I was recently looking for freeware games I could play on my laptop. I would have been okay with a Tetris or Marble Madness clone, but I emerged with Dōkutsu Monogatari (Cave Story), a non-linear platformer that evidently took the Internet by storm when it arrived in 2004. I’m sure some people reading this already know about and have played Cave Story, but for those that haven’t, you must. The game was developed over a period of five years by Daisuke Amaya (codename: Pixel), who, in a rare and oblique interview described himself as a programmer who rode his bike to work everyday, “standing the whole way.” He wrote the music first, and made the game up as he went along.
I’m only three or so hours into this game, but I wanted to talk about it straight away because I haven’t felt so swept away by something in a long time. I think that has a lot to do with the lovely pacing, and the way the game is never so difficult that you’re taken out of the moment. The environments are very thoughtful and detailed, and the character sprites are original and expressive. Every time I enter a new room or environment in the game, I’m excited about what objects and creatures I’ll find. The puzzles so far are intuitive and satisfying, while the action is always interesting because you can level-up and switch between different weapons. Like action-adventure platformers Metroid and Castlevania, you can go anywhere you want, collecting items and power-ups, encountering bosses in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
It’s too early to talk about the game’s story, but so far I’ve found it quite absorbing and even sad. I just haven’t felt this way about a game, let alone a freeware game, in a while. Because it’s on my laptop, I’ve been playing it in bed, in the hours before I drop off, and I think it’s that sleepiness that’s allowing me to play the game the way I would have played it when I was younger: emotionally invested in a 2D world and its characters. And it’s free. A gift from the author to anyone who cares to play it, like a good book left on a park bench.
Fortunately, the game has been translated into English.
You can download a PC version here:
And a Mac version here:
(To get my facts straight, I referred to this excellent tigsource.com interview with Daisuke Amaya:
There’s also a nice tribute site: http://www.miraigamer.net/cavestory/)