Cave Story: Platform mechanics
For me, platformers have always been nostalgic. Sure, my first videogame console was an NES with Super Mario Bros. 3, but I was too young in those days to have a valuable opinion about it (I know this because my favorite NES game, at the time, was Batman Returns). The first game that made a true impression on me was Super Mario 64. It was also the first game I really immersed myself in and played thoughtfully. All that to say, I belong more closely to the first generation of 3D games than I do the Golden Age of 2D cartridges.
In contrast to Dan (who I believe is about 100 years old), by the time I was in high school and college, platformers were already nostalgic. Now that I think about it, I’ve played through more side-scrollers using an emulator than on an actual console.
So here’s Cave Story, which I am playing on my Mac (it’s only $9.99 on Steam), a platformer designed deliberately to evoke nostalgia. The Kool-Aid Man reference, as Dan pointed out, is a great example of Cave Story‘s bizarre sense of humor and its playful self-winking. I’m not much further than the Balrog — ostensibly the first boss — but I’m guessing that’s just the first of many nerdy inside jokes. And I’m looking forward to them all!
One thing that bugs me is that the physics of Cave Story seem a little off. The jumps feel sort of loose, almost floaty. Of course, platformers don’t have to adhere to Earth’s physics, but it has to feel like there’s sort of predictable gravity. When I jump I want to know where I’ll land.
I have a friend who has this theory that the original Super Mario Bros. has the perfect platformer physics. I believe that. There’s something natural and predictable about the way Mario jumps. Is it because Miyamoto engineered the jump perfectly, or because Super Mario Bros. defined what that perfect jump is supposed to feel like? I don’t know. But I’ve seen people who don’t play video games give a spectacular run through Super Mario Bros. for that reason.
Outside of pure nostalgia, I think that’s the ultimate appeal of platformers today. If you’ve ever tried to teach someone all the buttons to play Halo, you realize just how complicated games have become. Platformers have a familiar linearity to them. Cave Story is a largely two-button game, and I find its simplicity comforting and endearing. So while I’m charmed by Cave Story‘s idiosyncracies, I’m waiting to fall in love with its mechanics.
Kevin Nguyen is an editor at The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Find him at Twitter at @knguyen.