Cave in the USA (version 2.5)
22 May 2011
Updated 10 November 2012

Many genres from the golden age of games have almost died off completely (i.e. Beat 'em ups and Adventure games), but Shoot 'em ups continue to beat the odds and see regular releases on current gen consoles. At the same time, there's a very small number of developers who currently cater to this niche market. Ask anyone who the best one is and you'll probably get one resounding answer: Cave. Unfortunately, Cave is very Japanese, with its only office located in—surprise, surprise—Japan, and they have historically focused on Japanese gamers.

Thankfully, it's been getting easier and easier to enjoy Cave titles outside of Japan. But gaining access to Cave's offerings isn't very straightforward. There's everything from iPhone titles, iPad ones, games that play on both, as well as Xbox downloads and even some region-free Xbox 360 discs. This guide will help you balance all your options and get a grip on where to start building your library of Cave titles.

iOS ($4 to $14)

You may have heard the rumors about how the iOS platform is providing independent developers with a very accessible and easy way to bring games to market. Case in point, Cave has quickly become one of the best game developers on the entire platform, thanks to phenomenal ports of their popular shoot 'em ups as well as new original titles. If you want to quickly and affordably delve into Cave's software library, you'll find that the iPhone or—better yet, thanks to its larger screen and iCade potential—the iPad, offer incredible bang for your buck. Games range from $4 to $14, and—while the upper end of prices seems crazy high in this era of mobile free-to-play games—you'll soon realize that it's still a hell of a deal compared to the alternatives.

Bug Princess
Bug Princess 2
Bug Princess 2: Black Label

Even at these low prices, perils abound. Cave has two bad habits with their iOS marketing: 1) Making a million different versions of the same game (Espgaluda II has six different versions, varring from smartphone to arcade to HD), and 2) Adding subtitles (i.e. Black Label, Blissful Death, Resurrection, Maximum) that make it confusing about whether you're getting expanded content for the original game or a new game entirely.

Bug Princess is mercifully straightforward—at least in terms of cross-device compatability. All three versions are optimized for both iPhone and iPad. The catch comes with the differences between Bug Princess 2 and Bug Princess 2: Black Label. The latter is more expensive ($13.99) but includes a revised scoring mode that makes it more approachable to beginners while at the same time offering hardcare players new challenges. There are no discounts for buying both versions of Bug Princess 2, so you might as well just purchase the definitive one.

DoDonPachi Resurrection
DoDonPachi Blissful Death
DoDonPachi's subtitles actually do represents three different games (Resurrection, Blissful Death, and Maximum). This time it's device compatability that makes life difficult; there are two different versions of Resurrection (HD and non-HD), Blissful Death is only available for iPhone, and Maximum works equally well on both iPhone and iPad. Amusingly, DoDonPachi's different titles summarize Cave's voyage across different devices and experiments with compatability. If you're new to bullet hell games, you're probably best off starting with Maximum. Not only does it reach out a little more to beginners, but its compatability across tablets and phones is a great bonus.
DoDonPachi Maximum
Espgaluda II

Espgaluda II's various offerings can make your head explode. Not only do you have different versions for iPhone and iPad, but Cave went crazy with pricing variations. Let's start cheap; for the iPhone you can buy the Smartphone version ($3.99) or Arcade version ($3.99) or both packaged together ($7.99). A comparable pricing scheme exists for HD versions that work on both iPhone and iPad for $6.99 each or the $13.99 combo.

