Cave Story is an excellent combination of one of my favorite games ever, and my absolute worst fears.
Before I start waxing poetic by using phrases like “waxing poetic,” let’s look at the game itself. Cave Story is a metroidvania in the most classic of molds, harkening back to the original Metroid with its cave exploration and general graphical fidelity. You’re a protagonist alone in an unfamiliar place, and it’s your job to find the right combination of weapons and items to find your way out and maybe exterminate an ancient evil along the way. However, unlike Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night where you rarely encounter a single helpful soul (Maria barely counts as a human, left alone a helpful human), Cave Story has a deep and rich plot that is bolstered by interesting and relatable characters that may or may not have been transformed into rabbits. Hey, it happens. In short, Cave Story deftly combines the old school gameplay of Metroid with the more modern storytelling that advanced technology (and text limits) have afforded us. It’s the best of two epochs!
And, frankly, I love this game because it speaks directly to me. Things like hidden health upgrades, bonus missile stocks, and weapons that can only be obtained through careful planning (and never taking the first trade offered) are like catnip to my brain. Add in some fairly unique movement options like the machine gun and booster V2.0, and, in a way, there was never any way I wouldn’t absolutely love Cave Story. And, again, let’s not discount the plot and characters involved. Cave Story is actually about three or four totally different plots (the story of the science expedition, the story of the androids, the story of the original wizard bad boy, and the story of wabbit season) that coalesce in delightful and subtle ways. Quote learns a valuable lesson about, I don’t know, eating unusual flowers or something, and the world is saved once again thanks to teamwork and properly salvaging tow ropes. I approve of this game in every conceivable way. On some days, I’m convinced the game was made for me.
And, in a way, it was. Cave Story was created by the one man team of Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya. He created the game over the course of five years, pulling together everything from the banging soundtrack to the individual pixel work on each sprite. He modeled the game after the beloved titles of his youth, so, yes, that Metroid link is as deliberate as it feels. This was a labor of love by someone who adores the genre, and, yes, someone else that has those same feelings is going to feel that love. As a result, I may have never been anywhere near Pixel in my life, but it feels like he has known what I have wanted all my life (I have very simple, Metroid-based dreams).
And, while Pixel may have touched my very heart, it’s unfortunate for him that my wallet has not touched him in kind.
Cave Story was initially released as a free download. Pixel had created his magnum opus as a labor of love, and, ultimately, a hobby. So it made a certain amount of sense that he freely shared the game with anyone that would be interested. He’s got a day job, dude, don’t worry about it. In time, Cave Story grew in popularity. Somewhere around there, American game publishing company Nicalis came calling, and worked with Pixel to bring the title to Steam, Wii, and Nintendo DS. From there, Nicalis ran with the title to release it on every videogame system under the sun. Give or take a rather unique 3DS version, it is exclusively Nicalis, front and center, releasing these versions of Cave Story that are all just the same Cave Story all over again. Yes, there may be new features or quality of life improvements, but the average player likely wouldn’t notice the difference between the OG PC version and latest Switch version. And it seems rather significant that only one of those versions is completely free…
And it also seems significant that Pixel’s next game was about a poor lil’ dude that is nearly killed by an uncaring “boss” that speaks some kind of incomprehensible, foreign language…
In case you’re missing the official Goggle Bob brand complete-lack-of-subtlety subtlety here, I’m saying that Pixel created an amazing game from practically nothing, and Nicalis has been running with it for years and making a mint. And, however that arrangement works, I can safely say that I personally have not given Pixel a cent for Cave Story that didn’t also go through Nicalis.
And, as a creator myself, that scares the bejebus out of me.
Okay, look, if you’re this far into this article, I can technically say you’ve read this website in at least the most perfunctory ways. Some of you have been around from the beginning, and some of you likely just stumbled onto this article thanks to one of my more popular twitter friends. That’s okay! I’ve somehow written nearly 450 articles about individual videogames, two extensive Let’s Plays about four different games, and now two amusing (hopefully?) histories of two other videogame franchises. Taking just the FGC articles as an example here, my average essay runs about a thousand words before the lil’ “extras” section there at the bottom. That means that, assuming my math is remotely accurate, I’ve written 450,000 words about random videogames. Google claims adult books (sounds sexy) average around 90,000-100,000 words. This means, technically, if I wanted to publish my FGC articles as some manner of book, I could easily squeeze five volumes out of the project. And that’s just one section of this website! Don’t get me started on Goggle Bob’s Unauthorized Guide to Kingdom Hearts!
