This post concludes a series doing a deep dive into the intricate design of Cave Story. It’s a bit of a backlog, but I’d recommend reading the posts linked above before continuing.
As the second area for which the Booster 2.0 is required and the final stage before the best ending, the Blood-Stained Sanctuary does not pull punches. The first couple of rooms teach the player what the third, most challenging room will expect of them, each focused on different aspects of the stage. The first introduces the platforming the rest of the Sanctuary builds on; precise, risky movement with few safe footholds.
It is also here that the player must learn that quickly tapping the jump button makes better use of the Booster’s momentum than holding it, as the first drop and jump are nearly impossible to overcome without the technique. After the first room introduces the platforming, the second introduces the enemies that become commonplace in the rest of the area.
The final stage includes several new enemy types, the most common being the Butes, which the second room swarms with. Introducing their appearance and abilities early makes their alternate forms and the similar-looking Mesas easier to handle, because they aren’t a completely new concept.
While the Sanctuary is the secret, endgame area and is thus a steep challenge, it isn’t exclusively punishing.
The screen transition from the second room to the third respawns the hearts nearby, which allows the player to heal up a bit at the expense of time. Enemy spawning is also limited at each location, both to prevent absolute overcrowding and to prevent the player from infinitely recovering with dropped items.
The third room handles pacing in an interesting way. The Deletes, time bombs in walls that trigger when shot at, break up the sections into manageable chunks and give the room clear objectives. Each segment is about dodging the enemies and activating the Deletes to proceed. However, though the level turns about frequently, the player can’t completely trap enemies behind walls, as they tend to open up right after the player passes by, keeping the pressure on.
Fortunately, several of the stationary enemies are positioned in just such a way that Curly, firing backwards, can deal with them quite readily while the player takes care of the forward threat.
The last few points to discuss are on the bosses themselves. Heavy Press is a rather rude wake up call should the player not recognize and respond to its appearance.
Just like the other Press enemies, it falls and will crush the player if it lands on them—in this case, shortly after its health empties. If it looked different, it would feel entirely unfair. but in execution, its design implies the impending danger of crushing. Later on, after the first phase of the Ballos fight, infinitely spawning swarms of enemies come in to play the role of available player recovery, something sorely needed in the final boss battle.
We’re finally at the end of the road. Start to finish, the design of Cave Story laid out and highlighted as much as I can convey in short blog posts. Every time I play the game again, I notice more that I could take a closer look at, so this is far from exhaustive. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey. Look forward to posts taking a slightly different direction in the near future!