I had seen CaveStory exist only as Fan art and mentioned on gaming websites with great praise but little info. Then I decided to take the big step of typing "cave story" into my google toolbar and discovering the fansite. You can download the game, complete with the english translation. Its a small file and a quick install for a game that kicks so much ass, you will not regret it.
Studio Pixel, which is just one japanese guy (known as pixel) made cave story over the course of 5 years, and it was released a few years ago for the price of $free.99 to the much appreciated gaming public. Attending college, and being broke as a joke, makes it difficult to keep up with games the old fashion way (by playing them) and leads me to read previews and reviews as the only way to experience most of the current gen. I don't even own any current gen consoles, not even my DS, if you consider the DSi to be its replacement.
The gameplay of CaveStory is similar to Castlevania or metroid and it manages to accomplish some of the most engaging platforming levels i've played outside of my early childhood. However this is not the only area the game shines, it creates memorable characters that develop in a deceivingly simple plot, has some amazing boss battles, and the soundtrack does that funny trick where you don't notice it until you catch yourself humming it later. The game has garnered so much attention that it has coming to the wii as downloadable content, thats pretty amazing for freeware designed by one guy.
I've also been playing two other free games, Battlefield Heroes and Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine. Battlefield Heroes is fun because it takes the core of the Battlefield franchise's game mechanics (heavy on the vehicles and the choice of player classes) but makes it extremely accessible for casual play, namely because it's free, the rounds are short, and the game doesn't take itself very seriously. The cartoony graphics aren't done as well as TF2, but then again, its free and still in beta. My only gripe is that it doesn't give a good sense of accomplishment after you kill (should i say frag?) another player. It's extremely easy to hit someone, even at long range, but everyone has very large amounts of health and even headshots or tank blasts won't take down someone in one hit, getting a bunch of kills stringed together while protecting a capture point does feel pretty good though. Also, i think because its in beta, or to push the casual aspect, you launch the game from their website, and it auto finds a server for you, which can sometimes lead to bad results, but its usually fine, you can also save favorite servers, but you can't choose any right from the get go.
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine is an mmo spinoff of one of my favorite game franchises, so naturally i had to try it out. The game basically plays out exactly like one of the console games, which is a post-apocolyptic demon filled pokemon more or less. The Tutorial missions suck, and the translating is spotty, but if you wanna catch'em all its a pretty good time. My favorite part, just like in the console games, is conversing with demons to get them to join you and then mixing them together to see what comes out, its a lot more exciting then it sounds. It kinda makes me wonder why breeding simulators like monster rancher never made it big, I'm sure that gameplay hasn't been explored to its full potential.