For many, Ron Gilbert is a gaming hero. After all, he is one of the gifted brains behind some of gaming’s most highly regarded memories, such as Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island series, Total Annihilation, and Penny Arcade’s first On The Rain Slick Precipice Of Darkness. In September 2010, Gilbert joined ex-Lucasarts compatriot Tim Schafer at Double Fine Productions, and in 2013 has released his first title since joining the company, The Cave.
The Cave is a beautifully presented, side-scrolling puzzle game about seven characters delving into the depths of a sentient, talking cave, hoping to discover what would happen should their deepest, darkest desire ever be fulfilled. At the beginning of the game, the player chooses three of these characters for their unique abilities, in what appears to be a Lost Vikings-style character-switching puzzle/adventure with a tantalisingly dark flavour. Unfortunately, the early promise of The Cave is undermined (pun intended) by an odd design choice, lacklustre platforming, and interminable backtracking.
Due to the fact that there are seven characters to choose from, the Cave needs to be navigable at any point by any combination of spelunkers. This results in the character abilities being little more than puzzle bypasses. For instance, the time traveller has the ability to teleport a short distance ahead, meaning that locked doors are of little consequence to her. Upon this realisation, The Cave loses some of its teeth. There is no need to experiment with the abilities of your chosen characters, or combinations thereof, because they are ultimately unnecessary. Every single puzzle in The Cave can be solved with any character, using little more than basic locomotion and interaction.
This issue is somewhat ameliorated by the inclusion of character-specific areas, which are only accessible if the character they are designed for is present in the current party. These areas require the player to make frequent and familiar use of the ability of the associated character, are where character backstories are explored in greater detail, and include some of the most varied and inspired level design found anywhere in the title. That said, these excellent areas are separated by relatively bland non-character-specific areas which will remain the same for every playthrough, no matter which combination of characters you have at your disposal.
General puzzle design is reminiscent of point-and-click adventures, in that most are solved by combining a portable item with something in the environment. They’re simplified by the fact that each of your characters can only carry a single item, so inventory management isn’t an issue. Unfortunately most of the puzzles require a significant amount of backtracking, which only serves to highlight the weak platforming that can see characters stuck in the environment with frustrating regularity.
Based on the credits, Tim Schafer didn’t have much input into the design or writing of The Cave, which is a shame. The games that Gilbert and Schafer made together in the past prove that the pair work well together: Ron’s humour and design influence are an excellent pairing with Tim’s ability to develop beautifully crafted stories and the worlds beyond. The Cave’s premise and execution are interesting, but ultimately shallow. Much like DeathSpank, the writing is solid and laced with humorous nostalgia, but doesn’t run much deeper than sight gags and Monkey Island references.
- Beautiful artwork
- Some excellent puzzle design
- Solid writing
- Poor platforming
- Many bland areas between puzzles
- Doesn’t take advantage of having seven unique characters
- Not as deep or interesting as it really should have been