It isn’t often that consumers wait with bated breath for the privilege of paying for something that’s been available free for six years, but that’s Cave Story’s migration from PC freeware cult hit to WiiWare exclusive in a nutshell. While the payday has finally come for creator Daisuke Amaya—who spent five years developing the whimsical action-platformer as a labor of love—many will likely scoff at shelling out $12 for a gussied-up port with a handful of new modes and the option to switch on nicer graphics and music. Those indignant individuals will be missing out on the opportunity to rediscover one of the gaming world’s more imaginative, charming experiences without being shackled to their keyboards, USB gamepads aside.
Cave Story is a largely linear experience, but it’s retained the intriguing ease with which it recaptures and improves upon the NES era of side-scrolling exploration. You play a nameless, amnesiac, gun-toting boy, but that’s the extent of the clichés: Awakening in a dank, spike-filled cavern, you make your way to a nearly deserted town whose sole inhabitants are Mimigas, civilized rabbit-like creatures. Turns out, they’re being transformed into berserk killing machines by an evil scientist who feeds them red flowers. What happens to them is entirely up to you; based on your actions, a variety of different endings are possible. And they aren’t all doom and gloom: Along the way, you’ll fight enormous frogs and floating, sheet-wearing kitties. You’ll milk more than a few jellyfish, and if you dig around enough in the story, you’ll swipe a pair of panties.
A trio of predictable but worthwhile modes now supplement the main story: time attack, boss rush, and the ability to play through the story again as another character, Curly (the owner of the aforementioned unmentionables). That puts most of the spotlight, rightly, on Cave Story as it has existed for years. It’s a world well worth exploring, and its running and gunning proves as endearing as the quest, seasoned with unexpected tangents like barf jokes and the need to fetch five puppies for a key-holding old lady. Cave Story is content to toss you into its world knowing nothing, leaving you to unfold the engrossing storyline as you go. Whether you follow it all the way through shouldn’t depend on whether you’ve been waiting all these years for this, or are reading about it for the first time.