Players Go Down The Hole –
The Cave is a puzzle adventure game designed by Ron Gilbert of Manic Mansion and Monkey Island fame. Like his other classic adventure titles, the player chooses three of seven different playable characters each with a unique backstory and special ability. Once a team of three has been assembled, the goal is to decent through the depths of a taking cave where each team member carries out selfish goals.
At its heart, The Cave is basically a point and click adventure linked together with puzzle solving and light platforming. Like other adventure games, the player must figure out how to advance by using common items often in unconventional ways. Herein is The Cave’s biggest problem as sometimes it is easy to get stuck by not figuring out how the game wants you to solve a certain puzzle. For example, it literally took me hours to figure out how to bring the third mine cart back; I actually thought I got caught up in a game ending glitch and gave up until I found the answer online. No way does the game tell you that you need to switch to the character sitting in the mine cart while holding the shovel to hit a switch as you drive by. If you give the player a shovel, it should be assumed that you need to dig something up. Nope, not here. Instead, you use it hit a switch. These types of puzzles can be both a creative blessing and frustrating curse; perhaps if a hint system was include..?
The puzzles are all crafted to make the player feel like a total genius or a complete idiot. But besides the occasional dumbfounded setback, backtracking is also a tedious issue. The player has the ability to switch between all three characters at will via the d-pad. This gameplay element is used often as two or more players will need to stand on a switch or active levers to progress further into the cave. But in order to do this, the player will need to take the time to move each character individually, often several times through the same level, in order to complete a puzzle. Playing co-op doesn’t really alleviate this issue either as one only character can be moved at a time. The developers made it their point to only allow one character to hold one item in hopes to simplify gameplay, but when you wind up carrying a useless can of damaged corn instead of bringing that puzzling solving bucket of water, more tedium and backtracking can result.
Even though some puzzles are diabolical and backtracking sucks, The Cave does have some highlights. For example, the cave itself is a character, narrated by a smooth talking man built around humor. In fact, each backstory of each playable character often involves some humorous instances like seeing the Knight’s princess get eaten when he is trying to save her or having the adventurer run over her fellow colleague to make way for an ancient tomb. Even minor instances, like the numerous torches spread throughout the cave, feature funny exclamations. Although the characters are cliché, they give the game its charm and wit.
Visually, the game looks like one big caricature as characters have disproportionate bodies and move with cartoony animations; it fits the overall dark but humorous mood of the game. Unfortunately, each character shares the same animations and there are random frame rate drops and clipping issues. And besides the narrator guiding the player along and the squeaking shoulder shrugs of each character, audio department is forgettable.
There are not many games like The Cave created today outside of some Telltale titles so fans of old school Lucas Arts adventure titles will probably get the biggest kick out of this dreary and sinful title. The asking price of $15 will surely provide an entertaining experience especially considering that multiple play-throughs are highly encouraged, but the determination in solving all of the Cave’s puzzles isn’t for everyone.
Better Than: managing a huge inventory of items
Also Try: The Secret of Monkey Island (XBLA)
Wait For It: Grim Fandango (XBLA)