One of the most beloved video games of all time is Cave Story, a labor of love by one Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya. Developed over the course of years, it was initially released for free, and eventually ported to consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and WiiU later.
Basically, if someone wants an example of a passion project that turned out amazing, you go to Cave Story. It’s pretty much the best freeware game of all time.
It took a while, but Pixel eventually released Kero Blaster, his next title, to a Western audience through a digital download, and on November 11, it hit Steam. I bought it, and beat it last night.
Fans of Cave Story will be happy to note that Kero Blaster is really similar to it. You jump, shoot and platform to kill enemies, complete stages and defeat bosses. Along the way you get money that can be used for permanent weapon and health upgrades; unlike Cave Story, you unlock four weapons as the game progresses, and each can be upgraded three times.
The game also differs in that it uses a traditional lives/Game Over system, which can be really unforgiving. Each hit you take docks you one heart from your meter, and you start out with two. After all your lives get expended, you start at the beginning of a level with all the money you collected still intact. To an extent, this means the game is grindable.
Unless Game Over-ing, you save your progress each time you enter a new room, and will spawn at the beginning if you die. The game mixes modern mechanics with challenge that I think gamers are looking for these days; Kero Blaster is unforgiving in Boss patterns, but it’s really rewarding when you clear it.
It’s not really the Dark Souls of platformers, nor is it just unfair like I Want To Be The Guy or Kaizo Mario levels.
Like Cave Story, the art style and the music are top notch. There’s a decent amount of exposition by characters that feel like they have personality despite minimal graphical complexity and chances to speak. It’s a fun, silly game that doesn’t have too much of a plot to it, but it doesn’t feel neglected.
Where Kero lacks is its length: you can beat this game in about 3 hours, including the grinding it may take to beat bosses. After finishing the game, you can open up a New Game+ mode with three collectibles to find in already-existing levels and a Boss Rush, but besides that the replay value will likely be taken up by Speedrunners or people looking to break the game.
For $10, this might be something that’s best left on your wishlist to wait for a sale, but supporting it means supporting one of the best philosophies in gaming: make something good, put your heart into what you make, don’t take your audience for granted and don’t be afraid to be weird. I’m cool supporting that in Pixel, because despite Kero Blaster not being revolutionary, the work he put into this and Cave Story (the latter over five years) seems worth rewarding.
Maybe that’s me mythologizing him a bit, but I think in this current age of gaming it’s healthy to examine that builds loyalty and how we respond to it. For me, Pixel’s story is one a lot of people can learn from, and his work ethic puts mine to shame.