Cave Story: Jumping into story

Oh, Kevin, you make me nervous when you talk about Daniel as being “100 years old.” I’m the old man of the bunch, after all, and if anyone ever goes back to those first Final Fantasy VII posts and figures out how old that actually is, I might get my game columnist license revoked.

Anyway, before we get too far into a “who’s older than whom” argument, let me say that I’m digging the choice of Cave Story as our Gamers’ Club game. I’m sometimes a bit jealous of the world of indie or other unusual downloadable games that exist in the PC world or on the XBox Live Arcade service. I do have Steam installed on my Mac, but it’s old and underpowered, and I’ve been burned before, spending hours downloading a game only to find that my lappy couldn’t even open it. So I’m blissfully happy to not only be able to get Cave Story on WiiWare, but to have something to do with my woefully underused Wii and an excuse to pull my WaveBird out of storage. (I’m a little bit put off that the game is $12 on WiiWare when it’s only $10 on Steam, but I’ll get over it.)

I’ve played about an hour and a half of Cave Story so far, and already it’s grabbed me in a way that EarthBound never did. I’m not deep enough into the story to say much in narrative terms about why that might be — and I’ll admit that I do want to go back to EarthBound on my own another day to try and figure out why so many classic RPG fans love it so much — so my initial take is that Cave Story does a really great job of mixing the architecture of the 2D platform game with the narrative techniques of the classic 2D RPG. (That is, it’s another example that game architecture isn’t determinative of genre.) The game uses platform mechanics to allow the player to navigate the world, but RPG mechanics to deliver the story. The player jumps from ledge to ledge to get around town, and explore new areas, and has conversations with non-player characters (NPCs) to find out what to do next.

And for me, right now, that mixture is magic. The platformer elements add a bit of challenge and interest as I’m exploring, and the RPG story elements give me a reason to keep exploring, and to keep jumping in the difficult parts. I’ve written before that I’m not a big fan of platformers, but I’m enjoying Cave Story, and looking forward to playing more.

There’s more I’m looking forward to talking about, hell, we could probably do an entire post just listing the cultural and video game references — Balrog alone cites both Lord of the Rings and Kool-Aid Man, and there’s something very Metroid about the way the game makes you navigate vertically and horizontally, and retrace your steps rather than moving in a single direction à la Mario. Finally, I’m curious to know if anyone else noticed that when the Balrog asks if you want to fight, you can actually say “no” and he goes away. If the game is short enough, I my play though a second time just to find out if not fighting the Balrog has an impact later in the game. (I wanted the “experience” triangles, so I didn’t fight the Balrog in the demo, but I did fight him in my current playthrough of the full version. I also did some grinding in the graveyard, killing and respawning the knife-slasher frog until my pistol was at full power.)

I’m actually a bit giddy, boys. It’s taking all my willpower to not start chanting “Genres are not to be mixed. I will not mix genres.” (That’s right. I just threw down some Derrida. Bla-dow.)

Onward! Next time I talk about the actual story, rather than just acknowledge that it exists.

Read Daniel J. Hogan’s week 1 post
Read Kevin Nguyen’s week 1 post

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

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  1. […] Last week, I promised that this week’s post would be about narrative in Cave Story, but I’m going to put that off a bit, in part because the game is doing a great job of doling out the story bit by bit in ways that are keeping me interested as a player, and making me feel that I’m not really going to be able to say anything substantial until I can talk about the beginning, middle, and the end all at once. Right now, I know that I’m a robot left over from a war 10 years ago in which people attacked an island and its Mimiga inhabitants. Backed into a corner, the Mimiga ate certain red flowers, and became vicious fighting machines. Now, there are few Mimiga and fewer robots, an evil doctor who wants to exploit the Mimiga, and a good professor who wants to stop him. The whys and wherefores are still up in the air, but it’s becoming clear that everyone knows everyone else. Well, except for me, that is. […]

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