Developed over the period of five years by the talented Daisuke Ayama, Cave Story is still considered one of the greatest indie titles of all time, having recently been ported to both the Nintendo Wii and DS by independent publisher Nicalis where it’s now available via download. Rating just as well as its original PC counterpart, this latest version of Cave Story sported updated visuals while retaining the same simplistic mechanics and gameplay.[drop]The next step for Pixel’s cult classic will have riled a few die hard fans to begin with, as it was announced that NIS would oversee the development of another Cave Story port but this time for the 3DS. Since the platform launched earlier this year we’ve seen a number of “3D” re-releases, but, with only one or two of them being a success among critics and consumers, it’s easy to see why so many are apprehensive towards re-used material being pushed for Ninty’s latest handheld. In short, Cave Story certainly isn’t a casualty of the “3D” cash-in movement; the dedication and diligence of the development team permeates throughout what is still a great platformer.
Without much in the way of an introduction, Cave Story kick-starts with the awakening of the game’s silent protagonist, a young robot soldier carrying nothing but a pistol. Somehow he finds himself in a seemingly endless network of tunnels inhabited by a race of humanoid creatures known as the Mimiga who are being continually attacked and kidnapped by the “The Doctor” and his assistants.
It’s thin on the ground, especially if you’re not paying too much attention, but Cave Story’s narrative has been torn apart and picked at endlessly by masses of forum-goers, the game’s characters immortalised in extravagant works of fan art. If you read into the scraps of backstory littered around the game you will be able to piece together a somewhat engaging tale of mystery but for the most part your attention is likely to be focused on the gameplay.
Reminiscent of classics such as Metroid and Castlevania, Cave Story plays exactly like your heyday arcade platformer, relying heavily on level design to engage the player. Aside from being able to leap small distances you will also have access to a pool of weapons which expand as you progress through the game. With no meta-game objectives or essential side-questing, Cave Story boils down to a continuous gauntlet, your success depending on how well you can read your opponents and which weapons you decide to upgrade.
Upon gunning down enemies they will either drop health or XP, the latter filling a gauge for whichever weapon you happen to have equipped at the time. Once full, your weapon will power up (level 3 being the cap) but there is a twist: taking damage from enemies will deplete your XP gauge and if under sustained fire your weapons will devolve, forcing players to think before jumping into a firefight.[drop2]Apart from boss battles, of which there are many, Cave Story 3D is also punctuated with the occasional puzzle or quest but this is where the game starts to trip over itself. In contrast to the high octane bouts of running and gunning, these mundane missions will have you scouring environments for the same hidden items before returning to the quest giver and eventually progressing to the next area. It’s repetitive, annoying and harms the well-established pace, only made worse by constant enemy spawns and the fact that you will be diving into Cave Story walk-throughs every other minute to work out what to do next.
With the transition to 3D, it goes without saying that Cave Story is even more of looker than the recent WiiWare adaptation. In contrast with the original there has been a complete overhaul, with a number of environments having been re-worked completely and everything given a current-gen level of polish. With that said, the actual use of the handheld’s 3D tech detracts from Cave Story instead of enhancing it; the graphic re-design already introduces a noticeable sense of added depth, the 3D slider tweaking to such a degree that it can distort the player’s perception of distance which has a negative effect in regards to both platforming and shooting.
It may be one of the most refined platformers of the modern era but for most gamers, especially those who weren’t devoted to the original, even the most profound of visual buffs aren’t enough to re-launch Cave Story into the gaming hall of fame. With age comes maturity, and unfortunately, the fermentation of some poor design choices.
- Tight controls, solid platforming gameplay.
- Visual overhaul with some added content.
- An intriguing, if somewhat hidden, narrative.
- Distinct retro soundtrack.
- Pace is broken by the occasional mundane fetch quests.
- Available for free elsewhere.
- It’s very easy to lose the thread with no sense of in-game guidance.
- 3D effects can hinder gameplay.
Despite being one of the better games for the 3DS, speaking objectively, Cave Story’s history and impact on small gaming communities has no real weighing on the final product itself. There is a great deal of fan service at play, but for the everyday gamer who may have completely missed Pixel’s original masterpiece Cave Story 3D is a solid yet flawed platformer, if not a little over-priced too.