When two industry legends reunite to release an adventure title, you can’t help but have high hopes for their latest creation. Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Psychonauts) and Ron Gilbert’s (Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island) The Cave features an array of creative puzzles and large doses of dark humor in a package that’s entertaining, but is overshadowed by a few noticeable flaws.
If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone series then you will appreciate The Cave‘s eccentric characters and plot. A talking Cave (voiced by Stephen Stanton) has beckoned eight strangers – ranging from a love-struck Hillbilly to a futuristic Time Traveler – into exploring its depths in the hope of fulfilling their hearts’ desires. Limited to a party consisting of 3 members, you will slowly uncover your party member’s individual stories as you progress through the game’s countless puzzles. During your journey you will collect Cave paintings, which give you insights into the main character’s backgrounds. Uncovering each of the characters’ stories extends the replay value and the fantastic dry wit, and slight underlying ominous of the Cave will propel you through to the end.
The visual design of The Cave is distinctive of Double Fine’s cartoony look, filled with little hidden details that really make it feel like a incredible place to explore. From fossils in the rock, scattered UFO fragments, to perplexing buildings off in the distance, a lot of effort has gone into making the Cave feel like a place worth exploring. The soundtrack is nice and even effective at times but for the most part, it takes a back seat to the gameplay. While the game may look great, however, the performance leaves something to be desired. The game has some serious frame rate issues, and at points I encountered moments in which my character got stuck in the environment. It never got so bad as to be pernicious to the game, but the whole experience feels unrefined.
As a sentient antagonist and narrator, The Cave comes off as the equivalent to Saw’s Jigsaw – devising and constructing elaborate traps, puzzles and mind games for our adventurers to overcome. The puzzles are reminiscent of classic adventure games, but with the added element of some rudimentary platforming. Most puzzles will revolve around interacting with various items or by having team members work in unison. You may need one person to pull a switch while toggling to another character in order to run through the opening, and you’ll make frequent use of items like dynamite and fuse boxes. From there, the challenges expand to include character specific special abilities like the Hillbilly emitting a bubble to hold his breath indefinitely, the Time Traveler warping through thin walls, and the Scientist hacking computer terminals to unlock doors or control machinery. The abilities of some other characters are not always as apparent from the start, but their primary function is to gain access to the sections of The Cave catered toward a character’s specific story. Outside of those areas, most of the abilities are never used but it’s possible to complete the game with any combination of characters.
While you may get momentarily stumped by a puzzle, it never feels like a solution is too obscure. The platforming controls, while basic, feel imprecise and, at times, a bit clunky, but there are never any moments that require you to be incredibly accurate to progress. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of backtracking involved. You can only carry one tool/item at a time, and some of those are necessary for solving numerous puzzles. Hence, you have to drop them in one place and retrieve them later. You can only control one character at a time, which can mean that if you want all three characters at one specific point you have to walk them all there one by one, which can be incredibly frustrating and laborious.
Multiplayer is limited to local co-op with one or two friends being able to take control of the other characters in your party. Unfortunately all the action is limited to one screen, forcing players to patiently wait until it is their turn. The inclusion of split-screen would have been a welcomed addition but the game moves much faster; not only from a mechanical standpoint but also because you’ve got three minds attempting to solve the challenges.
In the end, The Cave is an extremely entertaining puzzle-solving adventure disguised as a side-scrolling platformer. Discovering each characters’ surprising stories drastically increases the replay value, and solving the challenging puzzles will provide you with a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately in comparison to Ron Gilbert’s previous works, The Cave falls short of my expectations.
Editor’s Note: The Cave was reviewed using a Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any further differences between the Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 version, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.