Much unlike Ron Gilbert’s previous adventure titles, such as the beloved Monkey Islandseries, The Cave plays out as a side-scrolling platformer game, questioning just how far would you go, to acquire the thing you desire the most. Charming and full of dark humor,The Cave features seven unique characters, each with rather ominous pasts and reasons to venture into the cave. The cave itself is narrated, that’s right it’s a talking cave, who just happens to be elated at the misery of all those that venture inside.
Selecting a team of three and venture head first into the cave to fulfill the wishes of each of the characters. The stereotypical characters are hiding dark secrets, but are charming in their own way. Taking the knight for example, who wishes to pull the sword from the stone, but first he must win the heart of the King’s daughter, who just happens to be locked away in a tower guarded by a dragon. Each one of your selected trio of characters has puzzles tailor made for their skills and talents. The Knight’s ability to become invulnerable comes in handy when battling against a massive fire-breathing creature. Of course, there is more than a single way to complete puzzles, depending on the chosen characters. Cave paintings scattered throughout the cave provide information about the characters and why they ended up in the Cave – most of the time it revolves something dark, albeit humorous.
As an adventure game at heart, puzzles will test you mentally, while the platforming is mediocre and trite. Jumping feels floaty, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when your character grabs a nearby ledge or ladder for the umpteenth time when you are trying to fall to a lower platform, frustration begins to set in. Instead of managing an entire inventory system, each character can only hold a single item at a time, making the need for the characters to work together a necessity.
At one point, a creature blocks your path and to get through you have to place a hot dog on a spike, but to get the hot dog, you have to take a fuse from a crane required to grab and hold the creature, and place it into the slot near the hot dog vending machine – where else do you think cave hot dogs come from? Since you can’t hold multiple items, you will need multiple characters to work in unison to carry both the fuse and the hot dog back to where the creature is located.
There are some really good puzzles to solve in The Cave, generally the character specific ones, but to experience them, you are forced to drudge your way through the same generic puzzles in each playthrough. In one playthrough, you will experience three generic and three character specific puzzles, and those generic puzzles never change. You’ll find yourself backtracking to the spot where you remember dropping the item needed to get past the current roadblock and since you can only hold three items at a time, you will be forced to drop another item you may have to come back to get a little later on. The worse part involves the characters you aren’t controlling at any given moment, just stand where you last left them. Find a new area with a single character, and you may have to climb up or down the same path multiple times to get all the characters to the same spot in order to complete a puzzle or carry additional items. It’s essentially running through the same game multiple times in a single playthrough. Since the platforming doesn’t provide any challenge, traversing through the cave because dull and tiresome.
Supporting local co-op only, having a couple friends over to explore the cave together makes for a more enjoyable experience, at times. The action never deviates from the screen; with no split-screen support. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the way the puzzles are structured, the three characters are frequently being separated, which leaves one or two players waiting, while an objective is completed. It’s a minor setback, but of course I would have liked online support, which would have solved this problem.
The Cave may be the first Double Fine title that I have enjoyed since Costume Quest – sorry Tim Schafer – but it is not without its faults. I was surprised to see that the frame rate can become choppy at times, especially when it transitions over to a new location. It’s enough to notice, but isn’t enough to detract from the game. Experiencing all seven of the character themed levels, requires three full playthroughs, meaning you will be seeing the same boring generic puzzles, over and over.
The comical, but dark characters make playing through The Cave, an enjoyable experience, but the repeating puzzles are not fun. It’s worthy of at least a single playthrough, as it offers up a different take on the adventure game genre. The narration for the cave, is amusing and got me to chuckle every now and again, but most of the game is spent in silence. The Cave sees the return of Ron Gilbert to the adventure genre, and I can’t wait to see what he has install for his next title.Note: The Cave was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.