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Wow, has it really been over a decade since this first saw the light of day?

The indie scene as we know it today could easily (and arguably) have its origins traced back to Cave Story, also known in Japanese as Dōkutsu Monogatari. Launched back in 2004 for the PC, the title earned the endearment of both modern and retro gamers because of its sheer scope, charm and solid gameplay. It was released for free, having been developed by a single programmer in his free time over the course of five years. Though there had been notable freeware titles prior, never before had a lone hobbyist developer treated us to such a massive game that could rival full commercial titles.

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The game sees players in the role of a robot (later revealed to be named Quote) who awakens in a cave with no memory of his past life or how he got there. Upon further exploration, he discovers that the cave is part of the interior of a gargantuan island that floats in the sky. The island is inhabited by peaceful, sentient, rabbit-like creatures called mimigas, who were once hunted down and slaughtered by humans and their robotic soldiers in a war that took place a generation prior. These unfortunate events were part of the human leaders’ obsession with finding a powerful artefact called the Demon Crown. Now a team of scientists have landed on the island and are studying the effects of a type of plant which can turn the mimigas into mindless monsters, and one scientist in particular has plans that could put the whole world at risk.

The gameplay, graphics and sound are all taken from the 8- and 16-bit eras, wrapping up a package full of Metroidvania sensibilities. It’s a mixture of platformer, shooter and RPG, and there’s plenty of backtracking, leveling up and old-fashioned frag-fests to be had. What is remarkable is the length: diligent explorers can easily lose themselves in a seven-hour campaign, which was unheard of in a freeware title of the era. There are also multiple endings and the option to ignore some boss fights completely.

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The best news is that the original game is still freely available. Point and click your way yonder to snag a copy in your language and platform of choice. If you’d prefer the paid version on Steam, which features new graphics, a remastered soundtrack and some new levels, you can check out Cave Story+‘s store page here. Either way, you owe it to yourself to experience this historically-significant gem, especially if you consider yourself an aficionado of indie titles.

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