I Wanna Be the Guy: very hard independent game. Pokemon Quartz: very bad independent game. Is there a very good independent game? Yes, it’s a sizeable list. I’d argue for Cave Story’s inclusion on the list.
Cave Story is a PC game (as are most independently made games that aren’t hacks) that was made in 2004. It was made by Studio Pixel, which is the pseudonym of a single Japanese programmer, over a 5-year period. He released it as freeware online. He made no profit on it until it was remade as a Wiiware game (obviously for the Wii). I find this makes Pixel an amazing person, in addition to his awesome game.
Enough about Pixel, what about his game, how is it, what’s it like? It is a mix of Castlevania and Metroid, games that Pixel enjoyed as a youth. The game is an exploration platformer. There are items to collect in order to advance the plot and a variety of areas to go through. There are not an excessive number of collectibles, just life capsules for more HP and missile containers for more missile capacity, but that’s more than enough to make it challenging. You have a good amount of areas that you need to traverse to get through the game and each one is unique. The controls are simple and there’s not much to say about them. Your weapons in this game are an intriguing aspect. You have 5 weapon slots but there are 10 weapons, you acquire many weapons throughout the game, but for some weapons, you have to trade other weapons and items. Weapons have levels that determine their strength. You get weapon experience by picking up yellow crystals dropped by enemies. You lose (yes, lose) weapon experience by getting hit by enemies. One example of the level progression is in the first weapon, the Polar Star. At level 1 you shoot a short range, weak single beam. At level 2 it is two beams, doubling the power and the range increases a bit too. At level 3 you have a wide beam that has 4 times the original power and a range of half the screen. Differences in power between levels often vary a lot and in a few instances you do not want your weapons at the highest level.
Then there’s the story. The game is fun and well made in its own right. The story brings it up to the level of a great game. You begin knowing absolutely nothing about what’s going for you start the game as a robot in a cave. As the game progresses, you discover that you are on an island floating above planet Earth and the dominant species on the island are the Mimigas, sentient bunnies. You quickly learn of the villain, the Doctor http://tvovermind.zap2it.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/tardis_doctor.jpg (no, not that Doctor) … http://media.strategywiki.org/images/5/57/Cave_Story_Doctor.gif (THAT Doctor). Pixel writes a compelling story. You care deeply for his characters and by story’s end you want to Falcon Punch the Doctor. Like any good villain, The Doctor has minions. His two minions are Misery and Balrog. Misery is a pretty normal minion, follows orders and everything, but there is a side of her she keeps hidden and gets revealed in the game. Balrog, …, Balrog is freaking hilarious. And he has kick-ass theme music. Another nice aspect of the game is that there are 3 endings. A bad ending that doesn’t tie up any storyline questions. A good ending where main plot threads get tied up. Then there’s the great ending that explains a great deal of things, including the backstory of the villains. This final ending is very difficult to unlock, as it requires many things and some of these requirements are difficult to figure out. This ending changes the final dungeon, making it more challenging, and adds another dungeon at the end of the game with a true final boss. This final dungeon is called the Sacred Grounds (aka Hell) and is very, very difficult. You will feel accomplished if you beat it. Only this bonus dungeon reaches levels of frustration remotely similar to those of Nintendo Hard, Platforming Hell games.