Double Fine’s The Cave is a collaboration of industry greats. Ron Gilbert, designer and creator of The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, and Tim Schafer, responsible for games like fan favorite Psychonauts and Grim Fandago, teamed up to bring us a (seriously) dark, yet hilarious adventure experience. The Cave is available to download on Nintendo eShop, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Steam.
The game takes place inside a sentient cave, The Cave, which also narrates throughout the game. There are seven playable characters, each with their own story, motivation, and special ability, but only three are playable at any give time. Some combinations of characters make adventuring through the cave easier, while other combinations make the journey much lengthier. Each character also has his or her own area in the cave, which, along with collectable Cave Portraits found throughout the adventure, provides the background story for each character’s being at The Cave. You’ll have to play the game at least three times (more, depending on your character selection) in order to play through the story of each character.
Though Gilbert is legendary for his point-and-click games, The Cave plays as a side-scrolling platformer. Unfortunately, the platforming mechanics fall short of expectations. There’s little to no exploration, and platforming consists of making the same simple jumps, climbing the same ladders, and swimming through the same pools of water as you run to and fro solving puzzles. In addition, there’s no dying in The Cave. Missing jumps, falling, or other platforming failures have no real consequence. Characters simply respawn with item in hand, albeit farther away from the objective. However, accidental deaths are common, and deliberate deaths prove to be amusing at the very least. Controls are simple enough, consisting of nothing more than a few buttons, and they can easily be mastered in the intro of the game. The gameallows for local co-op, as well, but, while playing with others is always fun, it does not create a particularly different or exciting experience.
The real gameplay resides in the massive amount of puzzles that need to be solved. Like with all puzzle-heavy games, this quickly grows tedious. However, this feeling is amplified in The Cave due to necessary backtracking and the lack of an inventory. These two things, matched with the “trial and error” solving method commonly found in puzzle-based games, can make gameplay downright irritating. Puzzles requiring more than one item mean that each item has to be carried separately. While this wouldn’t be so bad if all three characters moved as a group, The Cave unfortunately lacks that ability. In order to solve puzzles, all three characters must move around the area, running back and forth several times, turning what could be fun and challenging puzzles into frustratingly time consuming tasks. While it’s necessary to replay the game several times to complete it in its entirety, the sheer amount of time necessary to complete puzzles may make replaying the game unappealing to some.
Tim Schafer is well known for being associated with creative and visually fantastic games, and The Cave is no exception. Each character’s area is made complete by its distinct environment, which serves as a physical manifestation of its respective character’s psyche. The game is presented in a dark, yet pleasing style that’s reminiscent of adventure games past. Additionally, the sound perfectly compliments the game environment. While there is very little voice acting going on in the game (the playable characters are practically silent), what is given to us is very well done. The music is wonderfully done as well. Each stage has its own perfectly fitting soundtrack. While the framerate is occasionally choppy, The Cave’s presentation is nothing short of what Double Fine’s fans have come to expect.
The Cave’s writing is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the game. Ron Gilbert is a master at comedy, and this game is no exception. While it’s certainly less blatantly silly and fun than his past work, his touch of subtle, dark humor serves the game well. Certainly, the Cave’s commentary is enough to keep the player grinning the entirety of the game. The content of The Cave is dark. It’s reminiscent of episodes of Tales From the Crypt and could be eerie in any other format. Gilbert does a fantastic job of presenting several different characters, in a way that you can’t help but chuckle at, no matter how terrible and dastardly their actions and motives turn out to be.
The Cave, though not the best work of either industry legend, proves to be an enjoyable and delightful experience. The presentation is spot on, but it does little to make up for the tedious gaming mechanics. The game’s writing, though well done, is ultimately not nearly as unforgettable Gilbert’s previous work. However, despite its flaws, the game is by no means bad. Its character selection, story, replayability, and overall atmosphere still manage to keep the player engaged, despite its annoyances. Fans of Double Fine, Ron Gilbert, or Tim Schafer will find no wrong in making The Cave part of their game library. While it could have been better, The Cave earns itself a…