by Marjolein Verheij
previewed on PC
Old-style puzzles in 2D
A collaboration between Ron Gilbert – the man behind games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island – and development studio Double Fine – famous for Psychonauts and Stacking – can only result in something unique and that is exactly what The Cave is. It’s an adventure game at heart and thus all about puzzle solving, picking up items and finding out how and where to use them to progress. The game blends old-style puzzles with modern 2D platforming and adds in a dark sense of humor for good measure. And just when you think you have figured this game out, it throws in a surprise: instead of pointing and clicking to move around the screen, you will actually be jumping and walking with your characters. You can imagine it is a little more involving than your average adventure game.
The Cave tells the story of seven unlikely adventurers of which you pick three upon starting the game. Besides your run of the mill Knight and Monk characters, there are also unconventional ones such as a Hillbilly, a Scientist, Creepy Twins, an Adventurer and a Time Traveler. They all have a background story and their own reason to explore the depths of the titled Cave. The Monk is searching for enlightenment, the Knight for Excalibur, the Hillbilly for love, the Scientist for a great discovery for all mankind, the Twins are searching for their mother, the adventurer for her lost companions (and treasure of course) and lastly the Time Traveler is trying to find a way to rectify a mistake made millions of years in the future.
Apart from having their own reasons, each character also has unique abilities and even some areas that only they can enter. This means that if you pick the Knight, Monk and Hillbilly, you will be able to explore other areas of the cave than if you played with the Twins, Scientist and Time Traveler. This makes for great replay value as other stories unfold when playing with another team. Examples of the areas you’ll uncover with the Knight are ancient medieval castles and dragons. The Twins occupy a manor and a laboratory is the specific zone of the Scientist. There will also be an area with a subterranean amusement park and one with a fully armed and ready to launch nuclear-tipped ICBM. Sounds interested? That’s what I thought.
It’s possible – and required – to switch between your chosen heroes to solve the puzzles you encounter. Because each character has its own special ability, puzzles can be solved in different ways depending on which abilities you have at hand. The Time Traveler can teleport through walls, the Hillbilly can hold his breath indefinitely, the Adventurer has a grappling hook and the Knight has a pair of spectral wings ready for soft landings. What abilities the other characters will have is yet to be revealed but I’m sure they will fit them perfectly and in wonderfully odd ways. Most puzzles are solved with items that can be found throughout the cave. Essentially, any free item encountered can be picked up and used in one way or another. Ever thought of using a hotdog to lure a dragon? You might need to in The Cave. Expect to be challenged logically. Ron Gilbert said: “With The Cave, one of the things I really tried to do was just sort of make things really logical. So you’re not just randomly trying things together to get things to work.”
To make things less frustrating, there is no penalty for death. You are merely moved backwards by a screen or two. As those screens look very attractive, with a cartoon-like art style and hand-painted backgrounds, that’s hardly a punishment.
To add to the fun of exploring the cave and its secrets you can have two friends join your game to control the second and third character whenever they are on-screen. This can only be done only locally, which suits this game just fine. An interesting twist is that the cave itself is the narrator throughout your adventure and adds its comments with a self-described “sultry and mysterious voice”. It is also the only talking main character.
The Cave is all about experimentation and discovery. After what I’ve seen, I can’t wait to jump in and help those weird heroes find what they are looking for all the way through till the end.