Cave Story is a game I ran across while watching a series of videos on YouTube covering indie games. Over the last year and a half I've become fond of somecallmejohnny's reviews and the games they've lead me to play. Cave's Story's initial appeal was pretty much summed up to me in how it was compared to the older, side scrolling Metroid titles. In being a huge fan of Metroid series (my favorite Nintendo franchise) this obviously caught my attention, but I didn't immediately buy into the premise. However, while the video focused on the downloadable versions of the game the 3DS version was mentioned briefly before the end.
Not long after I watched Johnny's video I ran across a copy of Cave Story 3D at a local game store. I thought it was pretty cool running into a copy but as I had already spent more than enough money on video games that day I passed on it. A few days later while on my computer I saw an ad from amazon that displayed the new and used prices for the game. Needless to say I was a little stunned... thirty to thirty five dollars for a used copy of a non-recent game - and nearly sixty new - really caught me off guard, especially when the copy I saw was only twenty-two. So like any bargain hunting gamer I made it a priority to get back to that store and nab the game before it was purchased by someone else. Luck was on my side as it was still there but nothing could prepare me for the lesson Cave Story would soon instill in me.
Originally released for the PC after five years in development, Cave Story takes most of its inspiration from the games of yesteryear. Long before stupid phrases like AAA gaming started coming out of the mouths of gamers and developers games where much simpler and, in a nut shell, Cave Story is a celebration of that. Again, the obvious comparison people make here is old-school Metroid, but the game takes several liberties with the formula. One such difference is Cave Story is much more linear than Metroid yet this this isn't the one that really matters. The main way Cave Story differentiates itself from the era it reflects upon is actually referenced in the title. Unlike most older games, there is much more dialog present here. The story doesn't ever reach epic proportions and it's not infallible but it's a lot more than what comparable games have to offer. At the center of this story is Mr. Adventurer (the manual's place holder name for the game's protagonist) and Curly. It's not hard to form affection for these characters but the game's success in this area also presents the player with its main failure. Like similar games Cave Story opts for the "silent protagonist" theme that is often seen in many role-playing games. Now this isn't to say this scheme can't work in a game, but with the game having so much dialog it just feels unnatural for Mr. Adventurer to have no lines. Because of this the main character never becomes anything more than a nameless avatar even though he does have a name. This is a real shame as given some more development the character could be even more likable. I know some will consider this nitpicking but after giving this some real thought this is the only thing that really holds Cave Story back from being one of my favorite games.
This isn't to say there aren't other problems for the game to overcome but they all seem like child's play compared to the above situation. The small fetch quests can become slightly annoying, sometimes the camera fails to keep up with the action when underwater jet streams are involved and the game isn't too clear at informing the player which hazards are lethal but again every other qualm I have is simply squashed by what is done right.
Still, as much as I like Cave Story 3D there is the fact that I feel it is a somewhat misleading product and that people really misrepresent it. As the name implies the game has gone from being sprite based to being fully polygonal (outside the characters) while still playing out on two dimensional plane like the original. The thing is while the graphical update is good looking for the most part, it's not really necessary. Cave Story is the game it is because of its gameplay which means the previous versions of the game are not made obsolete by this version. If you're hesitant to put the money down for this game (and I don't blame you considering the cost) give the PC original or the Nintendo DLable versions a try. The second thing about the game's graphical appearance is - contrary to what I've read in countless reviews - I don't think the 3D provided by the 3DS screens is put to good use here. The 3D is used at odd intervals and is not consistent throughout. Granted I'm probably spoiled from the 3D in games that had much more financial backing but to see so many people talk about it only to have it appear to the level it does within doesn't really justify its use. The last thing that is somewhat troubling about Cave Story 3D is the fact that the manual seems to have been completed prior to the game itself. The manual makes reference to several options that are just not in the game. On top of that is the lack of explanation of the modes of play that do exist. I still do not know what the difference between story mode and classic mode is to this day.
Problems aside I can safely say I'm glad I picked Cave Story 3D up. While it mainly serves as a reminder of a simpler time to dismiss it because of that is just the most unfortunate thing you can do. The game has definitely acted as a ad-hock introduction to the indie development scene to me and I look forward to looking into some more of these games that fill the small voids left behind by the big guns on the block. It is somewhat of a shame the game loses out because it takes some of the old-school practices to heart but thankfully none of those are the elements that relate to its gameplay.