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Cave Story 3D (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for Cave Story 3D on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The story about how a single man, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, designed a PC game all on his own over the course of five years during his free time, has been heard countless times on the Internet since the original release of Cave Story in 2004, as a freeware game. Since then, the masterpiece of an old-school game has been ported to a large array of pieces of hardware. Still as a free to download game for the Korean homebrew handheld GP2X, as well as the PSP (also an “unofficial” homebrew release), and then as commercial releases on WiiWare, DSiWare and Steam (the latter in the form of Cave Story Plus). All these releases share mostly the same look and feel, save for some upgraded tile graphics in the WiiWare and Steam versions, as well as some minimal exclusive content depending on what version you play. All of these releases still remained much the same experience at the core. That was until the announcement of a completely remastered fully 3D version for the Nintendo 3DS, and we're about to find out how this latest outing differs from its brethren.

Cave Story has the player incarnating a tiny robot who can't remember who he is or what he is doing there, exploring the inside of an island floating in the skies, meeting its inhabitants, the Mimiga, as he goes. As it turns out, a group of scientists from the surface of the earth are there, as well, to study the Mimiga and the island. However, one of them, referred to as “The Doctor” seeks to use a special red flower found on the island to use on the Mimiga. The flower has the power to make the Mimigas who eat them go berserk and turn into monstrous giants with frightening destructive power. So the little robot who befriends the Mimiga people will try to help stop The Doctor's evil plans, finding out more about its own identity in the process.

The action is strictly a 2D affair. Despite the 3D graphics, which were in 2D in all previous versions, the scene is viewed from the side and still involves a lot of platform hopping, just like in a Mario game. The emphasis on exploration is quite strong, not unlike the classic episodes in the Metroid series, though the areas you will explore are far more linear with fewer branching paths.

The island is inhabited by many non-playable characters that the player can converse with either simply for progressing through the game and advancing the story, or just to find out additional background information on your environments, the story behind the island and its inhabitants, or even your own identity. The script is written quite well and leaves a feeling of mystery in the air at all times, making the adventure all the more interesting and the story that much captivating. Originally written in Japanese, the PC and homebrew versions had been made available in English thanks to fan translation. However, the English script used here is the same as the WiiWare and DSiWare versions, in which some items and locations are named differently.

Screenshot for Cave Story 3D on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

As progress is made, the little robot will collect all sorts of interesting items, like keys to open doors, a map system, a jet-pack with limited autonomy, or even some of the NPCs' own lost possessions, which you'll want to bring back to them to get them to provide help in return. These kinds of fetch quests add a pleasant RPGish feel to the game which makes for a thoroughly rewarding experience. This is reinforced by the fact that the health bar can be increased by collecting Life Capsules, not unlike obtaining heart pieces and heart containers in the Legend of Zelda series.

Another important part of your adventure will be fighting enemies, and this is made by collecting weapons. Each weapon shoots in a different way. The initial weapon, the Polar Star, acts as a simple handgun; the Fireball shoots fireballs which hop along the ground a couple of times before extinguishing themselves; the Machine Gun, if shot downward, will make you hover in the air, making platforming sequences that much easier, etc... All weapons have infinite ammunition, except for the Missile Launcher.

The interesting catch with the weapons in Cave Story is their experience system. As enemies are destroyed, they may leave behind some hearts that replenish your health, missiles to replenish that supply of ammunition, or most importantly, Energy Crystals. These act as experience points which are added to the weapon you are currently holding as you pick them up. Most weapons, with only one exception, will increase in power as more levels are gained. Each weapon requires a set number of Energy Crystals to increase in level. The minimum power is level 1, and is maxed out at level 3. However, being hit by enemies makes you lose not only health, but also experience to the weapon you're currently wielding, meaning that avoiding being hit and constantly collecting Energy Crystals to keep that weapon's experience level as high as possible are primordial. This is the most defining aspect of the gameplay in Cave Story, and the most recognizable.

Screenshot for Cave Story 3D on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Collecting new weapons when you encounter them isn't compulsory, though. In fact, you may very well skip some of them and find out that this modifies the story to make some other weapons available which couldn't have ever been collected had you picked up another one before. This ensures that every playthrough of Cave Story may be approached differently.

Not only that but other choices you make along the way may also influence how the story unfolds a bit, opening up the possibility for multiple endings. This will have you try out the game multiple times to try and see what differences you can make happen, although discovering where those choices can be made may prove difficult without resorting to using a walkthrough or asking for help.

The major difference in this 3DS version is obviously found in the graphics. Although the WiiWare version, along with Cave Story Plus on Steam (for Mac and PC), offered the possibility to play with higher resolution tile-based 2D graphics, the overhaul here is far more significant. Everything is now made in polygonal 3D, although the overall level design sticks as closely as possible to the original, meaning that everything that once was accessible in the game still is. These new graphics add a wealth of fresh new details which make the whole thing all the more credible. However, the downside to this is that the higher level of details means that some platforms which could originally easily be made out among the rest of the scenery blend more with rest of the surroundings now, making them harder to distinguish in some occasions. Fans of the original won't have too much problem with this if they remember which platforms to hop on to reach certain areas, but this might make some of the hardest platforming sequences even harder to apprehend for newcomers.

