The Ryan Lambie Column: Videogames are crack

Ryan can stop playing Cave Story anytime he likes. Anytime. Just not today...

Cave Story - beguiling stuff!

Christmas may be but a distant memory now, but it still sticks in my mind for one very specific reason: it was the day Sarah, my better half, became addicted to jelly beans. It was my fault, of course; I should have guessed that buying a gigantic jar of the things for somebody with as sweet a tooth as my good lady was going to be a bad idea. Seemingly every day since that fateful morning when the wrapping came off these ‘gourmet beans’, Sarah’s been compulsively munching her way through them. When I ask if I can try one she becomes pensive, before finally giving in and handing me one of the flavours she doesn’t like.

In fairness, I’m just as bad; last week, I discovered Cave Story, a game so shockingly wonderful that I’m almost ashamed that I’ve managed to overlook it for so long – it’s like living in a house for months on end without noticing that the entire thing is made out of fifty pound notes. This game has been sitting on the internet, in plain sight, for nearly five years without my ever even hearing about it.

In case you’re as I was and haven’t heard of it, Cave Story is a PC platform game that looks as though it was programmed for the Super Nintendo circa 1991, but it isn’t. It’s the work of one utterly insane genius, a Japanese gentleman called Daisuke Amaya. Why insane? Because he slaved away on his pixel-powered masterpiece for five years, fettling and honing everything until it was completely perfect, and then let everybody download it for absolutely nothing. If that isn’t insanity, I don’t know what is.

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Insane or not, Amaya (or Pixel, as he’s otherwise known) deserves a medal; Cave Story  is a classic, pure and simple. Gamers under the age of twenty-five will probably look at Cave Story‘s cute retro stylings with a smirk and go back to playing Killzone 2 or something, but for anyone old enough to remember the days of 8- or 16-bit gaming, Pixel’s platformer is the video game equivalent of your mum’s home cooking – it’s comforting, and makes you feel like a kid again. It’s like all the great games of your youth, but new and different. There’s a bit of Metroid here, a smattering of Castlevania there; it really is brilliant. Oh, and it’s as addictive as crack.

I find myself playing it when I should be doing something else – like eating, or going to work – and when I do prise myself away from it, I’ll hum the theme tune to myself, or remember some amusing moment – like the hidden passage where you can find one of the character’s frilly underpants – and titter to myself like an idiot.

If you hadn’t noticed (and you probably haven’t), I was supposed to write this column about the ‘dangers’ of addictive video games. I was supposed to quote big chunks of celebrity shrink Tanya Byron’s report, where she talked about video games and addiction. I was supposed to follow that up by talking about some American doctor called David Walsh, who also said something or other on the topic. 

I would have told you about Gore Verbinski, the director of Pirates of the Caribbean, who is planning to make a movie about an obsessive online gamer. Then I’d have talked about game addiction treatment in China, and the clinics they’ve set up to treat the condition.

After that, I would have wrapped everything up with some humorous comment about how games are harmless in moderation, like anything else – it’s when we play them to the exclusion of more sociable activities that the problems begin.

But I can’t say any of these things now, because I’ve spent far too long waffling on about Cave Story, and if I don’t stop typing soon then you won’t want to read any more because I’ve droned on for too long and you’re bored. Besides, I haven’t played Cave Story in over half an hour now, and I’ve got the music stuck in my head, and I keep thinking about collecting Jellyfish Juice, about Whimsical Stars and Curly Brace. I keep thinking about the little cartoon rabbits called Mimigas and Professor Booster and a giant suitcase called Ballrog. I keep thinking about the giant magical flying island where they all live happily among the clouds.

Not that I’m addicted or anything. I can stop playing any time I want!

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Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.