Despite a thriving indie culture, the majority of today’s games are the result of a careful collaboration between multiple design teams. While this type of design methodology allows developers to seize the complexity and power of contemporary hardware, it may also dilute the aspirations of a single, prodigious developer with a ‘design by committee’ mentality. Understandably, the adaptation of Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya’s 2D freeware classic, Cave Story, into a stereoscopic iteration for Nintendo’s 3DS portable had purists concerned.
Thankfully, a close relationship between Amaya-san, Nicalis, and publisher NIS America have staunchly preserved Cave Story 3D’s heritage. Although the transition from sprite-and-tile to polygonal visuals can often be problematic (as evidenced by Sonic 4), the title’s physics and ambiance remain intact. Clearly, Nicalis’ experience porting Cave Story across WiiWare and DSIware platforms have assisted, allowing this graphically augmented adaption to capture all the charm and deftly-crafted emotion of the original game.
Unlike the popular practice of giving players a taste of a fully powered-up protagonist, Cave Story 3D clings to its NES-era inspiration, tasking player’s with commandeering a robotic hero who can do little more than jump. Admittedly, the title’s first fifteen minutes does little to foreshadow the action ahead, thrusting the amnesiac lead character into a war between bunny-like creatures called Mimaga and a megalomaniac doctor. Just as players begin to develop an empathic relationship with some of the world’s denizens, the game begins dispensing its arsenal of upgradeable weaponry, transforming the title into a satisfying Metroidvania-styled action-platformer.
Unlike most titles which steadily disperse an armory of static offensive devices, Cave Story’s assembly of a polar star pistol, machine gun, missile launcher, fireballs, blades, and bubble weapon constantly fluctuate in effectiveness. Gathering small bouncing triangles left by dispatched foes will level-up most weapons, while any progress comes undone with a collision with an enemy. Later a firearm offers unexpected help when downward fire extends the span of the resolute robot’s jump.
Without proper fodder, Cave Story 3D’s weapons wouldn’t feel as gratifying. Pleasingly, the majority of foes exhibit a keen awareness- usually attacking in distinctive methods when the player nears. These morsels of artificial intelligence help make battling game’s respawning creatures consistently engaging, obliging players to adopt different techniques and armaments against each type of opponent. While most creatures are readily defeated with a speck of strategy, bosses require a bit more diligence- requiring gamers to perceive patterns and display a bit of patience. Fortitude and a bit of good fortune when choosing decisions at the game’s branching plot points will open the title’s Hell areas. Here, players will unearth Cave Story 3D’s supreme challenge as well as battle the cartridge’s resilient true final boss. For players not weaned on a steady diet of 8 bit classics, the game can present a number of hurdles. Fortunately, the addition of a multitude of life capsules hidden in each stage’s alcoves help soften the shock. Nevertheless, having a FAQ nearby is beneficial when directions from a NPC are a bit too obtuse.
Graphically, the game’s transition onto the 3DS was handled with fastidiousness. Whether players choose the game’s Story Mode with its polygon-based protagonist or Classic Mode which restores Cave Story’s sprite-based characters, the title’s charms are evident. Backdrops are particularly pleasing now, with a look which recalls the detailed textures and emotive environments of most contemporary platformers. Sonically, Danny Baranowsky’s (Super Meatboy, Gravity Hook) remixes retain the chiptune charm of Cave Story’s original PC iteration, while skillfully giving each tune a revisionist hook.
For gamers who appreciate the action platformer, Cave Story 3D comes recommended. Although some might balk at the notion of playing $40 to own a stereoscopic version of a reasonably-priced downloadable diversion, the title’s lengthy expedition and visual overhaul are hearty enough to placate players looking for a sturdy challenge. Ideally, a purchase would send the message that there is still room in this industry for a creation crafted from a lone, inspired auteur.