Unfortunately, not unlike an amazing and original videogame that unfortunately reuses copyrighted sprites, I’m sure such a project would have to be severely compromised for public publication. And GIFs! I love my GIFs! I can’t imagine some of these articles without angry hyper-realistic cats or Pac-Man waddling along. And Lord knows Disney (forever may The Mouse reign) might have an issue or two with me calling an officially licensed character an “unrepentant turd that should be boiled alive in his own festering juices” (also, to stay legally inculpable, I’m not going to name that turd as Axel). This whole website is a fan project, basically an excuse for me to justify three decades of being glued to a controller, and not something I ever thought I would monetize through something like a book.
The actual book I wrote, on the other hand, that’s a little different.
Everybody has a novel inside themselves, right? Well, mine is a ridiculous little story that has been kicking around my head roughly since I was a teenager. It sounds vaguely insane, but it’s a tale I’ve told myself while attempting to fall asleep on many a restless night. Over time, the repetition caused some mental editing and reformatting for something that might entertain another living human being, and, sometime around a few years ago, I decided to put pen to paper on the first volume. I want to say I could ream seven or so full books out of these little adventures, but I’ve got one completely written and edited by a surprisingly excitable editrix.
And she’s about the only other person that has ever read the dang thing.
I am a writer. I like writing. You know what I don’t like? Advertising myself. Selling myself. Aside from being a writer, I’m also a computer geek. Thanks to a lovely fluke of the universe, my skills are in demand, and people seem to tolerate paying me money for my services. As a weird result, (and I know some people are going to hate me for saying this) I’ve never had a legit “bring your résumé” job interview. In the most basic sense, every interview I’ve ever had was “make this doohickey work again”, and then I did, the end. While (as another weird twist in my career) I work “with” advertising, I am absolutely terrible at promoting myself. And I’m not trying to claim I’m humble or some such thing (I am absolutely the first person to ever tell someone that I’m awesome), it’s simply that I am absolute crap at conveying to someone else why they should care about something I care about (namely, again, me). I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I’ve been able to participate in a field where my skills seem to speak for me, else I would have starved to death a long time ago (or at least be subsisting entirely on only the cheapest of discount ramen).
But I have no idea where to start with publishing a successful book. And emphasis on “successful”, there! I know I could self-publish. I know I could pay Amazon to put my words out there. Hell, I’ve got a website right here, and I could put up a chapter a week for the next year. I could do that with very little editing (though it would be weird to put posts on this site without any random GIFs…). On the other hand, I could pursue a legitimate publisher or, at the very least, a literary agent. But I have no idea how to do that! Or I have no idea how to produce a submission that is at all going to separate my story from the 10,000 other submissions they no doubt receive on a daily basis. I don’t have any idea how to sell my idea, whether that be to an audience that pays directly, or a company that sells novels to keep the lights on. How am I supposed to compete when my life’s work could never get as many hits as (what are the kids into these days?) a video of myself on Thicc Tok of my ass cheeks rhythmically clapping together to Mr. Sandman (nailed it)?
But why not just give it away? I mean, let’s be real here: I don’t expect my dinky little story to become the next Harry Potter. I don’t foresee a movie franchise or television series or even a commemorative holiday in my hometown. This is a book that, in my wildest fantasies, would probably only earn me a car payment or two. I know the state of the union of the written word, after all, because I can’t remember the last time I bought a fiction novel that wasn’t based on at least one of the Home Alone films. I could easily take the Pixel route, and simply release my fandom-influenced, labor of love work for free, and see if it picks up some steam from there. What’s the worst that could happen?
