15 years ago, Cave Story inspired a generation
Studio Pixel's stone-cold classic may have kicked off the indie revolution
Indie before indie. That's what Studio Pixel's Cave Story was to me. Of course, to me the "indie" scene was hobbyist ZZT games, but it always existed in some form. "Bedroom coders" like Matthew Smith (Manic Miner) were ensuring a steady stream of less-than-commercial games, and the shareware scene gave rise to many under-the-radar obscurities like God of Thunder (which I've just discovered is on Steam).
Cave Story was the first major indie, though, from my perspective. And the first game that really brought "indie gaming" into my life as a tangible concept to wrestle with, a discussion to have or a scene to follow. My enthusiasm for Cave Story and its excellent fan translation led into curiosity about the state of, well, indies. I began to pay terrific attention to the free games that came with UK magazine PC Gamer's coverdisc, the likes of body horror doujin shmup Galshell, the works of Cactus such as Fractal Fighters and Mondo Medicals, all the way up to the masterful Jumper series from the creator of contemporary hit Celeste.
Without Cave Story's shockingly compelling, expertly designed bite-size Metroidvania experience, it's unlikely I would have had that spark of curiosity that pushed me into the arms of the fantastically broad gaming scene that exists today. Of course, if it hadn't been Cave Story, it would likely have been something else, but so many contemporary indie hits feel indebted to Studio Pixel's masterpiece - La Mulana, Iji and I Wanna Be The Guy spring to mind - all brilliant, all reminiscent of Cave Story in different ways. La Mulana's exploration, Iji's divergent storyline and IWBTG's love letter to classic games.
It would be disingenuous to try and claim that Cave Story was solely responsible for the rise of indie gaming. But I'd argue it was, at the very least, an extremely significant catalyst. It's also arguably yet to be bettered, but that's rather beside the point. It was and is a throwback that feels as fresh as a daisy, and it helped retrogaming towards respectability and mainstream success.