A talking cave, a set of odd characters like a time traveler and a hillbilly, and puzzles that will have you scratching your head for a while. This is what you get in Double Fine’s latest game, The Cave. The idea was first conceived in the mind of Ron Gilbert, the man behind Monkey Island and more recently Deathspank, nearly twenty years ago. With the level of talent Double Fine and Ron Gilbert bring to the table, I was surprised at how much I ended up disliking The Cave.
Admittedly, I came into The Cave expecting a platforming-adventure type game. That is not what The Cave is. The Cave is more a puzzler game with platforming controls and nothing more. There really isn’t much to it other than that, leaving me feeling empty about my experience once I was done ascending the Cave.
Before you go deep into The Cave you get to choose three of the seven characters that you would like to go into the cave with. A monk, a scientist, a hillbilly, a time traveler, an adventurer, a knight, and a pair of twins are your seven choices, and they each come with their own unique ability. For example, a scientist can hack computers to keep doorways open and the hillbilly can hold his breath. Each character has his own motive for ascending the cave and backstory which is told through cave paintings you find throughout the game and during the character specific level location. You will have to play the game at least three times to complete the game with all seven characters so that does add some replayability to the game.
Once you started your adventure inside the cave you will reach dead end areas where you must complete a puzzle and retrieve an item to proceed further down the cave. The puzzles are cleverly constructed because of the game’s decision to limit you to the three characters and also because the puzzles change depending on which character is in your party. The puzzle can either be easier or more difficult. For instance, you might have to go through a long route to retrieve a key that is behind a closed door, but with the time traveler you can easily teleport through it and get said key.
An issue I had with these areas is that they can get tedious with the number of times you have to traverse back and forth within an area, even when you’re able to switch between the three characters in your party. I found myself going up ladders and ropes to get to the top of an area with the monk, then having to switch to the time traveler and go up those ladders and ropes, and then switching to the twins and doing the same. Why couldn’t we just get simple follow, unfollow, stay controls? It would of had no effect on the puzzles and gives the players a easier way to navigate the three party members.
This being a Ron Gilbert/Double Fine game, we all expect to see or hear something funny. The Cave certainly tries to be funny but it fails miserably. Now this is obviously subjective, you might find The Cave to be the new king of comedy but I highly doubt anyone will. This is coming from someone who got a few good laughs from Deathspank. The Cave, on the other hand, didn’t even make me chuckle. One thing I did appreciate from the writing standpoint was the dark story of greed that pertains to each character.
Part of me wishes the memory of The Cave was forgotten somewhere in Ron Gilbert’s mind. It sure will be in mine. I had very minimal fun with the game and it’s not because the puzzles were too challenging. The Cave does have a few glimpses of something good but for each step forward, it seemed to take two steps back with hitmiss-and-comedic attempts and having to traverse back and forth. The Cave can’t quite be the game it needs to be when it has missing puzzle pieces of its own.
This review is based on a final Xbox Live Arcade version of The Cave provided by Sega.