Platform: PC | PSN | XBLA | Wii U
Developer: Double Fine
While Double Fine continue to beaver away at their Kickstarted adventure game, another project of theirs has finally come to fruition in the form of The Cave - the brainchild of industry legend Ron Gilbert (of Manic Mansion and Monkey Island fame). With the resurgence of the adventure game genre, the thought of one of its pioneers once again making a foray into creating puzzles had us rather giddy with excitement, and now the wait is over with the end result landing on all current gen machines. So, what exactly is The Cave all about? The game follows the trials of seven people who are not only trying to find what their heart desires, but to find out who they truly are. Their journey leads them to outside of the titular Cave – a place of personal trial and reflection that turns out to be a sentient being, acting as a narrator while the action unfolds.
At its core, the game plays as a platforming title with a slight adventure game twist, with items to be found and used in the puzzles players will encounter. Those of you who have played indie darling Limbo will be right at home here as it acts in a similar manner – the controlled character can push and pull certain objects to reach new areas and can only pick up one item at a time. However, unlike Limbo here in The Cave players have three characters under their control, the choice of which is completely down to them, and each having their own special ability to tackle the puzzles that lie ahead. For instance, the Time Traveller has the ability to phase ahead of a barrier, the Knight can shield himself from harm, and the Adventurer can use her whip to access new areas. Each ability is essential to the personal trial for that character, but they can be also be used to approach the general puzzles in various ways (although some are more useful than others in this respect.) There are no must-have characters to use either as any combination of the seven available can go through and experience The Cave – it’s completely down to you who you wish to take.
Switching between characters is easily achieved by using the D-pad, an ability that is often used to complete puzzles that require more than one character or the need to access something much further away in a short amount of time. However, this doesn’t necessarily make up for the fact you will spend a rather large proportion of the game going back and forth between various points, and there were some moments where I felt I was traversing more than I was attempting to solve puzzles. While on the whole the platforming mechanics are easy enough to learn whether you’re a gaming enthusiast or a newcomer, there were instances of grappling onto ledges and ropes when I wasn’t intending to, something that could prove annoying to players if patience isn’t their strong suit. Thankfully you don’t need to move each character individually between the various puzzles as a warping feature activates when you arrive somewhere new.
As for the puzzles themselves, I found they were for the most part relatively straightforward, although there were a few instances of missing clues that had me going in circles for a while. Brain power and observation aren’t the only orders of the day though, as certain puzzles require the player to execute perfect timing or patience (The Adventurer and The Monk’s levels specifically) providing a mix that I felt kept things interesting. Reaching that eureka moment from solving a puzzle actually came somewhat quicker than I was expecting for most of the puzzles, but it was always satisfying to watch the end result of my character’s work play out on screen thanks to the cartoon-esque art style. Each level has its own theme, each varying in general locale and colour palette, and its obstacles fitting to the environment. While players can be smited down in the form of traps and fire, death is not an option in cave, with characters being teleported back to where they were a few seconds ago, meaning there is no failure, only minor setbacks.
Surprisingly, The Cave allows two or three players to experience the game in local co-op, but the end result is something of a mixed bag. This is due to a few issues in regards to the on-screen focus of characters. For instance, the screen will only follow the player who last pressed the D-pad, and if another player ends up going off-screen they lose control of said character. Had Double Fine included a split screen option similar to that used in the latest LEGO games it would have solved the issue, but whether that would have been technically possible is another matter. The other issue in regards to co-op is how certain character puzzles are far too solo-centric in terms of activity. The Twins, for example, spend the majority of their trial on their own, with the other characters being used briefly just twice. While you could argue that other players could use this time to suggest solutions and point out missed objects of interest (just like we did back in the yesteryears of adventure gaming) my co-op companion and I were rather aware of this lack of activity.
With this game coming from the mind of Ron Gilbert, it was to be expected that The Cave would have a quirky sense of character and humour about it, and in this regard The Cave manages to get it right. The narration from the self-aware dwelling manages to raise a chuckle or two by providing commentary as the player guides the mute travellers through their trials, and the supporting cast of characters have a few memorable moments (the hermit in particular was a favourite of mine.) Ultimately though, while completing each trial is entertaining in itself, learning the sordid backstories of each character is only done through locating glyphs around the cave, which I felt to be a little lacklustre in its execution, and the conclusion of the game feels a little flat in that no real moral is truly realised.
In terms of longevity and replayability, a single playthrough of The Cave will see players going through 6 areas in total, three of which must be played regardless of the trio under your control. This means that if you wish to experience all seven of the available characters you will end up having to repeat a large section of the game on a third playthrough, something I wasn’t too enthused about doing (regardless of known the solutions.) That said, overall there is almost certainly around 8-10 hours’ worth of gameplay available (give or take an hour or so for puzzle solving) which, for a tenner, isn’t too bad.
There is an issue with The Cave though – it manages to play well enough, but it doesn’t excel as either a platformer or an adventure game, with better examples of each genre already out there. It’s certainly enjoyable if you find Gilbert’s brand of quirky humour entertaining, and in terms of Double Fine’s goal of creating an easily approachable adventure title they have got it spot on, but The Cave never truly reaches the levels of greatness that it needs to be as fondly remembered as Gilbert’s previous hits.
- Approachable mechanics for Adventure games newcomers & veterans alike.
- Entertaining puzzles that provide an enjoyable visual payoff.
- Local Co-op facitilty allows you to share the experience…
- … although the specific character screen focus can make co-op annoying.
- Experiencing everything means repeating large chunks of the game.
- Never really excels at being a platform or adventure game.
The Short version: Overall it never really manages to truly stand out in regards to gameplay, but its accessibility to control and its cast of colourful if morally-questionable characters make it an entertaining journey . Its co-op functionality may be somewhat less than desirable, but overall fans of Gilbert’s work should find it an enjoyable underground jaunt, be it on their own or with a friend.