Easter Eggs: The Cave

By Jonathan Barnes,
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
As a child of the 80's/90's, I grew up with the NES in my house. While most of my gaming time was spent grinding out levels in Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, trying to find my way through Metroid, and blasting through Mega Man II, we had a weird cart (probably purchased by my mother who was also a gamer) that presented a challenge like none other, Maniac Mansion.

Developed by Lucasfilm Games (in a time before LucasArts), Maniac Mansion was an odd, point-and-click adventure designed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick that tasked gamers with picking a team of three high school students and attempting to rescue one of the character's girlfriends from a mansion occupied by (oddly enough) a family of maniacs who were being controlled by a sentient alien meteor. Each student had a distinct set of skills and weaknesses that had to be utilized together to make it through the mansion, save the cheerleader, and save the world.

As you can imagine, as a nine-year-old, I really sucked at this game, but kept coming back to it to see if I could figure it out. In an age before the internet, there wasn't really an easily-accessible guide or walkthrough for the game, so the trial-and-error style of runs were what made the experience addictive and added replay value.

Flash forward the better part of twenty-five years to Double Fine's XBLA release, The Cave. Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer (who worked on the NES version of Maniac Mansion), and the rest of the wacky minds at Double Fine came together to release a game that tasks you with picking three characters and navigating them through a sentient cave to acquire the object of each of their desires.


The Basics

The Cave is a puzzle adventure game which tasks the player with picking three adventurers at the outset and navigating them through a cave containing multiple puzzle levels. In addition to the basic levels that are encountered in each playthrough, every character has their own unique level that is swapped in based on the characters you pick. Like Maniac Mansion each character has their own special ability that is of paramount importance in their specific level and highly useful in all others.

The controls are simple enough that any gamer (regardless of skill) can easily pick them up and intuitively understand how the game operates: “A” is always jump, “X” and “B” allow you to pick up/drop objects and interact with environments, and “Y” uses each character’s special ability.

The best part about The Cave is that approachability. Unlike many other puzzle-focused games, The Cave strikes an almost perfect balance between challenge and ease. Solving the puzzles in each level makes you feel smart rather than patronized due to their simplicity or perturbed due to their difficulty. Furthermore, the unique blend of characters and powers makes solving each puzzle a different challenge.

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The Hook

Aside from the instant approachability and ease of gameplay, replayability and humor are the things that really make The Cave shine. On the first front, you'll want to complete the game using every character to see how each of their particular scenarios play out. The narrative drive of the game is that each character has a specific object of desire that they're trying to retrieve from the cave. Retrieving these objects usually involves some darker shenanigans, but happy endings are possible with the right choices.

As one should expect from a Double Fine game, the humor is top notch. While The Cave may not have you bursting a seam with slapstick, the dry humor of circumstance and commentary will keep you pushing forward if only to hear the jokes. This commentary is provided by the voice of the cave (yes, the cave talks) Stephen Stanton, who introduces each level as if it were a semi-comedic episode of The Outer Limits. He also periodically pops up with short zingers about the events unfolding in the cave and the motivations of the characters.

Years Later...A Job At The Carnival

The Achievements

As one of the later entries into the Xbox LIVE Arcade, The Cave has a base score of 400G coming from twenty-seven achievements. With replayability being a main focus, there are achievements for completing each character's puzzle, as well as seeing all of the endings for the game (there is a "good" one and a "bad" one for each character), meaning that the game will require multiple playthroughs. However, once you've got the hang of the general puzzle levels, the entire game can be run through in under three hours. The quick playthroughs are good because there are several missable achievements that are tied to character-specific levels as well. While the only skill-based achievement (Who Wants To Live Forever) requires you to do an entire playthrough without having any characters die, it is not overly difficult once you get the hang of each puzzle. This is an easy (if slightly time consuming) completion.

A Change of Heart

The Stats

At the time of writing only 6,413 gamers have played The Cave and fewer than 1,300 have completed it. It holds a solid 4 star rating from the 766 users who have rated it (the same rating we gave it in our Official Review), while Metacritic is less kind, listing the game at a 70.

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The Price

The game is currently listed at $14.99 (or your regional equivalent). While it is well worth that price, it is an absolute steal when it goes on sale. It was recently on sale for 50% off and should immediately be snatched up should that opportunity rise again!

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The Verdict

So often our video games revolve around life or death circumstances and stakes as high as the fate of the universe. The Cave is a pleasant departure to a simpler aesthetic. Death isn't punitive, experimentation is encouraged, and fun exploration is truly the focus of the game. Its simple, approachable controls, great characters, and interesting puzzles make it a joy to play and an easy recommendation for gamers who are looking for a light palate cleanser between universe-saving exploits.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!

We've got the full list of The Cave achievements - check the list for guides to unlocking them.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.