A Penchant for Adventures
Adventure games have a very special place in my heart. Though many of the greats of the genre are as old (or older) than I am, they were still my introduction to the world of video games. My father worked as a computer programmer, so there was always a top-of-the-line desktop around the house for me to play games on. My first experiences in the world of video games were with characters like Guybrush Threepwood and Princess Rosella. Sure, I had fun with Doom and Wolfenstein, but I always found myself coming back to the adventure games.
OMG, A Talking Cave!
And so, it’s fitting, then, that some of the biggest names behind early adventure games would pull me back to the world of video game reviews with The Cave. The game opens with the “sultry and mysterious voice” of the titular cave itself ominously introducing you to the adventure. And assuring you that being a talking cave is no laughing matter. It does not take long for the comedic styling of writer Ron Gilbert to shine through. Just like it did not take long for me to fall in love with what The Cave was offering: another trip filled with clever puzzles and quirky comedy. But what surprised me was how I fell out of love with it.
At the start, you are given seven characters to choose from. The way the game plays is different based on which characters you choose, as they have their own individual story that plays out in some part of the cave. Each of the characters also has a backstory and a dark secret to go with their personal adventure, revealed by cave paintings hidden throughout the game. The characters’ sections of the cave are separated by sections that must be played no matter what: The Gift Shop, The Mine, The Zoo, and The Island. Based on the characters you choose, you could play several character sections and/or main sections back-to-back while traversing through the cave. In my case, the Adventurer’s and Time Traveler’s stories played out one after the other.
But, as I traveled through the cave, outsmarting dragons, angry miners, and weird cave monsters, the joy of coming back to the adventure genre started to wear thin. The game was not what one would call boring, it was just… routine. Okay, it was boring. The character stages are engaging, and figuring out how to use each character’s ability can be very fun (as was my experience with the Knight and the Time Traveler). Some of the answers to the puzzles are well-thought out, but the execution can be grating. Sure, coming up with the clever solution to getting the dynamite the miner is throwing at me is satisfying, but realizing I have to backtrack a bunch and then go do it two more times is just plain tedious. And the lack of an inventory system, while novel at first, wears thin when you realize that that item you saw way back where you were ten minutes ago is necessary to solve the puzzle you are currently grappling with.
Look Ain’t Everything… But They Help
One thing that managed to assuage the feeling of boredom was just how great the game looks. This isn’t photorealism or uncanny valley stuff, but great animation and well-designed environments. The Cave has these immensely, uh, cave-y areas – complete with dripping stalactites and weird monsters – that merge seamlessly with very un-cave like sections, such as the twins’ mansion and the island your characters will find themselves on. Have to hand it to Double Fine, they created some very interesting levels, both for the main areas and the places in which each character’s story plays out.
The fact that each character has their own story somewhere in the cave, and that you can only have a team of three once you actually dive into the cave, means the game has great replay value, on the surface. You have to play it at least three times just to see everything!What better reason to play through a game again? But, after the first time, you are only playing a few new levels while going through the motions of the now-drudgery that is the cave’s main sections. But, working to see the last character’s level is the most daunting task. Not only will you have to repeat the usual main areas of the cave, but also have to play through old levels of two characters you have already played.
To Spelunk or Not to Spelunk
The Cave is a game that showed lots of promise, given those pulling the strings, and when it’s great, it’s really great. The Time Traveler’s level deals with manipulating the past and present to affect the future in what makes for one of the game’s best puzzles. But, the good just was not able to outshine the tedium of the rest. All of this puts The Cave in a weird place. I would still recommend this to fans of either Gilbert’s writing or the adventure genre, as the good in this game is really worth it. As for everyone else, though? This is one cave you might just want to leave for others to spelunk.
Gilbert’s writing is as funny and charming as always; some of the puzzles feel genuinely clever and discovering their solutions is incredibly satisfying.
Much of the game requires backtracking and otherwise tedious methods of puzzle solving; the game’s overall structure lowers what would be extensive replay value.