Ron Gilbert and Double Fine have created The Cave as a callback to classic adventure game elements with a modern twist on ease and exploration. This game is really charming, and, despite its flaws, is well worth a purchase for those looking to take on a labor of love.
The general premise of The Cave is that several adventurers go on a quest to get what they desire. Gamers will pick three characters and control each one individually in order to solve puzzles and progress the descent into the cave itself. All of this happens while the disembodied voice of the Cave humorously chides and quips about the decisions being made.
So, you might be tasked with pulling three separate levers spread all over a 2D space separated by jumps, drops and ladders. In order to pull the levers together at once, you’ll need to split the characters up and send them all over the level and then switch between them. It’s a game of puzzle solving and character management.
If you’re like me, you think there’s already a potential problem with this setup. Switching back and forth between three separate characters and navigating the same space for hours on end doesn’t exactly seem fun, right? Surely, Gilbert must have come up with something to make moving back and forth enjoyable.
Here’s Ron Gilbert responding to a question from a fan as printed on Sega’s Blog:
"...the challenge is to keep players engaged, but also not make an overly simple adventure game. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to put “running and jumping” in The Cave. The game is not a platformer, but just having that fun activity while you go from place to place is a nice addition to adventure games."
”Okay, great,” I thought. “Gilbert addressed the one potential flaw I had with this game’s premise.” Except, well, not really. Traversing the cave is rather boring. It’s not really fun to switch between characters over and over to retread the same space of a given area six or seven times in order to solve its puzzle. Running and jumping doesn’t really help. Quite frankly, those mechanics are so simply slapped on that they feel like more of a time waster than something “fun” at all.
The puzzles are awesome, though. And you’ll never really experience any moments of classic adventure game frustration. Looking back on stuff like The Secret of Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion, I remember spending hours and hours and hours banging my head against a wall while solving a puzzle. That doesn’t happen here. Explore an area enough, and the puzzle tends to click.
When the Cave itself pipes in with a few witty comments, the aforementioned moments of drudgery feel better, but that doesn’t happen quite often enough to bring The Cave from sufferable to fun. I wanted to hear more from the Cave. He, as a character, works so well. And the writing given to him is perfect. I wanted to hear about his history, hear about the awful people who have sought him out and hear about their humorous ends. It just doesn’t happen often enough.
Simply put, solving the rather witty puzzles and scenarios that this mysterious cave sets before you would be a lot of fun if it weren’t for the character switching and moving mechanics. Platforming is imprecise, climbing up and down ropes and ladders is far too slow and these issues are compounded by the fact that you’ll be moving back and forth over areas again, and again, and again.
The Cave means well. When it works, it works. When it opens up and dishes out jokes and dark humor, it’s charming. When it gives you a riddle that you can piece together with a little strenuous thinking, The Cave rings true to the classic adventure genre without all of the frustration. However, it stumbles just as often as it frolics through that feeling of nostalgia.
There’s a lot of content here, so keep that in mind. You’ll want to play the game over again with each of the optional characters. Their stories and animations are charming enough to make you do so. Plus, they each feature unique puzzles.
The Cave was so obviously a labor of love for Gilbert and Double Fine. If you’re a fan of puzzles and old adventure games, the price tag here is low enough that you absolutely should dive into the cave face first. However, those with a little less patience for the genre best leave the spelunking to the rest of us.
We received a download code for The Cave on Xbox 360. We played the game to completion with six characters before starting this review.