Having fallen into a strange cave in an unknown world, a small robot quickly comes to grips with his surroundings. Everything is weird and unnatural-looking. Not only that, but there are things trying to destroy the metallic contraption, which has been designed to look like a young boy. As he makes his way through the damp, dark and dingy rock cavern, its resident bats and blobs go on an angry offensive. Luckily, a hole to a new area becomes visible, allowing the programmed child to drop down into a warm-looking village. Though, things aren’t as cozy as they look, despite the luminescent glow radiating out of lit lamps and glowing windows.
Upon dropping into the village and its cozy confines, the unnamed heroic robot notices a skirmish and its anger-filled results. It seems that a young outsider has also come to the area in recent times, with baggage and issues fitting in. Thus begins the player’s inaugural journey to help sort things out by easing tensions and getting into a locked house. If that was the end of it, this review would turn into a rant right now due to a lack of content. However, that certainly is not the case here. Once the starting quest comes to a close, a new, world-engrossing one begins. This new objective kicks off after a kidnapping mix-up occurs, leading to a lengthy adventure in stylized fashion.
What is written above is not the beginning of a new novel or anything like that. Instead, it’s a description of the opening sequence from Cave Story 3D – a remastered and handheld version of the popular freeware platform action game. Originally developed by one man (Daisuke ‘Pixel’ Amaya) over five years, its retro styling and fast-paced action are both heading to portable means. Adding intrigue to interest is the fact that the entire game has been given a full makeover, to allow for 3D viewing support. Combine all of that together and you have one of the Nintendo 3DS’ most interesting releases yet.
The fictional tale that unfolds from the Cave Story 3D cartridge isn’t a happy go lucky romp in a strange world. In fact, it’s nothing of the sort. You see; a nefarious megalomaniac doctor has discovered a way to make the game’s floating island world his. In this mad scheme, all of the varied landmass’ bunny-like inhabitants would be under mind control, thanks to a peculiar red flower and its terrible effects. Limited to monotonous thoughts and repetitive working motions, opinion and personality would leave the land instantaneously.
While playing through Cave Story 3D, it’s hard not to notice the nods to classic titles like Castlevania, Super Metroid and Super Mario Bros. This game’s design features elements from each one, including the precision-requiring platforming from the red plumber’s adventures, as well as the difficulty found in a Belmont castle stormer. Pixel‘s lovingly crafted, retro-feeling adventure is difficult and unforgiving, meaning that its enemies aren’t afraid to pack a punch. They’ll swarm you with dizzying array, making it important to get rid of them as soon as possible, while never forgetting to make a perfect jump onto the next platform. Failure to do either one will result in a game over, as spikes dot the landscape, found in-between some created platforms. It’s you against the creatures, with the ability to jump and a neat chance to take matters into your own hands with cool weaponry.
Moving from left to right and back again sometimes, players get to traverse through a set of unique and interesting environments. They fall into some basic categories such as grass, sand, fire, water and tech. Although calling them by those names does sound a bit standard for a side-scrolling platformer, the worlds feel alive, unique and interesting. During the player’s first time through, each one will present a new challenge, bringing forth some sort of new gameplay element to get used to. Hidden life force upgrades and secret doors dot each landscape, though quite a few are only available when a jet thruster becomes an inventory-slotted best friend.
At the onset of his unexpected journey through thick and thin, our well-oiled hero has just one trick up his sleeve: A laser gun of sorts. This high-tech weapon becomes quite handy throughout the beginning portion of the game, being used to take out all sorts of heinous foes. Shooting enemies that are close to your child-like avatar becomes just as important as making well-timed jumps. Thankfully, as the foes become bigger, more plentiful and extra diverse, the player’s arsenal does the same. Its debut beam gun can be traded for a machine gun later on, which is a great help. Though, most will want to use badass weapons such as the fireball spewer, the powerful rocket launcher and some incredibly sharp throwing swords. Each one works best against specific enemies, adding in a bit of strategy which is never forced.
Every slain enemy drops one of two things: Either a heart or some yellow triangles. Easily mistaken for experience points in an RPG-lite experience like this one, the yellow cones actually affect the arsenal’s stats as opposed to the main character’s skills. Collecting a certain amount of them with one weapon equipped will upgrade it. This can be done twice, allowing for an extra-powerful attack from that specific device. Though, it doesn’t last forever. If you’re hit, weapon upgrade experience is lost, giving extra reason to avoid every odd creation the floating island possesses.
