A new year is upon us, and with it arrives certain clarification regarding Nintendo’s latest handheld. Being a tech freak, I had to get one as soon as it became available. Now, however, almost a year later, I feel nothing but regret. Christmas brought about a successful commercial turn for the system, with Mario’s belated appearance being the main driving force behind sales, but the 3DS still hasn’t hustled its way into my heart. The biggest titles I looked forward to were plagued by delays, but instead of building excitement, I simply forgot they ever existed and sought comfort elsewhere. Put it this way, Ocarina of Time 3D is one of the systems most successful titles… that basically proves my point. A price cut can only do so much for a handheld console without any original games.
Needless to say, the 3DS is in trouble.
Over the horizon looms the PS Vita, and it’s becoming more and more difficult for Nintendo to ride the waves of its past successes as they fade to ripples. Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 are now burdened with keeping the console afloat, and the last thing the handheld needs is another re-release with a shiny “3D” sticker on it. One could excuse this for the time being however, provided the said port or re-release was of exceptional quality. Take Cave Story 3D for example, a good port of a fantastic game that, despite being cheaper on the Wii’s online store, doesn’t establish itself as a mere cash-in. In fact, it should be considered as an attempt to bring a relatively unknown gem into the physical retail world where it can be discovered by a wider audience.
Five minutes in, and any hardcore gamer would be pleased to see the fair amount of work that’s gone into this port to optimise it for 3D. It’s still got that Castlevania-like retro quality, but the graphical upgrade from the older versions is a welcome addition, adding just the right amount of depth without over doing it. However, being a game with indie roots, Cave Story didn’t receive critical acclaim based entirely on its charming visuals.
It’s a side-scrolling RPG/Adventure mish-mash that brings together many different gameplay elements to forge its own identity. For example, the 2D platforming is (of course) reminiscent of Super Mario Bros., while the use of projectile weapons on enemies reminds me of games like Contra and Metroid. Throw in some hefty exploration and treasure hunting from Zelda and that’s Cave Story in a sentence. What’s most impressive however, is how these elements are combined so successfully to give Cave Story its own unique flavour.
In surprising contrast to the cutesy visuals is an unexpectedly deep storyline that will catch many off guard. It starts off a bit boring to be frank, but as our amnesiac protagonist slowly becomes aware of the cavernous depths of the mysterious floating island, you’ll find yourself absorbed by one of the most expertly realised plots on a handheld system. After the introduction of the endangered and oh-so-cute Mimigas and the evil “Doctor” hell-bent on exploiting them for his own sinister needs, you could be forgiven for thinking it too trivial for an allegedly deep game. The craft however, is found within the air of confidence only present in a game that was originally developed for no financial or commercial impact. It has no target audience, and is almost sexless in its innovation; throughout your entire experience with Cave Story 3D, you’ll feel spoilt by how many chords it strikes on the sweet-spot, helping you forget the money you shelled out for it.
So, Cave Story is finally on the shelves, and its reincarnation could not have been more pleasing to the fans. Unfortunately, this latest edition stays faithful to the originals let-downs as well as its successes; most of the ground dwelling and airborne enemies you’ll encounter in the Cave will damage you if you so much as brush a pixel with them, and a few of the booby traps and pitfalls are technically invisible until you’re dead. Nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error, but the game is challenging enough without this merciless treatment. On the other hand, as enemies get stronger, so too will you by gaining experience points to improve weapons and increase your overall health. Hang in there though, it would be a shame to miss out on one of the gems of this generation just because you can’t hack the pace
It’s hard to believe that an initially freeware title has evolved into a retail game worth £30, but it’s actually true. It’s beautiful to behold but frightening on a grander scale that Cave Story 3D, an enhanced port of an enhanced port, is now effectively among the top five games for 3DS. A great excuse for a purchase if you haven’t experienced it before, and a real treat for those who crave another hardcore romp through a near artistically perfect gaming universe.
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