Cave Story is back, and this time in the third dimension.
I had heard of Cave Story, but had yet to play it. The game was first released on the PC in 2004, and eventually made its way to WiiWare and DSiWare. Cave Story 3D brings the game to the 3DS with both a Classic Mode and a Story Mode. Both modes support 3D visuals, although the Story Mode does more than just add depth to the background, it actually alters character models and other objects to be 3D, giving the game a significantly different look.
No matter how you play it, Cave Story is a great looking portable. I have spent the majority of my time playing the Classic Mode, and about 75% of the time in 2D mode instead of 3D. The 3D mode does add a nice layer of depth to the backgrounds, but understandably, not a lot else. I found that 3D mode did make the game just a little harder to play, and certainly more uncomfortable after a certain period of time compared to playing in 2D, but that's more or less just a fact of life with the 3DS.
Cave Story 3D keeps not only the original 2D-only experience intact, but adds 3D support for it, as well as including a 'full blown' 3D Story Mode. I like that NISA didn't remove the original, but included it and only added to it, making this release the most definitive yet. The soundtrack is also remixed, and while I haven't heard the original Cave Story soundtrack, what's offered here in Cave Story 3D is damn good. In all honesty, the music is some of the best and most fitting that I have heard out of any handheld game in a long time.
So the presentation quality, both the old and the new that Cave Story 3D brings, is great. The controls work very well with the analog stick or the d-pad, although I recommend the analog stick. There are a lot of tight jumps to make, especially in stages like Labyrinth, and the feedback from B and X, the two jump buttons, is ideal. I still manage to slide off of small platforms when jumping onto them at times, but then again I've never been a great platformer.
Overall, Cave Story is a pretty straight-forward, old school style of 2D platformer with lots of action. Development was thought out and executed over the course of about five years, and it's very polished because of it. Gameplay consists of lots of running and jumping onto ledges and various platforms, all the while using projectile weapons to zap your enemies. Weapons include the Polar Star, which is a basic pistol, a machine gun, missile launcher, fireballs, even a secretive bubble-based weapon that is easy to miss.
I really liked the upgrade system for these weapons -- all enemies that you kill release these little pickups that fall and bounce around the game world. If you can get to them within about ten seconds, you will pick them up and a meter, in the left corner of your HUD, shows you how close you are to
getting to the next level of that weapon. The weapon upgrades are noticeable, and very powerful, but they aren't permanent. This is because your weapon upgrades act as sort of a thin coat of armor, and you lose the XP you have gained on a weapon by taking damage while wielding it. It's not too hard to earn back of course, but you will immediately notice the downgrade and may have to alter your strategy a bit to compensate.
In terms of ammunition, certain weapons have unlimited ammo while others have a cooldown timer while another has a finite amount of ammo that must be replaced by killing foes or finding item pickups. The terrain and enemy types, not to mention the sudden boss fights, will have you switching weapons up at a regular pace. Switching weapons is done by tapping Inv on the lower screen (assuming you were in Map mode, which is a really handy 2D block view of the world) and then using the directional controls or your finger to select the icon of the weapon you want.
In addition to the platforming action, there are some adventure or RPG elements too, in that you must talk to NPCs and solve some simple puzzles or do some basic hunt and gather quests. These compliment the fast/twitch reaction gameplay very well, although they do create cause for some backtracking which can be annoying due to respawned enemies that appear when you leave and comeback to an area or anytime you use a save spot.
I found the story and characters to be interesting from the first few minutes of play right up to the end. In brief, and yes I normally do talk about the story first in a review, your character wakes up alone in a cave with no memory. You encounter strange characters of another species and soon get involved in their struggle against a bizarre doctor who wants to use the otherwise peaceful inhabitants of this cave
world in his dark experiments. You are also trying to get to the surface, all the while trying to figure out who you are and how you got there in the first place. I glossed over a lot of the detail there, intentionally, because the story is really something to enjoy, and more importantly, discover for yourself.
Additionally, the story-telling is great and makes this game difficult to put down. I did have several occasions in which I was temporarily lost or didn't know where to go next, however, which caused some stoppages in play. On a few occasions I broke down and pulled up a walkthrough after stumbling around fighting respawns for a half hour. Rather than having missed doorway or path completely, my issue ended up being just not seeing and interacting with all of the objects in the game world. That is a particular gripe I have with the game: knowing what items can be interacted with -- and the near pixel-hunt precision that you must have when standing next to said object to interact with it -- could have been better and easier on the player. It's not a dealbreaker, but a nuisance nonetheless.
One other nuisance that reared its head from time to time was the save system. Sometimes you save after a boss fight, go through a cutscene, and then onto another area before you can conveniently save again. Instead of restarting at the start of the new area upon dying, you go all the way back to your save game. That can be pretty annoying as you'd imagine.
But, despite a few issues, Cave Story, and specifically Cave Story 3D, is an excellent game that I have been thoroughly enjoying in both Story and Classic modes, in both 2D and 3D. I would honestly consider it one of few must-haves of the 3DS library to this point.
To the summary...