for me.
   Over time this has become more and more of a delusion instead of a practical fact, so when I assumed that Cave Story would be hard to run on my computer I was wrong.*

The other day I made sure I could get the game running, which was easy enough, and mapped the relevant keys on my gamepad to my liking.* That was when I realized that it's not measly nostalgia that drove me to pick up the game despite all of my recollections. It's just that the game is good enough to provoke these feelings in me.
   As far as I'm concerned nostalgia is an an excuse for for stupidity and basically only serves to cloud your judgment.

I'm not really playing it to reenact a fantasy or to reminisce. Sometimes discursions like that are worthwhile for an hour or so, but playing through whole games can't be reduced to it in my opinion. There has to be more to it than that.

No, I'm playing it for one reason only. A reason as obvious and simple as it is isolated from external rationalization. A truism no more and no less than to play Cave Story. Lets keep it that way.

* Short comment: a while after I played Cave Story I played another game that was new to me, Shovel Knight. Also very enjoyable, even if it can't quite measure up to Cave Story which I view through such a rosy lens.

* In my usual manner I complicated things to the point of running the game through various compatibility layers only to find out that someone had ported the game engine. I could basically play it with a simple command. This solution was there all along, I just overlooked it because I figured it would be more complicated...

* This was not the first time I actually picked the game in recent times. I tried to share my enthusiasm with a friend. Although he liked the game he felt that it was "too hard" and we stopped at the final boss. Being an even broader gamer than me it sort of surprised me at the time.

I chalk it down to being spoiled by newer games and platformers. Take the 'hard' out of it and it feels less and less like a game to me. Instead we get a glorified interactive movie passing as a game. Yes, yes, "such macho", etc., etc. But it's my honest opinion. Platformers should not play like Pokémon or Paper Mario, they should be hard or else what's the point?