Review: Cave Story (3DS eShop)

Spelunker

Stop us if you've heard this one. A guy by the nom de plume of Pixel made a really great game all by himself and released it on PC for free in 2004. It's called...

Oh, so you have heard it. We thought so.

In 2012, Cave Story needs no introduction. It's not an unknown quantity. In fact, not counting this eShop release, publisher Nicalis has put the game out on Nintendo platforms three times in two years, each with their own little twist to somewhat justify a new flavour: It's on a console! It's portable and it's in 3D!

No, Cave Story is no longer rare. However, it does indeed remain a rarity — it flawlessly captures the joy and wonder that makes this medium so endearing. In Pixel's opus, charm, challenge and eccentricity are built atop joyful exploration and pleasingly rock-solid mechanics — everything from managing weapons to jumping is a delight. Our hero's quest to save the rabbit-like Mimiga from a deranged doctor is riddled with memorable characters and moments; along with its numerous secrets and multiple endings, Cave Story is an utterly fantastic game worth experiencing twice or thrice, and just feels at home on a portable.

It's tough to begrudge Nicalis for wanting to continually tinker with the game, even if it doesn't get the total package right all of the time. This version, though, is pretty much everything you would want it to be. Cave Story on the eShop is essentially a portable version of Cave Story+ released on PC in 2011 — namely, with enhanced widescreen visuals; the original, fan-favourite chiptune soundtrack; and packed with bonus content and modes. There isn't anything ground-shakingly amazing and new, though, so bonuses like Curly Story, Boss Rush, Hell Time Attack and the Wind Fortress area may already be familiar if you have experience with any of Nicalis' releases. With all of them under one roof now, we dare say that it's the most complete version of Cave Story yet.

From the get-go, though, it's apparent just how much cleaner this eShop version looks compared to its DSiWare forerunner. Players can toggle between the original 4:3 screen ratio or a far more enjoyable widescreen view that greatly opens up the world, which might be incentive enough to upgrade from the DSiWare version if you are lucky enough to live in a territory where that was released. There isn't any of the severely redrawn art of the WiiWare version, either, preserving the game's original pixel look and charm, while colours are more vivid and sprite detail more apparent, appearing much like how our rose-tinted glasses probably perceive the 16-bit era. Worlds away from 16-bit technology and our old CRT monitors is autostereoscopic 3D, which has been proven to work wonders for 2D titles like Cave Story. The effect is rather pleasing, although having stared at the 2D version for years it can be tough to mentally reconcile what should and shouldn't be in the forefront, leading to certain areas coming across as a little goofy.

Perhaps also tough to reconcile is the notion of buying yet another version of Cave Story, especially when you could potentially have two other versions playable on this very hardware in your possession. Plunking down for yet another version may not sound very appealing, and understandably so — apart from the slick new presentation, there ultimately isn't anything new. What is here, though, is definitive.

Conclusion

Cave Story may come from humble PC beginnings but it feels most in its element in this slick portable package. Nicalis has put together the definitive Cave Story compilation, but without any earth-shattering changes or additions it's ultimately just another way to play an all-time classic on familiar hardware. Granted, that's still a rather excellent thing, as the game is so pleasing to play that we're more than happy to delve into it yet again, and again.