“The Cave” is a classical modern adventure game from Ron Gilbert, the mind behind titles such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, and Double Fine Productions, the studio responsible for Psychonauts and Costume Quest. Gameplay is heavy on puzzles and platforming, which not only give this title a fresh feel and takes you away from the typical point-and-click, but manages to break the genre and present something incredibly different than anything currently on the market.
As the game begins, you’re introduced to the mysterious, dark and witty narrator, who happens to be the Cave himself. You’re then presented with an unlikely group of 7 characters to choose from- the Knight, the Hillbilly, the Adventurer, the Twins, the Time Traveler, the Scientist, and the Monk. As you move from each, a small piece of story is given and you’re left with the decision of creating your team of 3. Each has a special move (or power), and while the combination does not matter, I found that there are those that were more enjoyable and useful than others. For example, the Twins have the ability to duplicate themselves into “ghost form”, which simplifies pulling a third switch when you’ve left another character off-screen. On top of that, each of the 7 also have levels that are specific to them and twisted back-stories that evolve as the game progresses. Not everyone is quite who they seem to be- each is looking for something they deeply desire, and as things progress, you begin to see the lengths at which the 3 you chose will go to get it. This keeps the player guessing and wanting to continue their journey, as well as giving this title replay value.
Being puzzle-centric, “the Cave” does not disappoint. Each is well thought out, interesting, and takes time to solve – especially, if you haven’t been quite observant when traversing the levels. Items are needed and must be carried and sometimes swapped out with others through each level to complete a mechanism or something of the like, which proves to be an annoyance when you’ve got your team scattered about. They’re fun and rewarding, and while they aren’t incredibly complicated, I did find myself scratching my head more than once at the lack of direction and vaguely placed items (which conveniently display their name as you walk past them). The biggest frustration here, however, is the constant backtracking. You’ll find yourself cycling through your 3, retracing your steps countless times to pull levers that you’ve pulled before, grab items you thought you had no use for any longer, and platforming your way back to meet up with the group when it’s time to complete an area. Despite this being typical to a game in the adventure genre, I would have been a lot happier with a “call team” function.
Graphically speaking, this game is beautiful. Level and character design are reminiscent of a dark and dreary Pixar film, and while the narrative is light, it definitely fits the atmosphere. Animation is wonderful and the subtly of it breathes life into this title. Each of the six basic areas that you encounter have a personality of their own, from the typical cave-esque scenery full of dripping stalactites, lovely bright and glowing moss on the walls, waterfalls and cliffs to jump from to proceed to the next area, to things buried under the ground such as UFOs and nuclear bombs. When you get to your first character-specific stage, you’ll know which it belongs to right off the proverbial bat. The Adventurer’s golden sand-swept pyramid, the Monk’s peaceful Zen temple- you’re placed into their previous lives and their story progresses from there. I did, however, have a few frame rate issues when all of my characters were on the screen at the same time, and usually when around a body of water, but nothing that lasted more than a few seconds or took me out of gameplay. I found the controls to be mediocre and clunky, at best, but there is little punishment for mistakes made. No one dies in the Cave- one wrong move and you’re poofed back on screen in a cloud of white smoke. Jumping felt quite floaty, which proves to be an annoyance during the levels which are heavier on platforming and I found myself over-shooting jumps, grabbing onto ledges that I hadn’t intended to and pulling myself up. While frustrating, it wasn’t enough to really deter me and after a couple of hours, I began to grow used to the mechanics.
In all, I can’t seem to find many negative thoughts about my time with “the Cave”. I thought it was well written and executed, and despite the tedious backtracking, I found it to be absolutely charming, sweet, and exciting. In the 5 hours that it took me to traverse the depths, there wasn’t a moment that I was anything less than engaged in gameplay and story. Whether you’re looking for something that provides a bit of a mental challenge and strokes your ego as you finish each puzzle, something simply stunning to look at, or something that leaves you wanting to come back for yet another adventure, this title is for you. I couldn’t recommend it more!