The Cave borrows from and is inspired by one of the oldest and most popular gaming genres. This comes as no surprise since its creator, Ron Gilbert, is also the mind behind some of the genre’s standout titles like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. Fans of adventure games are likely full of fond memories for these text-based/point-and-click experiences. Though The Cave is an adventure game at heart, it shifts the gameplay and concepts straight into the current generation while maintaining a classic feel.
Seven strangers, picked to explore a cave…actually, make that eight because those pesky twins ruin a completely good Real World joke. The Cave follows the story of eight people exploring the depths of a talking cave. Each of these characters has come to the mythical cave because after reaching the end of it, they will fulfill their deepest wishes and desires. The characters of The Cave represent certain archetypes from games or pop culture each with their own unique ability. Take the Hillbilly for example. His missing teeth and floppy barefeet somehow allow him to swim underwater for long periods without drowning. His quest for true love brings him to the cave. Or how about the Time Traveller who can teleport across small distances and through objects? She is looking to change the past to fix the future. The list continues with the Twins, the Adventurer, the Knight, the Scientist, and the Monk.
Most of the story is provided to the player through the Cave, who narrates the experience. As an omniscient narrator, the Cave peppers the game with a great deal of dry and dark humor while speaking about the characters and pointing out little facts about “himself”. Considering he is filled with carnivals, bottomless pits, nuclear missile silos, time machines and more, the Cave is quite a funny guy and will hold the character’s interest through most of the game. The only other pieces of story are given through a few NPCs, some of the character-specific puzzles, and little cave paintings found throughout the journey. Whenever a cave painting is found, it brings up a single image relating to the back story of the character it belongs to. Unfortunately, these offer little insight and, because they are still images, will only result in a cursory glance. For the most part, The Cave is a lighthearted game that spends most of its time being clever and funny. There are some very serious and dark parts as well that might strike many as unexpected. Still, it would have been nice to have some sort of end-game pay off in the form of a cutscene, even if it was in-engine.
As with most adventure games, The Cave focuses on exploration, puzzle solving, and item collecting/management. All these features are trimmed down to the bare essentials and make for an incredibly accessible game. The first thing that should be mentioned is the item system. Where many similar games focus on collecting several items and keeping them in a large inventory, The Cave allows each character to hold one item allowing for a total of three. The item is always visible on the character and usually only goes away when dropped or used up. Though the item system is very simple, the items themselves can sometimes be confusing. An overly cautious player might want carry a certain item at all times to prevent a great deal of backtracking. Is there a point to this broken can of corn? What about this bone? Part of finding the right items is obviously part of the puzzle, but it might trip some up.
At the outset, players will pick the three characters they want to use and start exploring. After entering the cave, those characters are locked in, necessitating three playthroughs to experience everything. The three character system has its obvious benefits. Puzzles that require multiple characters working together are thought-provoking and clever (if a bit tough). At times a puzzle might frustrate because the answer is obvious but how to get to the desired location or item is not. Patience and a level head usually work out in the end so the player is never truly stumped.
The biggest complaint to be lodged at The Cave, however, might be in how it handles exploration. Only one character can be controlled at a time and a press on the directional pad shifts control over to a different character. At first, controlling three characters seems fun until it comes to moving them. The game needed to do a better job at communicating that once one character crosses a checkpoint, all the others catch up. It wouldn’t be uncommon for many players to constantly switch back and forth between the group of three trying to close the distance. Even so, there is still a great deal of backtracking to be done. Sometimes backtracking can mean climbing a ladder a few times to bring an item from one point to the other. But sometimes backtracking means climbing several ladders and ropes, running across several platforms, using an item, and then repeating the process several times. One of the earliest examples is the miner puzzle. The solution is quite simple, but the execution will soak up a lot of time. It also doesn’t help that climbing ladders can take a very long time and trying to drop down will only result in death and being respawned at the top of the ladder.
It may seem like a minor gripe but the issue can be very prevalent when the game does run a little short. An initial stroll through The Cave may only take a couple hours at most and the time a player spent going back and forth might stand out in their mind a little more brightly. One way to curb these frustrations is to take a dive into co-op. Simply put, The Cave is a much more streamlined and fun game when played with at least one other person. Having to switch back and forth between characters almost becomes a thing of the past in most cases. And, of course, having a friend along for the ride might make solving puzzles easier.
Graphics and Sound
The expansive and mysterious cave is the visual highlight of the game. Packed to the brim with funny easter eggs in the foreground and background, the environment is the biggest distraction from the actual gameplay. Delving deeper into the cave to see the next well designed area is almost as much fun as figuring out that last piece of the puzzle. Character designs are cartoony and well done but won’t draw as much acclaim as the star of the show. Those additional playthroughs are meant for seeing what the art department came up with just as much as what kind of puzzles were crafted.
The talking Cave is the standout among the voice cast. His delivery will generate enough laughs and smirks so players will be glad they had someone to listen to along the way. Other talking secondary characters get the job done but might border on annoying if you keep passing them while puzzle solving. Expect to hear the same few lines repeated over and over again. Music pops in and out to highlight the mood or tension of certain scenes and is even good enough to want to hear more of. All in all, The Cave has a good amount of treats for the eyes and ears.
The Cave is a good game. It is easy to pick up and play and has a lot to show you. Will players actually feel blown away after exploring all it has to offer? That’s hard to tell. As a unique downloadable title for early in the year it should satisfy many gamers wanting that next good adventure game. If there had been more character specific puzzles to lengthen the experience, better endings to make the experience meaningful, and less minor issues to cause frustration then The Cave would have had that extra bit of magic.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the developer for the purpose of this review.