The Cave, designed by Ron Gilbert, developed by Double Fine, and published by SEGA for basically almost every platform out there, is an attempt to bring traditional adventure games to a wider audience. But does it succeed?
A New Tale Of Adventure
Let’s face it: It might have the sheen of a high budget downloadable title but The Cave, at its heart, is a traditional adventure game. That statement in itself would do a disservice to what this game does pretty well: The Cave makes traditional adventure games more accessible and, in some cases, more fun.
Yes, gone are the pixel hunting game mechanics of old adventure games where you’d search for interactive elements by waving your mouse pointer across the screen. Gone too are the pages of inventory screens that once graced your screen. Instead, you’re only allowed to carry one item and one item only. Now, I know what you’re thinking: There’s gotta be a catch to this. After all, you’re talking about a genre that requires you to have a plethora of items with you at all times. Surely, you’ll need to carry more than one item at some point. That’s when our seven heroes come in.
The Magnificent Seven
In a manner not so dissimilar to Maniac Mansion, The Cave literally introduces you to several different characters at the beginning of your journey. Each character has a specific ability that will help you go through The Cave‘s puzzles or skip them outright. For example, there is a section early on in the game that requires you to get an item, but requires you to distract a guard. With The Monk’s ability to telekinetically grab things from a distance, he is able to do this without even alarming said guard. The player selects three of these heroes to play with and it’s locked in by standing on a wooden platform that can barely hold two people. I’m not kidding.
Switching between these three heroes is a breeze and the camera quickly focuses onto their location. Each hero has a backstory that’s told through a series of Cave Paintings that you come across during your time in The Cave. Each Cave Painting is a piece of artwork that depicts an event that happened to one of your heroes. The Cave Paintings start innocently enough, and the more of them you find, the clearer your understanding of their motivations. To further their narrative, there are parts of The Cave that focus on each of your heroes, and the way that the game funnels you into those specific gameplay sequences is both seamless and clever. These sequences will take you varied locations such as medieval castles, Victorian London, and even prehistoric times.
Into The Depths
Throughout the whole game, The Cave itself narrates your progress through, erm, itself. While the heroes’ motivations and backstories are scattered for the player to discover, it is probably The Cave‘s own motivation to see its heroes through that holds the whole game together. The narration is smart and very in tune with something that might’ve come from the start of a Twilight Zone episode, with a little bit of Isaiah Mustafa mixed in. This is great, given that going through The Cave can be a lonely and solitary one.
That’s when you start noticing some annoying things with the game. While most of The Cave‘s hero sections are heavily themed and show a lot of imagination, the in-between sections that serve to bridge each of the aforementioned sections feel rather uninspired, and subsequent play throughs can feel like a chore. Also, because you are limited in controlling one hero at a time, you spend a lot of it running around and catching up to one character, and you’ll find yourself backtracking to sections you’ve been through before plenty of times.
These things probably wouldn’t be much of an issue had all the heroes been given the ability to traverse the environment in an efficient manner. Too often do you find yourself climbing ladders several feet high, repeatedly mashing the Jump and Up button to quicken your hero’s pace, or pressing the Jump and Down button at the same time to drop only a few feet down. Your heroes also get caught up on a bunch of different ledges and platforms due to the narrow sizes of some of the gaps in the game.
While playing alone reveals a lot of the biggest problems with the game, playing with someone else actually alleviates some of them and becomes an entirely different experience. The Cave supports up to three local players playing simultaneously and I took advantage of that by playing the game with some friends. In a group setting, a lot of the puzzle solving went by faster, and backtracking was a lot more manageable, but only because of the added social aspect of being able to talk about what we’ve seen and figuring out puzzles together. Whether or not this was The Cave‘s original intent is uncertain, but I feel that this is actually one of the most redeeming things about the game as an experience.
While the game may have some issues that may frustrate some players, I found that my time with The Cave was both rewarding and fulfilling. The game’s presentation, witty writing, colorful characters, and being able to solve puzzles and explore The Cave together with friends is well worth overlooking its issues. If The Cave were a theme park ride and my friends and I were its guests, I would gladly ride it over and over again. But that’s only if I’m with my friends… else, it’d be quite a lonesome experience.
Alex finished The Cave within 3 hours of play time and got bad juju for The Knight, The Time Traveler, and The Twins. Prior to this, he played through several of the characters both alone and with friends to assess the effects of playing the game with other people. He also discovered through Double Fine’s Support forum, as he was reporting a bug, that there are actually two endings for each character. This, however, did not affect his score of the game.