Spelunking through the depths of the mysterious cave in Double Fine Productions’ latest game The Cave will likely bring on a bout of nostalgia for anyone who fondly remembers pointing and clicking their way through adventure games during the 1980’s and 1990’s. This should come as no surprise to hear since the title comes from the mind of Ron Gilbert — the man behind several classic adventure games like Manic Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. Considering the history of the developers working on The Cave, it would be fair to say that there were some lofty expectations for the title leading up to its release. Thankfully, Gilbert and his team have once again lived up to their reputations by delivering a fun and challenging adventure game.
The premise of The Cave is that for thousands, “nay, nay, tens of thousands of years” people have explored the deepest regions of the mysterious talking cave (yes, the cave talks and serves as the game’s humorous narrator) in search of what they desire the most in life. At the start of the game players choose three adventurers to take into the cave from a group of seven; The Hillbilly, The Scientist, The Monk, The Twins (two slightly creepy children, who count as one character), The Adventurer, The Knight, and The Time Traveler. Upon entering into the cave players will find two sets of levels/puzzles. The first are general areas of the cave that must be played through regardless of which characters you choose, the other are seven character specific levels that tell the story for each adventurer.
To access and solve each of these character specific levels players must use each adventurer’s unique ability — for example; The Time Traveler can teleport short distances , The Monk has limited telekinesis abilities, and The Adventurer can swing over certain gaps. The majority of these abilities are useless outside of their respective character’s level, however, there are a few instances where certain abilities can be helpful in The Cave‘s general levels.
The three adventurer at a time limit, combined with the character specific levels, means that you will have to play though The Cave three times before you have seen every puzzle that the game has to offer. It also means that you might want to save that last playthough for a time when all the solutions are not as fresh in your mind, because at that point it will only consist of one level that you have not seen before. It’s a shame that Double Fine didn’t take the extra time to throw in two additional characters/levels to make that final exit though the cave’s gift shop on par with the first two playthroughs.
Even though you have direct control over the characters’ movement, and some light platforming is required, The Cave is a pure adventure title that is very much in the spirit of the classic point-and-click adventure games. This means that throughout your playthroughs you will find yourself doing things like: jumping into a fish tank full of electric eels to charge a battery, which can then be inserted into a recorder that is then used to record the sound of a cave monster. At that point you can then play the sound to a hunter who will run away from the hot dog vending machine that they are guarding, which allows you to snatch a giant frankfurter that is used to solve some other puzzle.
In short, it’s fantastic.
While a few of the game’s puzzles are a tad on the easy side, most require a decent amount of thought to solve and a few will have you scratching your head. Thankfully, nothing approaches the level of making you want to test the aerodynamics of your controller and I never encountered a situation where I was not able to proceed past a level due to a mistake. The Cave successfully walks the fine line between being challenging and punishing, which in this genre is a tribute to the design skills of the entire Double Fine team.
The Cave is very much a dark comedy as the levels typically involve having to murder (or accidentally kill) someone in a cartoonish/comedic way in order for the characters to achieve their goals. There is nothing gruesome on display here, but I can see the humor not exactly being everyone’s cup of tea. Personally, I found the comedy in The Cave to be one of the best parts of the game and often found myself smiling or chuckling at comments from NPCs or the cave itself.
There are a few minor issues that I experienced while playing The Cave, that seem like they could have been corrected with a bit more polish. The movement controls are not quite as tight as they could be when it comes to jumping, and at times my character would get stuck on the environment when pushing objects. I can’t stress enough how minor these two issues are (they are almost not worth noting) and neither comes anywhere close to hurting the overall experience.
The only other thing that I could point to as a knock against The Cave — and this is only going to be applicable to a certain segment of gamers — is that the game’s 20 Bronze Trophies constitute one of the worst Trophy lists in recent memory. I’m not one to let a lack of Trophies stop me from playing any particular title, however, I do find that a strong Trophy list tends to add to my overall enjoyment. I have not lowered The Cave‘s rating based on its weak Trophy list, but it could be an issue for gamers who care about these sorts of things.
Overall, The Cave is a solid adventure title with a great sense of humor and challenging puzzles. There are a few minor issues that could have been avoided with a little more polish, but nothing that detracts from the game in any meaningful way. Adventure fans and those who get a kick out of dark comedy will find plenty of enjoyment within the cave’s depths.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Overall, The Cave is a solid adventure title with a great sense of humor and challenging puzzles. Fans of the genre and those who get a kick out of dark comedy will find plenty of enjoyment within the cave's depths.