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Cave Story 3D

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nicalis
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

Cave Story 3D is the easiest, toughest sell I've ever encountered. On one hand, the original Cave Story still ranks as one of the best games I've ever played and is one of the few I've taken the time to play more than once. At the same time, the original is still available on PC for free and the numerous re-releases included more content than the 3D-enabled port. Then again, it's another chance to play a great game with the added advantage of portability...

The new visuals will leave players split. I personally like the new, spiffed up 3D characters and environments. The switch over to polygons could have been a disaster; the collision detection could have been thrown off, ruining one of the game's major mechanics. Thankfully, this doesn't happen.

Additionally, the original look had a certain charm that is hard to translate into anything but polygons. How successful Cave Story 3D is at keeping the original's charm is largely up to the player. Again, I like the look, but have read just as many negative comments. I like the added depth and detail.

As for the 3D effect, it mostly adds depth to backgrounds. It's a really cool effect and gives the sense of scale. Even with the effect, I ended up playing with 3D turned off maybe 50% of the time.

The soundtrack will also leave the fanbase locked in civil war. The original soundtrack, like the visuals, had a certain charm that endeared itself to fans of the original. Along with the polygons, Cave Story 3D adds a remixed soundtrack. It's the same tunes, but with a "synth-ier" vibe. I was cool with the visual upgrade, but I'm not completely on board with the audio. Call it nostalgia or taste, but it's the same reaction I have whenever I hear a redone version of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. I'm used to hearing songs a certain way...


Gameplay:

There's nothing overly complicated about Cave Story 3D's gameplay, yet you'll end up losing a lot of time figuring out what's happening and, more importantly, what you need to do next. You play as a boy, Quote, who wakes up in a cave. He has no idea who he is, or why he's in his predicament, leaving him one option - explore the area and find a way out. He eventually encounters a group of rabbit-like characters, pulling him into a larger adventure that may yield a few answers for Quote.

Storytelling is one of game's stronger aspects. There are few long, expository conversations; instead, you'll witness a few short conversations that offer more questions than they offer. You're left to fill in most of the gaps through exploration and basic deduction. It's rare that a game actually thinks enough of the player to let them figure something out, so I have to give Cave Story 3D props for doing so.

Most of the game is spent exploring levels, fighting monsters and trying to not fall off platforms. It's a simple, almost "retro" approach to gameplay and a lot of fun. The game still retains the Metroid-like feel of the original, offering a lot of space to explore. World design is huge and offers lots of room for exploration, plenty of tricky jumps and lots of enemies to shoot. There are also a few seemingly minor choices that have a major impact on the game's outcome. The latter is a neat touch, especially when you consider how seamlessly everything snaps into place.

Cave Story 3D offers three play modes. Both Story and Classic are revamped versions of the original game. The difference between the two is mostly cosmetic. Classic keeps the polygonal depth of levels, but adds pixilated characters. It's a unique look, and as much as I like the polygonal look, I ended up playing in Classic Mode more often than Story. Data is shared between the two modes, so you can switch between the two whenever you want, which is a nice touch.

Once you complete the game, a special "Speed Run" Mode is unlocked for players who want to prove their skills. You can also unlock the option to play through the game as a Prinny.


Difficulty:

There are a few hitches to Cave Story 3D's exploration-heavy approach. You always have an idea of where you need to go, but the finer details are usually lost, causing you to backtrack through areas to see if you overlooked some out-of-place item or story moment. I've played Cave Story a couple of times and still found myself having to pull out a guide just to figure out one or two areas. Interestingly enough, I always get stuck in the same areas, most likely indicating a design problem (and my forgetfulness, apparently).

Cave Story 3D also grapples with a few save spot issues. You have to save at certain spots in the level, which are sometimes found deep within a level. Cave Story 3D is a challenge and one-hit kills aren't exactly rare, so its frustrating when progress is wiped out because you couldn't get to a save spot quick enough. I never had more than a couple of minutes to replay, though I did have to replay a few boss fights more than I would have liked.


Game Mechanics:

Cave Story 3D is built primarily around exploration. Each section is introduced with a seemingly simple objective, though actually figuring out what you need to do is a bit more complicated. Your only real guide through each area is the map displayed at the bottom of the screen. It offers some idea of what's coming up, but not enough to let you know exactly what to expect. I love games that give me an opportunity to explore and, other than the save point issue and lack of clarity on some goals, absolutely loved this aspect.

The shooting mechanic is even more interesting. I haven't done so in a year or two, but I used to assign Cave Story as an assignment in my Game Design course and have students analyze how it works. You start with a basic gun and earn upgrades by collecting yellow triangles left behind by dead enemies. You can upgrade each gun (you end up with a nice collection) up to three times, with each level-up offering more damage and range. However, each time you're hit, you end up losing a gun level, putting you at a disadvantage.

The weapon system ends up creating a really cool feedback system. You want to keep the upgrades, so you're more apt to think through situations rather than charging in and hoping for the best. At the same time, the gun levels create a sort of security blanket from death, so there are times where you may want to charge into a situation. Add in the exploration, and you've got really tight gameplay.

There's little room for improvement over the original, and Cave Story 3D doesn't attempt to "tweak" things. The gameplay makes an incredibly compelling argument for a "Must Buy," but again there's a free version out there, as well as versions on both of Nintendo's download services.

Really, it all comes down to whether or not you want a physical copy to take with you on the go. I'm a fan of downloads over physical copies, but Cave Story is a special game and knowing I can pop it into my system whenever I want is a nice feeling.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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