Review by Sam the Samurai

"An accessible and addictive handheld roguelike from Konami"

Cave Noire is an obscure gem of a game released early in the Game Boy's lifetime, only in Japan. I'm not sure why it never got a western release, and it's a darn shame it didn't, because it's a fine game and there's nothing else on the Game Boy like it to my knowledge. It takes the concept of a “roguelike” game and tweaks it to make it both less frustrating and more suited for portable gaming.

For those of you who aren't familiar with roguelikes, I'll give you a rough description of what the games are like. They typically involve the player character roaming a randomly-generated dungeon with a turn-based gameplay system. When your character takes one step or performs one action, all enemies in the dungeon may do the same. The objective is usually to find the way out of the dungeon by finding the exit to each floor, until you reach the end. Items are of utmost importance in a roguelike, so even if the exit can be quickly located, sometimes it's best to explore the dungeon for whatever else there is to find. You have to be careful, though, because most roguelikes implement a “hunger” system which allows your character to starve to death if they take too many turns without eating food. When your character's hunger goes down, though, their HP goes up (which I assume is supposed to mean that they're digesting the food).

Now, Cave Noire borrows largely from this style of game, but some key differences exist. For example, the game is broken down into four “quests” that you can play at any time, which include 10 levels within each. The four “quests” give you different objectives. For example, quest 1 requires you to slay a certain number of monsters, while quest 2 requires you to collect coins. The higher the “level” of the quest, the more will be required for victory. The levels start out very easy, and gradually become more difficult, providing the player with a fair learning curve. You will make your way through a random dungeon, descending to lower floors as many times as you wish, and an exit will become available once you meet the criteria to beat the level. What happens in one level has no effect whatsoever on the circumstances of the next level. This is unique because most roguelikes involve one long quest, while Cave Noire is basically a series of 40 very short ones. This may turn off some fans of the genre, but at the same time it reduces the frustration factor when you lose because there will never be a floor where you have to invest multiple hours to have a shot at winning. Since the levels are fairly short, it makes for a good portable game that can be played in spurts.

Another big difference between Cave Noire and most other roguelikes is the absence of a hunger system as previously described. Since your character can't starve, you can move around as much as you want with no consequence. However, this also means that you won't restore HP from walking around, so that makes avoiding combat a bigger part of the gameplay in Cave Noire. Unless your objective is to slay monsters, you generally have no good reason to pick a fight with the risk of losing HP. There are many different monsters in the game, each of which has their own style of movement.

Not surprisingly, items are a huge part of the game. You can hold up to eight at a time, which includes equipment (swords, shields, and luck charms). Although your character has stats, he or she (you can play as either gender) cannot level up and must find equipment in the dungeons and pick it up in order to gain stat boosts. There's a nice variety of items in the game, most of which help you avoid directly fighting monsters in some way. Many monsters in the game are too powerful to be fought head-on, so you always need to be prepared to bail yourself out if you find yourself in a situation where it's necessary. Inventory management is important, particularly in one quest where you must collect orbs which are otherwise useless in order to win.

As in most roguelikes, the dungeons in Cave Noire are randomly generated to a point. There are certain rooms which you will see many times with small differences that may include which and how many monsters are present and where the exits are. You'll never find yourself in quite the same dungeon layout twice, which is the important thing.

The biggest flaw with Cave Noire, in my opinion, is the fact that you cannot save your game in the middle of a levels. Of course, the levels aren't terribly long, but it would have been even easier to play the game in short spurts if you were able to suspend at any point and shut the system off. The hardest levels in the game can take more than 15 minutes, maybe much more depending on the speed of the player. Another flaw is that the game is not terribly long, although that's to be expected of a Game Boy game. Replay value isn't very high, although you certainly can give yourself self-imposed challenges to get some more mileage out of the game.

Cave Noire doesn't have a whole lot of text. A fan translation of the game exists, but it's not really necessary in order to play the game. Every item you get is represented by an icon alongside its text, so it usually is easy to figure out what everything does. Purchasing the cartridge along should cost less than $10, and a complete copy certainly would not cost much more than that. With such addictive and accessible gameplay, Cave Noire is feels just right for the Game Boy and is easy to recommend to fans of the system or genre.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/22/13

Game Release: Cave Noire (JP, 04/19/91)

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