Of course, being a 3DS game, a stereoscopic 3D effect was added, as well. Although it doesn't do anything to improve the gameplay, it makes the whole scenery far livelier. However, you might want to restrain from putting the 3D effect to its maximum.

Screenshot for Cave Story 3D on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

In certain occasions, some elements in the foreground added to this 3D version will stick out of the screen too much, and this may induce a slight sense of sickness. This didn't occur to your servitor here with the effect halfway up, though.

The soundtrack has been completely remastered, unlike the “updated” soundtrack found in the WiiWare version and Cave Story Plus (although it seems that the remastered soundtrack was made available in the latter, as well, through an update). Some of the original tracks are definitely better rearranged than others, but newcomers won't notice and will still find the music to be damn good. The original music is, however, not included.

The Curly mode (which lets you play as Curly Brace) found in the WiiWare and Cave Story Plus versions wasn’t included either, nor was the Wind Fortress of Cave Story Plus or the classic version of the game with 2D graphics. The classic mode included only replaces the 3D models of the characters and enemies, along with some elements of the scenery, with their original sprites, while the rest of the game remains in polygonal 3D. This doesn't make for the best blend of graphic styles, though.

Apparently, according to NIS America producer Jack Niida, the 512MB cartridge was already chocked full of content as it is and couldn't hold the additional five or so additional megabytes that the original game weighs. It seems more likely, though, from a commercial perspective, that they didn't want to hamper the possible further sales of the DSiWare version available on the eShop and thus already playable on 3DS.

Nevertheless, this new version still comes with its few exclusive additions. A new area, the Inner Wall, was included, containing an item which is a nod to another game by Nippon Ichi Software. A few of the areas already there originally also have some whole new sections for themselves. Lastly, this new version holds more Life Capsules than any other version of the game, increasing considerably the maximum amount of HP that the player may collect in the entire game.

Screenshot for Cave Story 3D on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review


Still as playable as it was originally. However, the newly added graphical details brought by the 3D might make some platforms harder to make out among the environments to those who will play this for the first time on 3DS.


The animation of the 3D models, made deliberately minimal to stick to the style of the original 2D game, fails to convey the characters’ expressions as good as the 2D sprites did. Despite this, the level of detail in this new version is absolutely charming, though unimpressive on a pure technical level.


The remixed soundtrack is impressive on the whole, and will stick with you even after you turn off the console. Shame they didn't include the original chip tune tracks, though.


The multiple endings and difficulty levels will make sure that you have enough on your plate to last you a good while. However, the absence of some of the content found in other upgraded versions of the game prevent it from being the definitive version of Cave Story.

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

About this score
Rated 8 out of 10

At the end of the day, Cave Story 3D will most likely appeal primarily to fans of the original willing to experience one of their favourite games in its new form, or collectors of physical copies who wouldn't pass a chance to get their hands on the only retail version of the masterpiece that Cave Story is. While still being an excellent game in its own right, some of its omissions and the insane price that copies of the game go for at the time of writing across the European market will make you think twice before shelling out the money for the 3DS cartridge, especially considering the DSiWare version is still available on the eShop for much cheaper. The difference in price, just for new 3D graphics (and load times), a couple of new areas and the new soundtrack is hard to swallow, but surely some fans out there will still be willing to buy a copy of the game, even if it's just to make sure that Pixel gets some of our money as a reward to his dedication for working for five years on creating such a fine old-school game. The best version available on Nintendo consoles as we write this, in terms of price and content, remains the WiiWare version. However, Nicalis also recently announced that yet another 3DS version is on its way to the eShop which won't be a digital release of this 3D version, but rather the most complete version of Cave Story Plus out there! More reasons to weigh the decision even more before buying Cave Story 3D, even though it's still an excellent game in its own right.

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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Cave Story is a bloody brilliant game, I adore it. But.. it's not worth £30, especially when most full versions of the game are either free or under a tenner.

Either way I'm hoping to pick this version up if I ever happen to find it cheap.

( Edited 05.05.2012 12:25 by jb )

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery

SuperLink said:
Cave Story is a bloody brilliant game, I adore it. But.. it's not worth £30, especially when most full versions of the game are either free or under a tenner.

Either way I'm hoping to pick this version up if I ever happen to find it cheap.

Also the fact that a 3D (stereoscopic) version of the 2D original is coming out in the eSHOP renders this kind of pointless.

( Edited 03.05.2012 00:54 by Mr James2t3 )

I hope the game bombs hard. Publishers should learn than selling less for more doesn't work.

Already own the Wiiware version, so if I have to pick a portable version, I'll go with his one since it brings new graphics to the table AND is published by NIS America over here. Gotta send some love towards NISA!

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