The Cave

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6.8 Overall Score

Clever Design | Fantastic Humor

Replay Value Limited | High Price | Easy Puzzles

Written by on January 27, 2013 in [, , , ]

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Adventure games have begun to have a fairly large resurgence in popularity over the past few years. Maybe it’s our nostalgia for games like Maniac Mansion or The Secret of Monkey Island that has driven this popularity. More and more, in the downloadable space, we’re seeing a number of adventure games pop up. So when you hear that Ron Gilbert, one of the biggest minds behind many of the early 90’s best adventure games, is returning to the genre (alongside Double Fine Productions) with The Cave, you naturally get excited. However, can that spark of genius that drove many of the best adventure games ever be recreated?

The Cave starts with a fairly brilliant idea: seven characters have been pulled across time to the titular Cave. The Cave itself is a metaphysical being, able to speak and change its layout according to which people are within it. You take three of these characters deep into The Cave to try to reach the bottom and claim their greatest desire. As you travel, each of the individual three characters have their own specific areas which recreate a dark part of their life. Between these areas are puzzles designed to use the characters together. Essentially The Cave is broken down into seven different sections, three being character specific areas and four other sets of puzzles.

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The game is a mix of a puzzle and platformer, often times requiring players to jump across chasms to reach their goals. It also means that puzzles require a lot of backtracking. You’ll often find yourself traversing across an area with one character, jumping and avoiding obstacles, only to find that you did something wrong and need to travel all the way back. Your character is fairly slow so this process can become frustrating, especially with certain characters having huge distances between puzzle sections.

Thankfully, for a large number of puzzles you can use the different characters to aid each other. If a puzzle requires you to travel across the distance of the map, you can usually place one character on one side of the map and another character on the other. The puzzles that require you to work in tandem are actually fairly interesting, as well. When in the section dedicated to the Time Traveler, players can place one character in the past and have their actions have an effect on the future.

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The highlights of the game are in the character specific areas, but only for certain characters. The cleverest puzzles can be found in the Twins section, which mixes a legitimately dark atmosphere and some expert puzzle design. The Scientist also has a fantastic section dedicated to her with a number of puzzles requiring you to use old-school adventure game logic. Someone keeps resetting a computer console when you try to use it? Put a wet floor sign by him and watch him slide. These sorts of puzzles show the pedigree that Ron Gilbert and the Double Fine team have at making adventure games.

However, some characters’ sections are totally forgettable at best or frustrating at worst. While the Hillbilly character has some ingenious puzzle design, even when you use all three characters there is a lot of backtracking in that level, slowing down your progress tremendously. The Monk has, without a doubt, the worst puzzle in the entire game, requiring you to move at a snail’s pace at one point. It feels like for every brilliant design choice that was made, another was made that counteracts it.

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The character-specific areas themselves tell a story about each individual. Even when frustrating, these areas exude a charm that can’t be denied. With The Cave itself narrating the characters’ actions, each area gives a true insight into each character and their messed up psyche. Without spoiling too much, your actions in the game are almost always reprehensible but they are done in such a way that it’s actually fairly funny.

The first time through the game, the puzzle breaks between character specific sections seem fairly clever. Once you’ve finished the game for the first time and see the strings being pulled, though, you realize that these are nothing more than basic trial and error puzzles. Even the most interesting puzzles are not that difficult to solve. You can easily make it through your first run within about four hours or so, with little effort and the game will take progressively less with each run through as you play with new characters. Your mileage may vary in this regard, but it’s hard to believe that many people would have that many issues figuring out the very basic puzzles.

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Worse than the sharp decline in challenge with subsequent playthroughs is the realization that the sections between character specific levels don’t rely on what characters you have at all. You can bring down any three characters and have just as easy of a time solving the puzzles. This could have been an opportunity to find a way to use all three characters’ specific abilities to solve puzzles in different ways. Unfortunately, you find yourself pushing your way through the same puzzles again just to get to the new content.

Those two issues compound for anyone who wants to see all of the levels, needing to play through the game three times. On your third time through you will likely bring in two characters you’ve already used before due to the game having seven characters. By this time, you’ll already know what to do with at least three quarters of the game. It would almost be better if the game were to bring every character down with you at once, so you only need to traverse these areas once to get the full experience.

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Your first time through, though, will likely be fairly enjoyable. Yes, the game can be frustrating but it bleeds style. Everything about it feels like a Double Fine game, with a mix of humor and dark tone. However, the game wants you to see all of its content with each character having their own unique sections. Once you peel it back and try to see everything the game wants you to, is when you see the problem: behind all of the brilliant style, there is very little substance.

A code for The Cave was provided to The Married Gamers for review.

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Author: Addam Kearney View all posts by

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