Porting a game to another platform is often trickier than one might think. Rewriting blocks of code, and having to take into account different hardware and its interfaces, can easily result in bugs and oversights. Combine that with having to remake parts of the game and you’re treading potentially dangerous ground. Taking the artistry of another and trying to make it “better” is subjective and difficult. When Nicalis decided to remake the now-famous indie game, Cave Story, I have to wonder if they fully realized those risks. What has resulted is an unfortunate mixed bag of marred greatness, further tainted by bugs and odd design choices.
Those unfamiliar with Cave Story need only visit this tribute site and download the freeware original, its translation, and/or choose from the many freeware ports. In short, it’s a beautiful and solid retro-style Metroid-like game, originally released on the PC in Japanese. Despite being Metroid-like, it’s still very much its own game. Its surprisingly excellent and endearing storyline was later translated to English by fans, with the creator’s blessing. Both the game and translation have always been free. This is perhaps the biggest issue with this remake. Since the original game is free, and this remake doesn’t quite add enough to warrant the 1200 point ($12 USD) price. You can argue that this benefits the original game’s creator (Daisuke Amaya (aka “Pixel”), but it might be better to just ask if you can send a donation to him directly. (I believe his English is good enough.)
So what’s wrong with this remake? First, I should start by saying that there’s a lot that’s right with it, but this is mostly the core game itself. The original game is nothing short of wonderful. Nicalis, however, commissioned several notable people from the indie game development community to help remake the game. This may sound like a wonderful idea, but it unfortunately resulted in there being “too many cooks in the kitchen”.
Part of Cave Story‘s appeal is its retro audiovisual style. The music and sound were redone, but its hard to say they really needed it. The sound effects are too loud by default (though they can be turned down), and its debatable whether or not the sound and music are actually better. Not only that, but the music is buggy and poorly implemented. Certain parts of the new music (like drums) sometimes don’t play at all, and the music loops incorrectly, replaying intros with each loop. Switching to the original music helps, but it seems the looping problem still remains. The highest quality part of the remake is the graphics, which have been redrawn with their resolution doubled. Most of the sprites, backgrounds, etc. do look nicer and more detailed, but in some cases they seem to have a awkwardly smoothed-out look. Again, it’s questionable whether or not the game really needed that to be done. This new translation seems adequate, but fans grew to love the original translation, and this differs notably. Balrog’s memorable “Huzzah!”, has been changed to resemble the Kool-Aid Man‘s “Oh, yeaahh!” I can accept changes like this, but I do prefer the original. I’ve read reports of other bugs, but I can’t confirm those.
Aside from the bugs, the change I like least is one of the original game’s hidden modes, now called “Sanctuary Time Attack” mode, is selectable on the main menu without even needing to unlock it. This is alongside two added modes that are not found in the original. There’s a “Boss Rush” mode (which is well done, but is playable from the start despite being full of spoilers) and a mode allowing you to play a slightly different version of the story mode with the character, Curly Brace. These are nice additions, but don’t add much to the experience. (Why not include some of Pixel’s other games?) The controls are also an issue. I was using a Wii remote sideways (NES controller style). The A button is used to toggle through weapons one direction, while the B button (the trigger) toggles the other direction. This meant that by holding the remote I’d often accidentally hit B, changing to a weapon I didn’t currently want to use. This would be excusable if the controls were reconfigurable, but they aren’t. It’s worth mentioning that the game also supports the classic controller.
Supposedly the European release will have some issues fixed, but I’ve yet to read if the US version will be patched. If you feel I’m being too nit-picky, ask yourself, “Do I really want to pay 1200 points, for a game that I can get for free?” and if so, “Do the pros really outweigh the cons?” I feel the answer to these questions is no. I think it’s clear that I’m not opposed to remakes. Unless, you have no system other than the Wii to play Cave Story on, I’d recommend you steer clear and play the original or a more direct port. I commend Nicalis for taking this risk, but I can’t endorse the result. I do, however, fully recommend the original version.