Throughout its rather lengthy, several hour-long campaign, Cave Story 3D only requires the use of three buttons. Of course, this isn’t taking the circle pad or directional pad into account, as those are both a given. One button is required for both of the game’s two main mechanics: Jumping and shooting. The third allows for quick cycling through your list of weaponry, making it easy to change to something special on the fly. All of this projectile-filled action takes place on the 3DS’ top screen, though the bottom one factors in at the odd time. It’s utilized for quest-based inventory swapping and the portrayal of each world’s map; that is, if you’re able to find the map add-on hidden within one of the game’s main worlds.
Going into this experience was something I’d been looking forward to for a while. Having never spent any time with the inaugural PC release or any of its ports, the only impressions I had of the game were based on others’ opinions. Having the chance to jump into a game that I’d heard a ton of excellent things about was exciting. Thankfully, Pixel and his friends at Nicalis did an extremely good job with this three-dimensional port of a two-dimensional fan favourite. It’s an absolute blast and a cartridge-based gem. Though, this jewel does have a couple of minor scuffs that prevent it from being a perfect specimen.
Playing through this game from start to finish over the course of a couple of days brought with it feelings of wonder, amazement and frustration. Yes, the last one is correct. Cave Story 3D is tough on all three of its difficulty levels, never fearing adding frustration to its players’ lives. Growing up in the eight and sixteen-bit eras, I had no problem bowing down to a challenging game. This penchant for one hit deaths (spikes and falling objects) will frustrate casual gamers, though I still recommend that they give this one a shot because of how fun and addicting it is. Just prepare for something that will take a while to beat, with more of a challenge than most titles that have recently been added to the market. Sometimes difficulty is good, though it’s also something that needs to be noted in a write-up like this.
In a game like Cave Story 3D, precision-based jumping is of the utmost importance. As noted previously, a failure to land perfectly can have dire and frustrating consequences. Luckily, the game’s jumping mechanics are sound and easy to get used to, although I wouldn’t call them perfect. There were a few times throughout the experience, where I cursed the game for sliding my robotic avatar to his point-based doom. This issue popped up on occasion, but it was never prevalent or game breaking. The best thing to do is save often, in order to prevent having to restart from a far way back if you do fall. This is the only detraction I can find when it comes to the core gameplay experience found within this cartridge. The only other minor qualm I can groan about is the utilized touch-screen inventory system, which could be a bit more user-friendly, requiring one touch equipping as opposed to button-based text cycling.
Aesthetically, Cave Story 3D is a treat. It looks phenomenal on the Nintendo 3DS and its vivid top screen. The action is fast, fluid and crisp with only the odd bit of slowdown when water is present. Every area of the game is detailed and varied, with great use of colour and earth tones. There’s an interesting cartoon style employed, with hints of realistic design work. Granted, switching to the game’s optional two-dimensional sprite view mode tends to make things feel more cartoonish. That viewing option became my personal favourite, showcasing highly-detailed 2D sprites amidst 3D backdrops.
Packing its digital bags and making the move to Nintendo‘s much-talked about three-dimensional handheld was a great idea for this game. Its use of the device’s extra-dimensional viewing capabilities is top-notch, rivalling everything else the system has to offer at this time. Not only does the experience look great as a whole but, moving the slider all the way to the on position opens up the game world with a great amount of added depth. Text overlays, enemy hit point decrease notifications and environmental elements pop off the screen with regularity. The folks behind this port need to be commended for going the extra mile in order to make Cave Story 3D a fully immersive 3D experience, which actually benefits from the technological option as opposed to piggybacking off of its notoriety.
Adding extra incentive to play through this title over and over again is its great chip tunes score. The original Cave Story has had its retro soundtrack remixed by none other than Danny B – the man behind the music in Super Meat Boy. His fast-paced, techno-esque score is a treat to listen to throughout the entire game. Since there is a lack of voice acting to be found within, it becomes more of a focal point than usual. Complementing its old-school digital sounds are some quality effects that bring the experience to life.
By now, you know how I feel. Cave Story 3D is a phenomenal game that takes full advantage of its new digs. If you’re a fan of classic gaming, chip-tunes or side-scrolling platformers, it’s one you absolutely must check out. The folks behind its re-release onto the Nintendo 3DS need to be commended for a job well-done, as this cartridge has become a must own. Debuting as a passion project developed over a five year period, this is a gaming experience that acts as a love note to the classics. Its colourful, pixellated language is just what the doctor has ordered for core gamers who own Nintendo‘s highly-touted device. Don’t miss out on this epic adventure, filled with spelunking, side-scrolling action and beautiful visuals.
Cave Story 3D was released on November 8, 2011. This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.