There are a small number of video game designer/producers who I will follow resolutely. I will track their career and keep dabs on what they're working on, almost to a point to what some might say is to the point of being a fanboy, or even a stalker. BUT THAT JUDGE HAD NOTHING ON ME!
Anyway, one of those video game designers is one Mr. Ron Gilbert. Anything that he had his hand in, I will get my mucky hands on. This might seem like a risky strategy to some since what if he comes up with an utter turkey? But when your gaming resume reads games like 'Maniac Mansion', 'Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders', 'The Secret of Monkey Island', 'Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge', 'Day of the Tentacle', 'Total Annihilation' and 'Deathspank' it's a pretty low-risk strategy, y'know?
The Cave is an adventure-slash-platformer-slash-puzzler and the latest brainchild of Ron Gilbert in collaboration with Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions (another video game designer whom I follow closely) and the general story is based around a magical talking cave that provides the narrative for the game. A group of seven characters have been pulled from various places in time and space to investigate The Cave and to obtain their most deep-seated desires, but to also ultimately learn something about themselves. These characters are (in no particular order) The Adventurer, The Scientist, The Time Traveller, The Knight, The Hillbilly, The Monk and The Twins (technically two characters but you control them as one.)
Although there are seven characters, you can only take three through the cave on any one playthrough, and they all have very different abilities that will help you succeed in your journey through The Cave. For example, the scientist can hack into computers that might provide a shortcut through the cave, and the Time Traveller can teleport through doors and other obstructions. As well as their own abilities, each character has their own specific story and custom area that you will encounter in The Cave, which will help provide their backstory as well as aiding in obtaining their heart's desire, like The Knight exploring a castle to win the hand of The Princess, or the Time Traveller exploring between past, present and future versions of The Cave, which I thought was a particularly clever puzzle.
The gameplay itself is a combination of point & click adventuring and puzzle platforming. The characters have to pick up objects and use them to interact with other objects or the environment in The Cave, as well as performing platforming tasks like pulling levers to open doors and using their unique abilities to navigate around. Sometimes the characters will have to work together at the same time in order to accomplish a task, which does sound like it could become confusing and cumbersome, but it's easy and quick to switch between the three characters, so it's a matter of just getting your timing right in some cases, but you don't need lightning fast reflexes. Plus, your characters cannot die in The Cave - he says it's because of his insurance policy - and they simply respawn a short distance away from where you met your untimely end. The puzzles can vary from relatively straightforward lever-pushing puzzles to quite taxing puzzles that will require a fair bit of lateral thinking and making use of all of the characters and their abilities. The solution will always come after a bit of exploring and experimentation, but some may get frustrated after hitting a road block without any sort of hint system to help guide the way (and, if you ask me, quite rightly as there's too much hand-holding in games these days!)
It won't take you very long to complete your first playthrough of The Cave. Depending on your puzzle-solving proficiency, you'll run through The Cave in 4 to 5 hours. However, your first playthrough of The Cave shouldn't be your last. The varying stories and puzzles for each character allows for a a lot of replayability, since if you want to see the good and bad endings for each character then you will have to replay through The Cave a total of five times. Thus far I have played through a total of three times and will definitely complete the other two playthroughs necessary. The only downside is that some people may find the game starts to become a bit repetitive after the first couple of playthroughs since, while the individual stories and puzzles do vary things up, you will have to complete the same four generic puzzles on each playthrough as well. But, for me, the narration, the wit, humour and charm of the game, the characters you encounter and the backstory that you uncover by finding cave paintings scattered throughout The Cave, plus little nods towards previous adventure titles like Monkey Island all help to keep the entertainment value as high as possible.
Overall, The Cave is a breath of fresh air amongst the army of action titles out, and it's an absolute pleasure to play, with genuinely thoughtful and taxing puzzles and the charm, wit and beautiful presentation that we've come to expect from Double Fine and Ron Gilbert. The game may not be to everyone's taste, but if you're a lover of adventures, platformers, puzzlers or simply charming games, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than to explore The Cave.Positives
+ Witty and charming humour
+ Superb narrative
+ Great variety of puzzles and challenges
+ Plenty of replay value to get the most out of the game
+ Controls make puzzle-solving a pleasureNegatives
- Subsquent playthroughs could become repetitive
- Some puzzles may frustrate the less-patient of gamers
- A single playthrough is quite shortVerdict:
Another charming, unique title from Double Fine that adventurers and puzzlers alike will love.
This review can also be found at my video game blog: http://bigfriendlygamer.tumblr.com/