Cave Story 3D Review
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On 12/02/2011 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola
Falling somewhere between Mega Man and Metroid, this indie 2D adventure must be something to behold, right?
Only fans should bother with this version of the game. Anyone else should instead check out the game for free on the PC and see if it's interesting before taking the plunge on DSiWare or WiiWare.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but until now, I've never played Cave Story. Not for free on the PC, nor for the low price of admission on the Wii or the DSi. It's always interested me, but I just never got around to playing it. Cave Story 3D has changed that for me, but in retrospect, I don't feel as if I was missing all that much. Unquestionably, Cave Story is a solid game and that's made all the more impressive by the fact that a single man, Daisuke Amaya, created the game himself. While impressive, this doesn't make up for the fact that the game is a bit rough around the edges.
If there's one thing that Cave Story absolutely nails, it's ambiance. The translation to 3D provides for some fantastic landscapes that are engaging and beautiful, with a hint of darkness and foreboding that sets the stage for the experience. The story is actually engaging and heartfelt as well, which was quite unexpected given the pedigree of 2D games in the vein of Cave Story. You take on the role of a lone soldier, Quote, who is seemingly born into conflict between the peaceful Mimiga and the evil Doctor. As you progress through the game, NPCs die, truths of the world and its past are uncovered, and the tale of the Doctor slowly plays out. It's all very compelling, as are many of the characters you meet along the way, some of which will stick with you.
At first blush, Cave Story seems to be on par with something like Metroid. Your character has a projectile weapon, you aren't moving forward at a completely linear pace, and you can often explore the environment for various upgrades and hidden secrets. As you progress, you start to realize that the game is far more linear than you might've immediately thought. There's nothing wrong with this, though it is a bit disorienting at first. It's extremely distinct and memorable, falling somewhere between Mega Man and Metroid.
I'm sure you must be confused. I stated at the beginning of this review that Cave Story 3D didn't really resonate with me, but just compared it to Mega Man and Metroid with a memorable cast of characters and an engaging world and story. Truth is, I wanted to love Cave Story and so often it managed to pull me in; however, whenever I managed to get engaged, the game figured out how to pull me out of the experience.
Take your weaponry, for instance. Each weapon in the game can be leveled up by collecting gems that are spewed forth by defeated enemies. With each gained level, the weapon becomes significantly more powerful and can even reach a greater distance. In the case of the machine gun, you can use it to propel yourself upward by simply firing down when it has reached its full capacity (which was incredibly awesome to discover). However, get hit by an enemy twice and your weapon will be promptly dropped a level. While exploring the world, this is nothing more than a minor annoyance – in a boss battle, it's a devastating loss. More often than not, losing a level on your most prominent weapon is a bigger loss than the life taken away by the blow. If you manage to eek it out of a poorly executed boss fight, you'll have to build your weaponry back up once again. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's a frustrating aspect that you'll have to micromanage throughout your quest.
The controls aren't quite natural at first either. Quote is a bit on the floaty side and manipulating him to land exactly where you'd like isn't always easy. This can be overcome in time, so it's not a major problem – until you land in an instant death pit – that is easy to do and will happen throughout the game. Because there are no checkpoints of any sort, you'll be kicked back to your last save point, so make sure you're saving at every chance possible.
This issue is compounded when you perish in a boss fight. A number of the encounters come after a somewhat lengthy platforming segment that can be trying depending on your aptitude for controlling Quote. Because you aren't always presented with a save point before a fight, a loss can incur another 5 or so minutes of play time through a segment of the level just to reach the boss again. Dying more than once was enough to make me turn off the game and come back another time when I wouldn't mind grinding through the level again.
Like the old school SNES and NES games Cave Story is modeled after, it conforms to some of the same patterns of design. Leave a room and come back, all of the once defeated enemies are again present. It's tiresome to deal with and a convention that was rightfully left in the past. Again, the issue is compounded when you have to go back through the same areas multiple times on fetch quests, which happens often enough to become annoying. One of the worst instances had you looking through the same area for five dogs, each of which had to be picked up on separate trips. I wouldn't mind the quests if they forced you to tackle the area in a new and exciting way each time, but it's just a grind back through the same area fighting the same enemies. Accomplishing the same challenge multiple times over is not rewarding, it's annoying.
This is slightly tempered by the fact that the story takes you to new and interesting locales at a steady clip. New weapons and abilities, specifically the booster, will unlock some segments in past portions of the game that you can explore and collect things within. The pacing and construction of the quest is unique enough that it will surely turn a few heads, but it unquestionably falls short of the brilliance of something like Super Metroid.
When taking Cave Story 3D as a complete experience, it's clearly a better-than-average game, but I feel it's one that will fail to engage all players, myself included. Perhaps it's due to being on a portable platform, but it's far too easy to close the lid of the 3DS when things become frustrating and come back at a later point when you're ready to take on more. This makes it tough to get truly hooked and fully invested in the experience. Though this rendition of the game was created to reach the masses in the retail space, I think it functions as something exclusively for the fans. It provides a fully realized world from the sparse visuals of the original, as well as a remixed soundtrack to match the upgraded presentation.