The name Ron Gilbert should be familiar to gamers. As one of the minds behind Maniac Mansion and Escape from Monkey Island, he is no stranger to games that are quirky, puzzling, and just plain entertaining. The Cave, his latest project, walks that line, but it also straddles between dark humor and plain old melodrama. There’s a lot to this game, is what we’re trying to say.
The Cave, as in the titular character of The Cave, is a talking cave that houses people’s deepest desires. Seven individuals have come to seek those desires, and you get to see them through to that end. The Knight wants easy chivalry, the Hillbilly wants to win his true love, the Time Traveler wants revenge on a co-worker, the Scientist wants riches for her research, the Adventurer seeks treasure above all else, the Twins “just want to go out and play,” and the Monk wants to become better than his master. You’ll select three of these each time you play, leaving you with decent replay value – an incentive in seeing what the other characters bring to the table.
The individuality of these seven characters is key to The Cave. Every character has a unique move, such as the Time Traveler’s ability to pass through objects, or the Scientist’s ability to hack certain computers. This adds a Metroid-vania flavor to the game, and it’s a welcome addition to otherwise basic adventuring. In the same vein, you’ll encounter levels designed just for a certain character. The Knight has the expected castle, the Monk has a mountaintop temple, and the Adventurer has a trap-filled pyramid.
What makes these more than just levels – and, honestly, what makes The Cave something to not just play, but talk about – is the story they tell. Sure, there’s an overarching tale while your party explores the chambers of the massive cave, but the individual stories are powerful. There will be multiple moments were you’ll be saying, “No way…they expect me do that?” and nearly putting down the controller. This isn’t a negative; The Cave explores some heavy topics. Greed, rage, and even murder are all on the table here. While playing, you realize there’s more to these characters than “I have a grappling hook” and “I can breath underwater.” The Cave Paintings (the game’s main collectible) you find along the way only further this, revealing more about each character’s past.
Of course, a game can’t fly on storytelling alone. Fortunately, The Cave has fairly solid gameplay too. Yes, we said “fairly” – there are minor issues. Gameplay consists of picking up and interacting with objects. With three party members, there’s no room to hoard items. Think of it like a three-slot inventory system; you’ll have to be smart while playing. The inventory idea is a great way to think of how the game works anyway, because the challenges in The Cave are basically old school point-and-click puzzles solved via platforming. Figuring out what to use to get the dinosaur to chase you or to get the sarcophagus over the spike pit is simply fun puzzle-solving (those are both totally really puzzles, by the way). It could require the shovel; it could require some rat poison. Who knows?
The puzzles of The Cave are great, and they’re even better enjoyed with friends. The Cave offers up to three-player co-op, and it’s brilliant. With single player, it’s easy to slip into too much retracing of steps. With a group, everyone can explore and solve on his own. This also fixes the biggest issue with the game: separation. While it makes sense for the characters to stay spread out in single player, there is no button to quickly call them together; you have to manually bring the group together if that’s what the puzzle calls for. This gets frequently irritating.
Of course, The Cave boils down to an experience. It’s about these seven individuals and their trials while descending through this mysterious cave. It’s those unique levels and that need to replay the game to see them all that will draw the crowds. While some characters’ levels had noticeably less thought put into them, there is still an intriguing story to each character. The puzzles are great, and co-op makes them even greater…even if the step-retracing single player can be annoying at times. And the cave itself – as in the sentient, talking, titular cave? Yeah, he’s hilarious. For all the concentration we put on the weight of the game, it’s friggin’ hilarious. For $15, The Cave offers a deep experience with real laughs. That sounds like a good deal to us.
A copy of the game was provided for review.