Down, Down, Deeper and Down
Caves have always offered fertile soil for the imagination, their impenetrable depths no doubt tugging at some ancient Cro-Magnon impulses still buried deep in our DNA. Tolkien filled his with beasts and riddles, while both Plato and Nietzsche looked into their dark recesses and saw reflections of the human soul. Ron Gilbert, on the other hand, sees The Cave as a place for puzzles and gags.
Prey For Mercy
Still best known for his classic vintage adventure games - among them the genre-defining Secret of Monkey Island - The Cave finds Gilbert returning to his roots in some ways, while deviating from them in others.
There are, of course, puzzles where you need to find and use items in offbeat but mostly logical ways. There are plenty of locked doors, the keys to which must be earned from a cast of bizarre characters or reached by opening up new areas. And there are jokes - lots of them - stirred into the plentiful dialogue with dark wit. The Cave itself narrates your adventure, and the fact that it's a self-aware talking cave is the source of some nice gags. This isn't a game that will make you laugh out loud, but you'll almost always have a smile on your face and a chuckle in your belly.
The game also nods to one Gilbert's earliest games, Maniac Mansion, by allowing the player to control more than one character. In the case of The Cave, however, it's a choice that has a massive impact on how the game plays.
There are seven characters waiting to enter The Cave, each with their own story to tell. There's a knight, a scientist, an adventurer, a time traveller, a hillbilly, a monk and a pair of spooky Victorian twins who operate as one character. You can choose three of these, and the layout of the cave adjusts depending on who you pick.
Inside the cave, each character has their own self-contained section which spells out a little bit about their history, as well as several core areas that will appear in every playthrough. These are often morbid moral fables, with each protagonist revealing some gruesome secret or terrible misdeed. So you'll explore a gothic mansion with the twins, recreating their fiendish plot to murder their parents. You'll jump back and forth from prehistory to the far future as the time-traveller conspires to eradicate a workplace rival. The scientist thinks nothing of taking a bribe in exchange for nuclear devastation.
It's a nice twist on the standard video game heroics, and does a good job of tying your progress through the puzzles to a larger story. As you work out what you need to do next, you're working out what your characters did to earn a spell in the cave. A little more info can be teased out by finding a series of glowing markers for each character, scattered throughout the game. Each one unlocks a comic style panel, depicting a key moment in the character's past.
Acid House Party
But The Cave isn't just an old-style puzzle-based adventure game. It's also a co-op platform game in the style of indie hits such as Trine. Getting from one area to the next, and navigating within each section, is done by running, jumping and climbing across platforms, ladders and ropes. There's no death in The Cave - if you take a fatal tumble you immediately respawn - so that can't help but leave this exploration angle feeling a little superfluous.
Many of the puzzles require a lot of trekking back and forth, first while you work out what needs to be done, then as you bring all the objects you need to the right places. Each character can only carry one object at a time, so even once you've solved a puzzle actually implementing the solution can involve a lot of pointless retracing of your steps over the same obstacles multiple times. It doesn't help that interaction with objects can be fussy, particularly if they overlap. A couple of the puzzles rely on fairly arbitrary solutions as well - such as holding an object in place rather than simply blocking it by standing in its way.
Clash Of The Terror Titans
These issues take the shine off an otherwise enjoyable and charming game, but Gilbert's sense of humour pulls it through. The decision to break the game down into smaller sections also makes it more manageable, and means there's always a strong urge to see what's coming next. Having seven characters means that a second playthrough will contain a big chunk of new gameplay, but having one character left over for the third playthrough is a little awkward.
Even with its minor flaws, The Cave is a quirky and memorable game and one that is recommended for fans of classic adventure and puzzle games, as well as anyone looking for something a little bit different.
- Well-written and very funny
- Some clever puzzles
- Local co-op play is fun
- Backtracking gets annoying
- Some controls are clumsy
- Puzzles tend to be a bit easy