Were you to go for maxium value across devices, you should purchase:

Bug Princess
iPhone / iPad
Bug Princess 2: Black Label
iPhone / iPad
DoDonPachi Ressurection HD
iPhone / iPad
DoDonPachi Blissful Death
iPhone only
DoDonPachi Maximum
iPhone / iPad
Espgaluda II HD
iPhone / iPad

No doubt, grabbing all six of the titles above isn't cheap and will cost over $60, but then again, that's about the price of a single top-end Xbox360 or PS3 game today. Since the lone iPhone only game is a bit of an outlier, here's a taste of the awesomeness that can be found in DoDonPachi Blissful Death:

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC

DeathSmiles is special because it's a horizontal shoot 'em up, whereas Cave normally takes the vertical approach. However, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC takes an even more interesting direction. Granted, there's still an emphasis on shooting, but here we have a bona fide run 'n gun, as you can see in this trailer:

Xbox 360 U.S. Releases ($20 to $30)

Thank you Aksys Games and Rising Stars! At long last, Cave's shoot 'em ups are seeing full releases in the United States and Europe. For Deathsmiles, there's both a regular and limited/deluxe edition, which includes a console face plate and soundtrack CD. The international release of DeathSmiles represents an anomaly in the Cave library. Though Japan is known as land of the shoot 'em up fans, reveals some surprising sales data for DeathSmiles:

Rest of World

That's right! The Americas represented, buying twice as many copies as Japan and as many as all non-American sales combined. Europe did very well too, nearly matching the Japanese appetite for bullet hell shoot 'em ups. One can only hope that Cave looks at this data and releases more titles in the Americas and Europe...

DeathSmiles (U.S.)
DeathSmiles (PAL)

...and perhaps Cave got the message, because within a year Rising Star Games did another full release of a Cave shoot 'em up in the Americas and Europe.

Akai Katana (US)
Akai Katana (PAL)

Xbox 360 Downloads ($10 to $30)

Everyone loves instant gratification, and if you're set on immediately playing a Cave game at home on the big screen, then Guwange is the best place to start for a cool 800 Microsoft Points. You should definitely get a taste for Cave's sort of game before shelling out the big bucks for the region-free import discs.

With DeathSmiles II X, Cave has started a new digital experiment, offering an entire original disc worth of a Japanese import in downloadable form. That means you will find some Japanese text in this title (as if you need to read when you play a shoot 'em up!) and that it has not been localized (some would say corrupted) from its original form. This new approach does not come cheap. Forget Microsoft points, the Xbox GUI prints it in real money terms: $29.99. It's way more expensive than the typical XBLA download, but when you weigh it against the cost of Japanese physical releases that are region-free, you'll see that 30 bones is a pretty attractive price.

Technically, you can also score Akai Katana ($15) through the Games on Demand service, but given the collectability of Cave games and the fact that for some strange reason digital copies of console games rarely seem to be a bargain when physical conuterparts exist, you're probably better off grabbing a real copy of Akai Katana.

DeathSmiles II X

Xbox 360 Region-Free Imports ($50 to $100+)

There's something to be said for playing a Cave shmup in HD on your wide-screen TV. While these titles have only been released in Japan, Cave was kind enough to make them region-free. Not only is that a boon for U.S. gamers, but it means that anyone anywhere in the world with an Xbox 360 can fire up these games. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, there is one little catch. These games are very collectiber (read: expensive). Expect to pay at least $50 and some of them regularly break $100. The first two have platinum editions, so those versions tend to be a little cheaper.

DoDonPachi Resurrection (Deluxe Edition)
Mushihimesama Futari Ver 1.5
Espgaluda II: Black Label
Muchi Muchi Pork & Pink Sweets

First off, Mushihimesama Futari was released as Bug Princess 2 on iOS. DoDonpachi: Resurrection and Espgaluda II also saw iOS releases, which only leaves Muchi Muchi Pork & Pink Sweets. Not coincidentally, the latter is also the most expensive region-free release of the bunch.

Cave is a special developer. If you're a fan of the shoot 'em up genre, stop reading this and buy one of these games. You don't have to splurge on the region-free ones. Do you own an iPhone or iPad? Do you own an Xbox 360? If the answer to either one of these is "yes" then there are some really affordable digital downloads.

Sure, there are other more hardcore options, like chasing after those region-free Japanese releases, but that's never going to help Cave appreciate that gamers outside of Japan are so interested in their titles. So start with the downloads, making your regional location obvious, and if you can give Aksys Games or Risings Star Games some business as well, that would be fantastic because they are heroes for publishing Cave games outside of Japan and they deserve the support.