BADGP Reviews: The Cave

The Cave

The Cave (SEGA, Double Fine)

Review: A Puzzling Spelunking Adventure! By Alex Linna, January 23, 2013

The first thing one will notice after selecting “New Game” in The Cave is the excellent voice acting and writing present in the game.  A narrator introduces himself, “Yes, I’m a talking cave… Don’t laugh… it makes dating Hell.” This is one of the first lines in the game. Upon hearing this, I knew I was in for a funny adventure within the depths of this talking cave.  But does this cave have substance to back up the immediately admirable style?

The Cave is a puzzle/adventure game for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, the Wii U eShop, and Steam. Ron Gilbert’s influence has a strong presence.  Similar to one of his earlier games, Maniac Mansion, the player chooses which characters will accompany the player on this journey.  The Cave carves out its own identity by tying specific puzzles to each character creating a unique journey each time (provided the characters selected are different).  I have finished one play-through as the Twins, the Hillbilly, and the Time Traveler at the time of this writing.  I have begun a subsequent play through as the Scientist, the Adventurer, and the Monk.  This leaves the Knight as the only character with which I have no experience yet.  Though it wears the skin of an indie puzzle-platformer, it is mostly a puzzle game with some classic adventure game elements.  I was expecting a stronger emphasis on adventure game mechanics given the people working on the game, but the game is largely spent solving various puzzles.  The game has strong hooks that keep the player wanting to continue exploring.  Each explorer in the game is seeking that which they desire most, and it is incredibly interesting unraveling the secrets of the seven characters.

How Does it Look?  (Tech/art/presentation)

 The Cave possesses an inherently likable art style somewhat reminiscent of Double Fine’s past work (Psychonauts, Trenched/Iron Brigade, Brutal Legend). The game animates well and the characters have their own personality provided through “Cave Paintings” revealing their backstories and motivations and through their own unique powers.  I ran into several technical problems: characters getting stuck between movable blocks and the environment, a chuggy frame rate, and I had a character fall out of the environment into an endless grey oblivion.  There is an insta-death or reset button to address these errors however.

How Does it Sound?

The Cave’s music was largely forgettable for me.  The sound design, specifically in the Twins section, was unsettling and atmospheric and deserves a mention here.  As previously mentioned, the voice acting is terrific.  The cave itself, the souvenir shop guy, and the hermit all gave excellent performances.

How Does it Play?

The Cave was not too hard, and not too easy.  Like most puzzle games and most adventure games, I got stuck, about once per puzzle where I had little idea what to do next.  There are also no walkthroughs up on the game yet, so I was left with my own puzzle solving devices.  It was satisfying when I finally was able to solve the current mystery at hand, although little did I know, I was about to get stuck just as badly in the next section.  It was never impossible. Once I just forgot the location of an item, the logic for the puzzles is largely achievable and exciting when one has the “Eureka!” moment.  All three of the character puzzles I have experienced were incredibly unique and I liked all for different reasons.  It would be a good discussion to be had, “Which character puzzle is best?”  I would have difficulty answering that only having played through three of them.

I’ll describe one character puzzle in more detail so one might better understand how the game progresses.  Although the Twins puzzle will probably stick with me the longest, I’ll describe the Time Traveler’s.  She first must find the fuse to power on the nearby time machine.  After that she must move a rock to stop the formation of stalactites in the pre-history time so that the rest of the team may proceed and help her out.  This puzzle provides a similar layout for three different time periods.  One must travel throughout them in order to retrieve a key in order to proceed farther into the depths of the cave.  There are puzzle to be solved including a dinosaur in the way, a missing bucket, and figuring out how to get the key.  There are many jokes along the way keeping the player smiling despite the dark nature of the game.

How Does it Compare?

The closest thing that I’ve played that most resembles The Cave would probably have to be… The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, although a game like Limbo might also be a good comparison as well.  It is more like a puzzle game than adventure game.  It is atmospheric with specific puzzle challenges like Limbo, but funny and has adventure-game blood coursing through its veins like Maniac MansionThe Cave is dark game with a gloomy message, although it should be noted that there is an achievement named “Redemption” with attainable “happy” endings.  The Cave weaves together tales of characters with similar thematic elements to produce a depressing conclusion tied to materialism and desire.  Machiavelli could be an influence with the ends justifying the means.

Conclusion/Recommendation

The Cave is a game for fans of puzzle or adventure games, fusing elements of both genres.  The game is not flawless with its technical issues and I would argue that there is way too much climbing involved.  One also will have to replay the “common” puzzles that are present in every playthrough of the game to experience everything the game has to offer.  The Cave is unique and entertaining enough for me to want to see everything though, and it is a great start to 2013 on the “downloadable only” front.  It certainly outshines 2012’s Shank 2 as the first downloadable of note of the year.  It took me under five hours to complete a single playthrough, but as mentioned, there is reason to replay at least twice more.  The creative puzzles and unique concept makes The Cave worth playing.  It is not perfect, but it is charming and memorable.

Score: 8.2 out of 10

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