What do you want most in this world? Is it money, power, respect, love, or something more? If you did manage to get that thing which you desire most, would it satisfy you or would it leave you feeling hollow?
Welcome to The Cave
, the latest offering from Double Fine. Sprung from the minds of Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer (who collaborated on adventure hits like the Monkey Island
series), The Cave
reaches back to old-school adventure game roots and gives gamers a chance to delve into a mysterious… wait for it… cave with a cast of seven characters, all of which are searching for the object of their desire. Much like a previous Gilbert creation, Maniac Mansion
, you may only select three characters per playthrough and each character has his/her own special power and puzzle level. Interspersed between these character-specific challenge levels are three base levels which need to be solved with each run.
Unlike many adventure titles which rely on point-and-click mechanics, the gameplay of The Cave
feels much more like a classic platformer than what one might consider an adventure title. Rather than controlling a cursor which scans the screen for interaction points, the thumbsticks actually control movement. The “A” button is always jump, the “X” and “B” buttons allow you to pick up/drop objects and interact with environments, and the “Y” button enables each character’s special power. In short, this game was made to pick up and play.
The genius of the easy controls is that it fully allows you to focus on the meat of the game, the puzzles. In the past, many adventure titles have sought to “outsmart” gamers, forcing them to retreat to the handy pages of the internet to find solutions and advance the story. Fortunately, those problems are few (if any) and far between in The Cave
, having played through every character’s puzzle level, I can say there was only one time when I felt truly stuck with a puzzle/challenge. After a break and a snack, I rechecked the area and the solution presented itself. The best part about the puzzles is that they make you feel smart without pandering and present challenges but not frustrations.
As with any Double Fine game, The Cave
is not short on humor. While there are a fair share of quirky characters with which you’ll interact, the main humor comes from The Cave itself… as in its voice… yes, The Cave talks. Acting as an omnipotent narrator, The Cave introduces each challenge level with what can best be described as a comedic Outer Limits
-style introduction that gives a bit of backstory to the character of focus, the challenge, and exactly what’s at stake through the level. Throughout each playthrough, you can fully expect The Cave to periodically pop in with commentary on your characters’ actions, motives, and the repercussions that might occur.
Adding to the great voice work (especially that of Stephen Stanton, voice of The Cave), is Andy Wood’s incredibly cohesive art design which makes the cave feel ominous but not scary and soft, but not bereft of danger. While the game won’t blow you away with graphic fidelity or bells and whistles, everything fits and just feels/looks/sounds right.
Unfortunately, The Cave
does have a double-edged sword: its replay value. With seven characters (of which you can only take three per playthrough) the game encourages multiple playthroughs, which is great. Achievement hunters will probably end up having to do multiple, full playthroughs to get the completion. What does “multiple” mean? After a bit of fuzzy figuring, it seems that it takes at least six full playthroughs if you want to get every single achievement. That may sound like a serious time-sink, but my last playthrough (which only introduced one new puzzle level) took me less than three hours to complete. My first playthrough, on the other hand, took closer to five hours. Furthermore, the game does feature a ton of missable (and secret) achievements. Aside from that, there is only one real “skill-based” achievement that involves finishing the game without a character dying.
Other small drawbacks include some unfortunate stickiness in the climbing mechanics (which can lead to frustrating deaths), a bit of unevenness to some of the various puzzles, path-finding is occasionally tedious, and frequent backtracking can become a bit boring, but fans of adventure games should come to expect many of these quibbles, and they are minor.
One area which I unfortunately did not get to explore much was the co-op. Up to three players (with each player controlling a different character) are supported via couch co-op. Unfortunately, all of the action is confined to one screen, so characters are unable to truly split up and work cooperatively at the same time.
While some gamers may balk at the 1200 MSP price point, The Cave
really delivers on fun, high replay value, a hefty set of achievements (expect some of those ratios to stay in the 2’s), and an incredible voice (both literally and figuratively). The deeper message behind the game is one best-left unspoiled, but will definitely make you consider your actions in subsequent playthroughs. If you’re a fan of adventure games or the work of Double Fine, this game should not be missed.
The reviewer spent close to eleven hours playing this game, laughed at approximately 29 jokes, groaned at four others, and completed every puzzle level.