With the explosion of retro and indie games, it's hard to believe Cave Story has never been ported to a PlayStation console. Can Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya's first major follow-up Kero Blaster fill that void?
In Kero Blaster, you control a cute but deadly frog that packs a serious punch. He works at a company called Cat & Frog Inc. where he acts as the company's "master of Custodial Sciences" which means that he's quite good at cleaning up the enemy riff-raff that is currently overwhelming the world. Similar to Cave Story, levels and characters in Kero Blaster have a decidedly retro feel. Kero Blaster lags behind Cave Story a bit when it comes to more intricate pixel art and while I had no issues with the art style, its simplistic nature may turn off some modern gamers. However, everyone should be able to enjoy the upbeat, excellent retro soundtrack.
Kero Blaster is a sidescrolling shooter where you'll spend most your time blasting away enemies which come in all shapes and sizes. With a little practice, you should be able to get past most of them without taking damage. This is good because to start out, you only have two hit points before you're dead. Like in Cave Story, every time you hit an enemy, it shows how many hit points you took away from them. This is a nice touch and especially effective when you acquire and upgrade your weapons so you can see the increase in firepower.
You start out with a simple pea shooter weapon that's fairly weak but able to reach a fair distance. By beating the first handful of levels and their end bosses, you'll be awarded a few additional weapons and abilities including a wide-reaching fan attack and a powerful flamethrower. Some weapons are more effective against certain enemies so you'll generally find yourself swapping weapons for specific situations. For example, the bubble gun launches small bouncing blue bullets that are affected by gravity. This is actually an extremely useful feature of the weapon, allowing you to rain down bullets on any enemies that are on lower platforms than you.
Each weapon as well as your hit points can be upgraded by spending coins in the Cat & Frog store that pops up at the midpoint of most levels. Coins are collected from vanquished enemies and can also be found in cleverly hidden treasure chests and safes. You can also refill your health bar and buy extra lives in these shops but I found myself spending all my hard-earned coinage on the upgrades.
Kero Blaster's structure differs quite a bit from Cave Story which placed a significant focus on exploration. Instead, Kero Blaster is structured more like a Mega Man game. You have three lives and limited health with which to complete a level and beat the boss. If you die once, you'll be brought back to the beginning of the screen you're currently on and if you lose all your lives, you'll need to replay the entire level again. Fortunately, you won't lose any of your coins or purchased upgrades if you have to start over.
There is a touch of platforming added into the mix but it ends up being a bit of a headache at times. Controls in the air are a little floaty and the jetpack you unlock about halfway through takes a while to get used to. Since platforming sections are generally the only times you can die instantly (upon falling into a bottomless pit), they're definitely the most frustrating.
Kero Blaster isn't a terribly long game as it features only seven levels that can be completed in 2 to 4 hours. Fortunately, there's a second quest called Zangyou mode that is substantially different to the original and well worth a playthrough. All of the levels maintain the same names and art style but they have been completely remixed to be more difficult and feature completely different enemies and layouts. It reminds me of the original Legend of Zelda where the overworld of the second quest was the same but the dungeons were all brand new. Just like the original Zelda, I wouldn't consider Kero Blaster fully completed until you beat both standard and Zangyou modes.
This new mode also features a completely different but equally bizarre story. It's significantly tougher and adds a lot of platforming areas that can be quite frustrating. Upon completing it, you'll unlock the final mode, Omake Mode. This mode functions a lot like New Game+ where there are more and tougher enemies but you get to keep your upgraded weapons.
I don't anticipate that Kero Blaster will have the kind of staying power that Cave Story has but it's a satisfying and challenging sidescroller that retro gaming fans will definitely appreciate.
- + Satisfying weapon upgrade system via the Cat & Frog store
- + Challenging boss fights
- + Wonderful soundtrack
- - Super-simple art style may not appeal to everyone
- - Floaty platforming controls
- - The main campaign is rather short