Rob Gilbert is back, once again exhibiting his quirky style and humor in his latest outing, The Cave. Developed by Ron at Double Fine, SEGA is publishing this title, which is nice to see since it seems like something classic SEGA would do. This game in turn is an attempt at a new spin on the classic adventure genre, combining it with platformer.
If you haven’t been following the game, check out the premise is simply and quirky, as is Ron Gilbert’s won’t. The game revolves around the stories of 7 characters who are each after something they desire greatly. In order to get it, they have come to a special place, The Cave. This isn’t just any cave of course, it’s a sentient Cave and is in fact the narrator of the story. As you progress it offers narration and commentary on your actions, to humorous effect.
To start off, you need to choose three of the nine adventurers for your playthrough. Each one has a unique story and unique areas that only they can grant you access to in The Cave. This is due to each having a unique ability.
The gameplay ends up being a sort of puzzle platformer. Ron mentioned he wished to eliminate the classic inventory system, and thus each character can only carry on item at a time. Thus if you wish to carry multiple items through the level, you need to have multiple characters do so. As you would expect with an adventure title, these items are used in conjunction with other items or fixtures in order to solve puzzles and progress.
However, the lack of inventory is a double edged sword. On the one hand it discourages endless trial and by not allowing you to just pick up every item on the level and rub it against everything else, hoping you’ll find a solution. It forces you to think about what you’re going to do, since otherwise you’ll be stuck backtracking. However, this can become frustrating when you have several seemingly valid solutions to a puzzle. In those instances it feels like you are punished for experimenting.
Now backtracking doesn’t tend to be too cumbersome, but sometimes it can be a downright pain. Basically, whenever climbing is involved. The pace at which character climb ladders, but especially ropes can sometimes be very frustrating when attempting and failing to solve a puzzle and having to traverse through areas once more. Still, these are annoyances and not game breaking.
Unlike other adventure games however, you have three protagonists to your story. In my case, I chose The Knight, The Time Traveler and The Twins. Each of them has their own special ability, such as The Knights ability to become invincible, though he can’t move. Or The Time Travelers ability to teleport small distances and The Twins ability to create stationary spectral copies of themselves.
Having three protagonists is not just an extra load though, as many of the puzzle require you to use two or all three in order to achieve a solution. Most of the time this is done in the intermediary areas that are not specific to any plotline. By this I mean, as you progress through The Cave you will enter areas designed specifically for one of the characters you chose.
In these instances, the character whose area it is will feature more heavily, with their special ability being used more heavily. In fact, I found I rarely had any use for the Time Traveler or Twins outside of their specific areas. This did feel like kind of a wasted opportunity.
Beyond this, the bulk of the gameplay will consist in platforming. The game handles well in these portions, being a 2D side-scroller. There is no combat of any kind so any enemies you run across will be dealt with as a puzzle to be solved. It controls well although I did find myself stuck in the environment a few times. Luckily the game has a built in mechanism for “resetting” your character to the nearest spawn point, avoiding the need to reload. This also occurs automatically whenever any of your characters die.
Visuals & Audio
Visually the game is beautiful. It is in the end a 2D side-scroller, but even so the art style is what you’ve come expect from the imaginative artists at Double Fine. It moves smoothly and the environments are detailed. Each of the characters is given an area themed for them that keeps the scenery fresh. This allows you to move from a medieval setting to Victorian London, to the distant future and even the past, all within the confines of The Cave.
The Story is elaborated on by still images you can find by activating Cave Drawings you find throughout the levels. These slowly fill in portions of the characters backstory. All of the characters have rather colorful origins you’ll likely want to find.
The music is largely ambient and there to set the mood. Though it fits each area well enough. The main characters aren’t voiced beyond grunts and moans sadly, so you rely entirely on the Caves narration and the Paintings for their backstories and motivations. Beyond that, the voice acting is well done and the actors present fulfill the demands of the humor.
Ultimately The Cave is what you’d come to expect from a Double Fine title. If you’re a fan of their other outings, you will definitely not be disappointed here. Even if you aren’t, the writing is as always, witty, entertaining and every now and then laugh out loud funny. The puzzles are well thought out and challenging, although there are some minor annoyances here and there. Beyond that though, the fact that each of the characters presents not just a separate play through of the same game, but unique story, levels, puzzles and gameplay makes for quite a bit of replay value.
That said, I must make a quick note on difficulty. The difficulty is dependent on the characters you choose. Much to my chagrin I found myself unable to complete the Time Travelers puzzles. Mr. Gilbert informed me that the Time Traveler has the hardest puzzles in the game. I can attest to the difficulty and admit to having been stumped. In order to finish this review, I went ahead and went back through the game with two extra characters, the Scientist and Hillbilly.
So how does this affect my assessment of the game? Well, I can’t knock the game because I was too dense to solve some of the puzzles. The rest of my experiences with the game, but this does tell me that the game might not be fully accessible to everyone. It’s definitely worth being aware of when coming into this. However, the positives far outweigh any issues I had with the game and I definitely recommend it.