This post continues a series analyzes the intricate design of Cave Story. If you missed them, read the first two parts here and here before continuing.
One of the most notable aspects of the Bushlands—known as Grasstown in the initial release—is the terrain itself. As a more organic area than we’ve seen up to this point, it lacks the flat, geometric terrain of the previous zones. Unremarkable on its own, until we realize that the only weapons we have up to this point fire in a straight line…directly into the slight slopes in the terrain. However, as soon as this terrain is introduced and the player is forced to traverse it as they are for a brief time, Santa offers them the Fireball, a new weapon which works particularly well on this terrain. The Critters that call it home also move in ways that the Fireball effectively counters. Nothing in the game requires the use of any specific weapon, but here the level and encounter design encourages the player to give the new weapon a go.
There are a few little things of note in the area of the big jellyfish. The next Life Capsule is visible and accessible on the way up. Some of the game’s secrets are more hidden than others, but there will still be those that lie within reach of the central path.
Additionally, the block below the jellyfish itself, directly above the platform, can be used as shelter from it. The jellyfish just bounces back and forth, a simple and understandable pattern, and the block can effectively keep the player safe from it.
This area also offers the first chance to obtain the first optional weapon, the Bubbline. While it doesn’t have quite the same opportunities for usefulness as the Fireball, the swarms of bats and jellyfish throughout the Bushlands make effective targets for its most powerful form.
The Execution Chamber, hiding place of yet another Life Capsule, also serves to teach the player that the Presses can be killed. This is an important thing to teach, as many games include crusher-type enemies, such as Mario’s Thwomps, which are impossible to kill without special power-ups. The layout of the room makes it blatant that they can be killed, and that doing so has a reward.
We had our first rematch against Balrog here as well, and he’s changed things up a bit. Technically, this is the first time we have to fight him, but his pattern maintains some similarities to his original fight, even if they’re minimal. Notably, he no longer runs around, but instead jumps around every time he moves. When he lands, he releases a burst of projectiles, which makes the fight significantly busier.
However, his difficulty has increased in a very natural way. Rather than running in circles all the time, he now has some similarities with Igor, a boss who was manageable before coming to this point. The terrain once again encourages the use of the Fireball, especially with the dip in the center.
Finally, we have the fans. Turning them back on plays a large role in the proceedings through the Bushlands, so the player is encouraged to notice them quite readily when activated. The fans directly outside the Power Room demonstrate what they look like, and offer a fairly safe place to learn how they work as well.
While some of the fans are required for progression, others hide secrets that aren’t always as apparent, such as the missile upgrade in the abandoned hut.
And that about does it for the Bushlands, the third step in our journey. Join us here again in a couple of weeks for the next leg of the adventure: the Sand Zone!