Part of Cave Story’s charm is nostalgia. The 2D platformer meets side-scrolling shooter gameplay and pixel art makes Cave Story standout in a sea of 3D games. Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya was inspired by the games he played when he was young when designing Cave Story. You can see it in the game’s level design and hear it every time you pick up a life capsule. Cave Story 3D gives the PC turned WiiWare title a new look, but it still plays like a treasure from the 16-bit era.
Cave Story 3D, just like the original, begins with a trapped man sending instant messages via a computer asking for Sue… who you don’t play as. The game quickly switches to a robot that wakes up in a cave without his memories. Pressing B (or X) makes Quote jump. Y (or A)… doesn’t do anything yet since you don’t have a weapon. In the First Cave, you have to jump over spikes and dodge bats until you find the Hermit Gunsmith who keeps the Polar Star in a treasure chest. Blast a bat and it drops little yellow triangles you can collect to level up your weapons. Powered up guns don’t last forever in Cave Story 3D. Your weapons level down if you take too much damage. This mechanic makes boss fights interesting because Quote loses life and firepower if you don’t focus on evading enemy shots. The first boss in Cave Story 3D won’t present any problems, though!
The story unfolds as Quote interacts with the Mimiga, rabbit-like creatures that live in a peaceful village. Well, it was peaceful until the Doctor and his minions Misery and Balrog showed up. Cave Story 3D throws players into this strange word without much explanation, but if you take the time to look around the story pieces itself together. Amaya created some heartfelt moments too, which I shouldn’t spoil for newcomers… let’s just say the story is memorable. Mimiga Village acts as a hub and a teleporter lets Quote travel to different levels like a dragon egg hatchery or a desert stage where you have to find puppies. Even though Cave Story 3D is linear (you can’t jump straight to the Grasslands), areas have an open feel to them with hidden items to unearth. Life capsules are the most common, but there are certain items that alter the game’s story. It’s even possible to miss weapons or parts of the game depending on how you play Cave Story 3D.
Before I tried it on PC, friends told me Cave Story is very difficult game and I suppose it can be. There’s one particular area where Quote flies around that will challenge players. However, Cave Story 3D is as tough as you want to make it. There are three difficulty settings (easy, normal, and hard) you can select at the beginning of the game. Quote also has the opportunity to swap the Polar Star for a faster firing machine gun early in the game. Having a rapid firing gun makes the middle portion easier, but as a tradeoff it affects the game’s ending. Another item you can pick up early or hold out for changes which areas Quote can reach. These design decisions are subtle, but Cave Story 3D is well balanced.
Right, but the original game had those elements too, I imagine fans are thinking now. What’s new? A couple of things. I mentioned on Siliconera earlier Cave Story 3D has more hidden life capsules that brings Quote’s maximum life up to 100 and an extended Egg Corridor. All players will visit that level. There’s another maze-y area made for Cave Story 3D players will have to shoot through too. Other additions are secret, like the route to a certain Nippon Ichi cameo. While there are new stages in Cave Story 3D, Curly Brace mode from the WiiWare version isn’t included. Quote is the only playable character.
Nicalis remade Cave Story with 3D models, but the physics feel about the same. Quote doesn’t have floaty jumps, so the controls are still tight. The transition is only aesthetic and whether its preferred or not is something fans will probably debate. While I have a soft spot for pixels, I’ve seen younger gamers shun games because they look "old-school." Classic mode is a middle ground, which puts the original sprites in 3D levels. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to play the game with the original graphics. Cave Story 3D has some 3D effects like Quote running behind objects that pop out of the screen. I showed Mimiga Village to someone who never played Cave Story before and she wondered why Quote had to jump up to the save room instead of stepping forward into 3D space and walking on a wood beam. Most of the 3D is used to make the caves feel they have depth. Another change to the game’s presentation is Cave Story 3D has new music and sound effects.
Ultimately, Cave Story 3D’s greatest competition… is itself. Cave Story, the DSiWare version, is so reasonably priced and the PC version is free because Amaya just wanted people to enjoy his creation. That generous spirit may make gamers question the value of Cave Story 3D because as a retail game it carries a much higher price tag. I wonder if Amaya decided to sell the PC game for say $20 in the first place would that change the perceived value of Cave Story 3D?