If you were to put Cave Story 3D in front of gamers that lived through the 8-bit era and told them it appeared on the original NES (just not in North America), you would have them fooled until they realized there was no frame rate drop when the screen filled with baddies and bullets. Cave Story 3D doesn’t just play on your nostalgia, it wraps itself up in it and reminds you of all of the great things that happened on Nintendo’s blocky grey console. Thankfully, you won’t need to blow on any cartridges in order to enjoy NIS’s gem.
Cave Story 3D isn’t the first time you’ve had a chance to play this charming adventure, but it is the definitive version. At the outset, you can choose to play with the updated sprites or the original ones, though the game doesn’t go out of its way to make the difference in those choice clear to you. Either way, you’ll be mysteriously dropped into the cave without any of the handholding that spoils today’s gamers. You learn to pick up health canisters because there is one right in your path rather than a tutorial message. Unfortunately, this mentality does obfuscate one of the game’s core mechanics.
As you acquire new weapons, each of which is upgradable by collecting glowing triangles, you’ll occasionally find that the weapon power drops. This is one instance where some guidance would have been useful as it isn’t immediately clear that taking damage saps your weapon power. The mechanic is a great one, though, making for intense boss battles that only get more difficult with each hit. You’ll spend time farming weapon power after each boss battle to get yourself back up to full strength, but it never takes too long.
Throughout the game you’ll meet interesting characters and learn about the plight that the bunny-like Mimigas face at the hands of the Doctor (no awesome scarves, bowties or fezzes here) and his henchmen Balrog and Misery, the Bebop and Rocksteady to his Shredder. I won’t spoil the joke, but for those that watched a lot of Saturday morning cartoons (and the commercials) in the 80s, Balrog’s catch phrase will elicit no less than a chuckle.
As you progress, more and more secrets will be uncovered and you’ll likely develop a connection to your character and those he meets. The story manages to feature the silly dialog of the 8-bit era while remaining narratively engaging. There are darker undertones that manage to blend well with the more lighthearted moments.
In terms of presentation, the game exemplifies the best of the 8-bit era. The visuals are fantastic in 2D but truly shine in 3D, in a way that most other 3DS games are simply unable to match. I kept the 3D on the entire time I played because it was just that good. The music deserves a place in the midi hall of fame alongside classic Mega Man, Legend of Zelda and Castlevania tracks. It’s catchy without being annoying and varied enough to give each area its own flavor.
Between the spot-on controls (I recommend using the thumbpad instead of the d-pad), charming characters and nostalgic presentation, Cave Story 3D is easy to recommend. If you’ve played it before, there are a few new things of interest, but probably enough to pull you back in unless you are dying to play it in 3D. For those that haven’t it’s a must-own. Cave Story 3D provides the perfect blend of action and adventure that embodies the days when Jason was the kid with a mutated frog and an awesome tank and not the kid that wandered away from his Dad and got lost in a mall.
Review copy provided by publisher.