Well, the last game I played by Pixel was a heartfelt shooter that certainly looks like something by the guy that brought us Cave Story…
While the last game I played featuring the protagonists of Cave Story was a slapdash fighting game that seems to exist only to bolster Nicalis characters…
And… that concerns me.
I’ve had this story in my head for decades. More importantly, I’ve had these characters bumping around my noggin for years. I’m not going to say anything so hyperbolic as “these are my children”… but… uh… Well, they’re fictional, exist almost entirely in my imagination, and they’re at least more important to me than my amiibos. And, end of the day? That’s all I have! If these bad boys and girls aren’t going to earn me a mint, then at least I still have these toys securely in my mental toy chest. And you know what they’re not doing up there? Fighting each other in a crossover title that somehow also includes Shovel Knight! That would be a little weird!
But that’s the order of the day for Quote and Curly Brace. They’ll dance to whatever beat Nicalis plays. Forever.
Yes, more than anything, this is a side effect of final boss stage capitalism. I put an extreme amount of effort into something that is unique and solely mine, and I’m not going to let it go until it can do something significant for me. Maybe I’ll make it into a webcomic (if I could only draw…)! Maybe I’ll eventually get off my butt and find a reputable publisher! Maybe I’ll actually profit off my ideas! But, in the meanwhile, I have no aptitude for finding a way to benefit from my own sweat and toil, and I’m not going to sign some devil’s bargain just to get it out there. I’ll lament that, unlike Cave Story, this work isn’t freely available to people that would enjoy it; but, by the same token, at least I don’t have to worry about my original character winding up in a Super Puzzle Fighter knock-off. C’est la vie.
It might be hypocritical, but it’s my choice.
I am jealous of the craft involved in Cave Story, but I am frightened that its ultimate fate could happen to my own creation. Cave Story is a potential dream and a nightmare all rolled into one videogame.
But, hey, at least it’s a damn fine videogame.
FGC #449 Cave Story
- System: Initially just PC, but then it got around. Options include every Nintendo console and portable going back to the Wii, Linux, and, I don’t know, probably the PSP.
- Number of players: It was initially a solitary quest, but more recent versions include two player co-op. Curly is always so helpful!
- Port-o-Call: Most versions of Cave Story are pretty much the same thing with a slightly variable translation or set of extra options. But there was also the 3DS version that reformatted the entire game into a psedo-3D environment optimized for the lil’ portable. And NIS’s Prinnies guest starred in a number of areas. It was weird! And kind of hard to judge jumps! But at least it was a slightly new adventure. And Quote gets a new hat!
- So you’re the tired cliche of being highly successful in a very objective industry, but secretly want to break into a much more creative field? Hey, I never said I was highly successful.
- Secret Confession: I think I have the route memorized at this point, but everything about saving Curly still makes me apprehensive. Every. Single. Time.
- Favorite Weapon: God help me, I love the machine gun. But then I can’t get the amazing wannabe charge beam. I kind of hate that there isn’t an absolutely best weapon for every situation, and you must make a choice somewhere. If this game wasn’t so damn good, I’d be really annoyed!
- Sanctuary: Oh, and hiding the most difficult challenges in your game behind a hidden and optional area available as part of the finale is some kind of brilliant. It completely recontextualizes the adventure, but it’s also wholly unnecessary if you don’t feel like mastering the ol’ Booster V.2. Pixel really knew what he was doing with this game, and it shows.
- What the hell is Balrog? He’s a toaster. A sentient toaster. Or a frog. But only sometimes.
- Did you know? Ballos, the absolute final boss of the game and the originator of so much misery (but not Misery), is a playable character in Nicalis’ Crystal Crisis. This seems wrong on so many levels that it may have inspired this entire article.
- Would I play again: Release it on my damn toaster, and I’ll buy it for my damn toaster. Nicalis, you know the drill.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… MOOOOOORTAL KOOOOOOMBAT! I’m guessing my robot learned about my other recent endeavors, and wants to help, too. And you know what? We’re turning it into a theme week (or two). Show up next week for an article on Mortal Kombat, and then some vaguely related articles for the next two weeks on M-W-F. Extra content! Woo! Please look forward to it!