This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Nicalis' upgraded WiiWare port of Cave Story, which reviews describe as "the best possible way to play a truly great game."
1UP.com's Jeremy Parish gives Cave Storyan A grade. "Cave Story began life as a free-to-play PC game, and it's been kicking around the Internet for more than five years at this point," he explains. "So why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to pay 12 bucks to play the game on WiiWare?"
Parish continues: "Well, for one thing, this is by far the definitive version of the game. It's been reworked, comprehensively, from top to bottom, by its original creator, Daisuke 'Pixel' Amaya [alongside Western developer Nicalis]."
Parish notes that Cave Story's graphics have been redrawn with more detail, and the WiiWare version includes new modes, a new playable character, and remixed music.
"More importantly, though, Cave Story is a truly great game," Parish asserts. "It was crafted as a labor of love, a fond romp through a bygone age of the medium. Its precise balance of playability, challenge, story, and depth have served as an inspiration to a generation of indie developers who can look to Pixel's work as proof that a small team really can create a game capable of standing up to classics like Super Metroid."
Parish finds that the game is well-suited to the Wii platform. "Both the Classic Controller and the stand-alone Wii remote are a much better match for the game than arrow keys, and the game looks great on a big screen," he praises. "Cave Story is really an ideal fit for the console; its long-awaited arrival on Wii feels almost like a homecoming. In that light, $12 is a pretty good deal -- the best possible way to play a truly great game."
Matt Miller at Game Informer rates Cave Story at 8.75 out of 10. "Imagine a game that was created but never released during the classic era of early console gaming," he describes. "It has the side-scrolling platforming and upgrades of Metroid, patterned bosses that rival the early Ninja Gaiden titles, and music that stands toe to toe with any 8-bit Mega Man. Give it a compelling mythology like Link to the Past, and multiple endings in the style of many Castlevania titles. Now you have a pretty good idea what to expect out of Cave Story."
Miller notes that Cave Story's environments remain as enchanting as ever in the new WiiWare version. "It's the journey through Cave Story's creative setting that makes the game so much fun," he says. "The game does a fine job of communicating a sense of magic and discovery as you move through sandblasted ruins, underwater rivers, and stark, cliff-side climbs."
"The strange creatures that oppose you along the way are unique and varied in their attack strategies," Miller continues. "That's all the more true with the bosses, who feel organically placed in the story, rather than formulaic stops at the end of every stage. Like many games in this classic style, the items required for progression sometimes seem arbitrary and hard to find; this devotion to form is the worst that can be said about the otherwise steady pacing."
The experience transcends its retro-styled aesthetic, which Miller admits is not for everyone. "Cave Story has a retro look that could be a turn-off for some, but there's a surprising sharpness and detailed beauty to the game world," he assures. "Equally important to the presentation is the musical score -- a fantastic and memorable selection of melodies that call to mind the catchiest game tunes of the 1980s. As an added bonus, both the original and updated scores are included."
"Don't be dissuaded by the simple throwback style," Miller notes in conclusion. "This game is deserving of a trip down memory lane, even if you've never walked this way before."
IGN's Daemon Hatfield scores Cave Story at 8.5 out of 10. "Playing Cave Story is like discovering a fantastic NES game you somehow missed back in the day," he writes. "It's a cult hit on PC and hopefully a new audience will enjoy it now that it's available on WiiWare. Cave Story just feels right on a Nintendo system."
"Cave Story plays like a hybrid of Metroid and Blaster Master," Hatfield writes. "You explore underground caves, do a lot of tricky platforming, upgrade your weapons, and search for secrets. You'll experience a few cheap deaths, but the game avoids being frustrating until the very end."
Hatfield finds that these few frustrating moments stand out as being particularly stressful, compared to the majority of the game. "Most of the time you're able to save and heal with regular frequency, but the climax sends four boss fights in a row at you with no chance to rest -- and that's not even quite the end of the game," he says. "It's pretty obnoxious when you make it to the fourth boss, die, and have to go back and do it all over again. And probably again after that."
"The only real problem with Cave Story is that you've been able to play it for free for six years," Hatfield notes. "Hardcore gamers (the audience for this title) tend to be careful with how they spend their money and I totally understand if they are suspicious about paying for something they can legitimately play for free.
"But, whether it's being given away or monetized, there is no getting around the fact that Cave Story is a terrific game and developers Studio Pixel and Nicalis certainly deserve to be rewarded for their talents," Hatfield concludes. "The polish and tight controls are on par with what you would have found in a first-party Nintendo NES game. Delightful, whimsical, and curious, this is a game that begs to be explored."