Ron Gilbert’s name has become synonymous with some of the most beloved games ever released. Games like Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and DeathSpank have all sprung forth from his creative brain, and onto the screen in a fantastic manner. His latest title, The Cave, follows suit, changing up the overall format that he is known for, and bringing his unique brand of puzzles and humor to a platforming game. Teaming up the fine folks at Double Fine Productions, The Cave is Gilbert’s first game in twenty years where both he and industry legend Tim Shafer can find their names in the credits… so you know there’s some interesting things abound.
The Cave is a story of, well, a talking cave that plays host to seven different adventurers as they search for their hearts’ one, true desire. At the start of the game players chose three different characters to enter the cavern with, and use as a team to survive all the twists and turns that The Cave has to offer. Of the three characters that are chosen, players can swap between them using the D-pad, but they are locked to only using those three characters for the rest of the game, so you need to choose wisely. Each character has a unique ability (a monk with telekinesis, a time traveler that can phase through walls, etc.) that can be used to solve puzzles. Additionally, numerous puzzles require contributions from all three characters at once, forcing players to swap between them in order to complete all the steps and progress through the game.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward – use whatever is at your disposal to find the solutions to puzzles in order to advance along your journey. The Cave is basically an old school point-and-click adventure game that’s been updated to take place within the world of a 2D platformer. As you poke around the various nooks and crannies of the cave it becomes apparent that the only way to move the game along and solve the brunt of the game’s puzzles is to actively consider all of your options at any given point in time. If you need to reach a latch on the ceiling, look for something that’s long and has a hook on it (think umbrella). If a monster is blocking your path, try finding a way to appeal to its stomach to get it to move (everyone loves vending machine hot dogs). It’s that kind of thing, for an entire game, which is awesome. Anyone that is a fan of Gilbert’s early work will appreciate the creativity that has been poured into each of the puzzles making them challenging enough to make you think, without over-complicating them to the point where you’ll hit an insurmountable wall.
Each trip through The Cave is broken up into seven different segments of gameplay, four of which are story-based and locked, plus three of which are unique and are dependent on the characters that you choose. In order to fully complete The Cave players will need to play through the game at least three separate times, twice with two sets of three different characters, and one time with two duplicates and the remaining unplayed adventurer. This, of course, means that four sections of The Cave will need to be played three times, no matter what, and two characters’ sections will need to be replayed as well. This repetition is a bit of a bummer, but, in the end, it’s worth it to fully experience each of the different story lines and different sets of puzzles.
Fortunately, for all the time that is spent traversing and re-traversing the subterranean maze you’re constant companion, the cave itself, will be constantly cracking quips to keep a smile on your face. The game’s writing is stellar, and it becomes apparent at every turn, with jokes about the characters, the history of the cave, and even breaking own the fourth wall and taking some shots at the players themselves.
Again and again, The Cave proves that it isn’t your run-of-the-mill game. Many of the ideas, gameplay elements, and puzzles peek out from the safe place that most “mainstream” games hide behind, and converge to make the game feel refreshing. However, having to play through it multiple times, and have approximately half of each run through be the same can be tedious, and may discourage some gamers from enjoying the full breadth of content that this game offers. If you’re willing to endure some repetitious areas, then you’re in for a treat; from the puzzles, to the writing, to the twisted characters, The Cave is a great way for you to venture after your heart’s greatest desire… just be careful with what you wish for.