The Cave beckons gamers to explore the darker sides of their hearts in this new platform-adventure by legendary game creator Ron Gilbert, but is this the spelunking journey of a lifetime?
Ron Gilbert is synonymous with quality games, having helped create such classics as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. Gilbert has been sitting on The Cave for around 20 years (figuratively, of course), until former colleague and fellow legend Tim Schafer recently picked the idea back up and began developing the game with his company Double Fine and publisher Sega. With two legends at the helm, expectations are high.
Players start off with a short introduction to The Cave by none other than The Cave itself. It explains that people come to him seeking what they desire most, but instead end up discovering something more: the darker sides of their own hearts. Players may choose three of the seven unique characters, each with their own story and special abilities. Once three are chosen, gamers will start off in a training area, disguised as part of the story, where they learn the basics. The Cave takes an old school approach to training, as no direct instructions are given at any time – though players can always pause and look at the controller layout.
As the story progresses, The Cave will transform to reflect the characters chosen. For example, if The Knight is selected then The Cave becomes a castle. The Knight’s story will unfold and his unique abilities will be crucial to navigating the trials set forth. The Cave continues to adjust two more times, depending on who else is in the party, with a few detours in-between for story purposes and to add more gameplay. Each character’s past, before entering The Cave, is slowly revealed through these sections, as well as through illustrations on slides collected along the way. The stories themselves are short and simple and present an interesting look into the characters’ dark pasts. As a result, players will get to enjoy seven unique stories and settings, and gamers will want to revisit The Cave many times if they intend to experience all of the content.
While controls are a snap, for the most part, jumping and climbing mechanics have a few minor issues. Players attempting to hit exact spots when jumping may find trouble as precision landing is difficult. When jumping down, being too close to a ledge will result in the character grabbing hold and waiting for instructions to climb or drop – fine if a mistake was made, but frustrating when trying to descend. Many times players will find themselves climbing a ledge over and over when simply attempting to get to a lower platform.
The ability to switch between characters at any time is an important part of the game. Using the three characters in concert will take practice, but is imperative in solving many of the game’s puzzles. Utilizing a character’s special abilities also plays a large role in solving puzzles and navigating The Cave. For example, the Hillbilly can breath underwater, which is needed to get through submerged tunnels where other characters would drown. The rest of the time is spent picking up objects along the way and using them to progress (a popular mechanic in Gilbert’s games). Puzzles play a major role in the title but aren’t (unfortunately) the brain busters that old adventure game fans might expect. Most puzzles are fairly obvious and the rest can be solved through trial and error — still, they are often enjoyable and cleverly integrated into a character’s story.
The Cave is a breeze to beat and is very forgiving. For one, players are unable to die. If there is an unfortunate misstep into smoldering lava, a character will simply regenerate instantly and often very close to where they “died”. When a new area is reached, instead of having to move each individual character, they will all be automatically teleported and caught up. If players take too long to solve a puzzle, don’t be surprised if the narrator pops in to give a push in the right direction. While these all contribute to speeding up the pace of the game, they also lower the difficulty on an already moderately easy game. And since one play through only lasts a few hours at most, it might have been a wise idea to draw things out a bit.
A major component for a Ron Gilbert game is humor, something Double Fine makes an important ingredient in their titles as well. Even so, The Cave didn’t carry the expected comedic punch. Many of the jokes fell flat and merely existed to keep the tone light rather than to drum up big laughs. The fault lies mainly on the game’s narrator, whose jokes are obvious and easy. Still, since his primary job is to narrate and move the story along, it’s forgivable. The rest of the cast are much funnier and there are some genuinely great moments. A good amount of game design gags are sure to get a few chuckles.
The Cave embodies a lot of what we love about classic adventure games. It combine’s Double Fine’s whimsical oddness and Ron Gilbert’s talent into a game that is fun to play, but fails to live up to the full potential of the people behind it. It is exceptionally easy and too often coddles players who might be looking for a bit more of a challenge. Navigation can be a pain, but a minor one, and the other gameplay mechanics more than make up for clumsy controls. Those looking for another hilarious classic in the making might be underwhelmed, but anyone who wants an enjoyable, creative experience with a lot of replay capability, then look no further. The Cave may not bust any guts, but it won’t break any banks either.
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The Cave is available now for Nintendo eShop and PlayStation Network and will be out January 23rd for XBLA and Steam. Game Rant played the XBLA version for this review.