Impressions: Cave Story & VVVVVV

Two classic independent games for the Nintendo 3DS.

Cave Story

Cave Story is often seen as one of the landmark titles of the early indie gaming scene. Developed by one man (Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya) during his free time, Cave Story was first released on personal computers as a freeware title in 2004. Over the years, it has found its way onto many different gaming platforms, most notably on Wii in 2010 and later on Nintendo 3DS in 2012. It follows the story of a young boyish character named Quote as he explores the titular cave and discovers the warring conflict between its native Mimiga creatures and the mysterious individual known only as “the Doctor.”

The game itself plays like a 2D adventure title in the vein of Metroid, where exploration and combat take precedence. As Quote digs deeper and deeper into the cave, he will come across many different weapons, among them a machine gun and the bubble blaster. These weapons can be upgraded by collecting little yellow triangles that are dropped by defeated enemies (for example, the bubble launcher can be upgraded to shoot swarms of bubbles that protect Quote and shoot razor-sharp needles). This upgrade system pushes players to take risks and defeat enemies rather than merely avoiding them, though carelessness could result in Quote losing his upgrades and even dying.

Where the similarities between Cave Story and Metroid diverge, however, is when it comes to how the games are structured. Cave Story is very much an action-oriented title, with tricky platforming and swarms of enemies that  attack from many angles. Where Metroid feels empty and lonely, Cave Story feels very alive. Each area is littered with unique obstacles that can easily overwhelm you if you are not careful. The key to success in Cave Story is to use the right weapons at the right times, and to calculate enemy patterns in a way to use them to your advantage.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Cave Story is its heartfelt story. Without spoiling anything, the game does a great job emotionally connecting the player to Quote as a character as well as the conflict at hand. The many characters Quote meets throughout the game each have their own distinct personalities, giving the game world a sense of vitality and place. By the end of the game, you will begin to feel for the characters and the choices you have made throughout your playthrough.

Cave Story is easily one of my favorite games of all time, and it is easy to see why. The game stands the test of time as a classic title that, even for a decade-old game, still looks, sounds, and feels great. I simply cannot wait to see what Pixel has in store for us next.

Cave Story is available for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop today.


Developed by Terry Cavanagh (who later went on to create Super Hexagon) and released on personal computers in 2010, VVVVVV is a 2D platformer adventure game in which the main mechanic involves flipping gravity up and down. Players control Captain Viridian as he tries to save his crewmates (Violet, Victoria, Vermillion, Vitellary, and Virdigris) after their ship crashes due to a malfunction in the teleporter.

Although the game’s singular gameplay mechanic may sound simple, it is used in ways that involve much cognitive thinking and a whole lot of patience. While VVVVVV takes place in one huge world, it is divided into six main levels (one for each missing crew member and one final level) as well as two intermission stages (one after the third level and the other after the fourth). The levels can be tackled in any order the player chooses, though some levels may be very difficult to master the first time through. Each level has its own unique take on the gravity-switching mechanic by integrating new features like trampolines or warp points. This gives the game much more variety than initially meets the eye.

The most striking thing about VVVVVV is its presentation. Stylized as a game from the Commodore 64 era, its art style is minimalistic and unique, yet somehow manages to fit well with how the game world was crafted. Speaking of the game world, VVVVVV is hard. Practically every room has a checkpoint due to the fact that you will find yourself dying repeatedly. Thankfully, respawning is instant, and so the game feels more like a test of skill than some unfair disaster that only serves to get in the way of the actual experience. That said, you can easily find yourself stuck in a particular room for many minutes without making any progress, which can oftentimes be infuriating.

Apart from saving your fellow crewmembers, VVVVVV offers rewards for exploration. Some of these rewards may seem insignificant – like discovering a sad elephant, for example – but most of the time players are rewarded with a trinket. There are 20 trinkets in total, most of which require players to attempt some advanced maneuver in order to retrieve them. Trinkets unlock various in-game bonuses, including minigames, music samples (which are excellent), and more secret areas.

Although the main game is only about three to four hours long, the 3DS version features extra modes and an additional 18 new worlds created by various other popular independent developers. From a purely value standpoint, this game is a steal. VVVVVV is a great indie game that every gamer should check out.

VVVVVV is available for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop today.


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