There were few who played the initial PC release of Cave Story after its 2004 release and weren’t immediately charmed. The game, a one-man project from Daisuke Amaya, had an endearing aesthetic, challenging Metroidvania structure and characters just strange enough to be memorable. Oh, and it was freeware, so that didn’t hurt.
We’ve seen a few commercial downloadable releases, but Cave Story 3D is the first time it has found its way to a physical retail release. The same great platforming goodness is here, as protagonist Quote wanders around, collecting items and shooting enemies. He’ll encounter the same rabbit-like Mimigas, have the same incomprehensible interactions with the rectangular Balrog and die the same large amounts of times.
So what’s new? For the most part, it’s the visuals. Everything has been overhauled into 3D polygons to take advantage of the 3DS’ strengths. The team kept the physics and platforming identical, but while you go along you’ll see the surrounding atmosphere of the cavern setting. It’s well-done, as each area is interesting and has its own feel, while still being recognizable as the place it has always been. Is it better than the original’s Pixel pixel art? We can’t help but feel a bit hesitant about the new direction. Want those sprites back, though? There’s a mode that brings them back, but retains the 3D environments.
Also thrown in is a new level for high-level players and a mode that lets you play as a Prinny. (As far as we can tell, this doesn’t change the mechanics anyway. It’s purely a visual swap.)
Cave Story is a great game. With this 3D version, though, we find ourselves thinking that each change impressed us with how it almost didn’t make the game worse. It’s not faint praise. The 3D world is almost as charming as the original. That’s impressive. The switch to polygons almost doesn’t make the platforming harder. That’s also a feat. We’re just having trouble recommending a game that makes valiant attempts to fix things that weren’t broken. The DSiWare version of the game can be had for much cheaper and is arguably a better product, and heck, the original PC game’s still freeware.
As it is, it may be a treat for fans to experience the game in a new dimension, but first-time players may enjoy themselves less. It’s a shame, too, because Cave Story 3D‘s a lot of fun. If only Pixel had gotten it less right the first time.
Pros: Cave Story is really fun, the 3D works well
Cons: Bye, pixel art charm… we’ll miss you