A group of unlikely spelunkers wish to explore a mysterious talking mass of geography for personal and often devious intentions. What could possibly to wrong in The Cave?
The Lost Vikings and Maniac Mansion are two games from yesteryear, both with massive cult followings. One is a plat former, the other a point-and-click adventure game, both rely on the usage of three separately controlled characters to solve riddles in order to get through the game.
Fast forward to 2013, and we see the latest game from Ron Gilbert and Double Fine, The Cave. The Cave attempts to combine elements from both games to create a fresh experience, do they succeed?
Read on to find out.
As previously mentioned, The Cave comes directly from the mind of Ron Gilbert, who worked on classics such as Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and DeathSpank. Working with him is creative director Tim Schafer, who worked on Brütal Legend, Psychonauts and Grim Fandango. With the list of titles just mentioned, one would think that The Cave would be filled with loads of ingenious and witty dialogue that often comes from these two minds. Unfortunately, The Cave does not meet the expectations many have for the game.
That’s not to say The Cave is a bad game, far from it. The game is about a group of spelunkers who enter The Cave in search of their biggest desire. The Cave is alive, and serves as narrator to the game as you explore his inner depths. Much like Maniac Mansion, the game starts with seven spelunkers ready to explore The Cave, and it is up to the player to choose who to take on their adventure.
Each character has their own special ability and backstory, and will bend what happens throughout your adventure through The Cave. Of course it is possible to finish the game with any combination, and every combination offers a different experience; it will take multiple play throughs in order to fully see everything The Cave has to offer.
The special ability of each character varies greatly, these include The Twins’ ability to astral project themselves to hold onto switches while they go through an open gate and The Time-Traveller’s ability to teleport through thin walls. Each of these characters also comes with their own area within The Cave, which harbours their deepest desires, and exposes each character for the kind of person they really are.
I won’t spoil anything, but some of the acts these characters perform are pretty heinous. As an additional element, cave paintings can be found throughout The Cave. These cave paintings allow the player the ability to gain insight about each character as it shows each character’s backstory, and the reason why these characters have become the people they are. Getting to know the inner-workings of these characters is very interesting, and the game does tell their stories in a quite unique, but not bad way.
While the darkness of The Cave shines, the humour aspect we have come to expect from Ron Gilbert is virtually non-existent. NPCs are very few and far between, so there isn’t very much dialogue to be had. The Cave is the only one who stays with you throughout the game, and his lines are very well written, and do inject that humour element into the game. Anyone else that isn’t The Cave, however, only spout a couple of lines each, none of which are very memorable.
None of the main characters talk either, so no actual conversations really take place, meaning that the witty repartee found in games like Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island are non-existent. Coming from a Ron Gilbert/Tim Schafer experience, this may sadden a lot of fans who are expecting a lot of laughs.
The actual gameplay itself is where the game plays a bit of good cop/bad cop. While the concept of controlling three different characters at once isn’t a new concept, it was done over twenty years ago in The Lost Vikings; it hasn’t exactly been pushed to new boundaries in The Cave which is a disappointment. As I progressed through the game, I found myself crying for a ‘follow me’ button, as having to make even two out of the three characters travel great distances to get to the same spot becomes a massive chore. Some of this backtracking is spared with some checkpoints that deliver the other two characters straight to you, but in order to get three characters onto a pressure pad is a pain if there is some considerable distance for each person to travel.
The absolute saving grace for all the backtracking comes with the addition of co-op play. Up to three players can play the game at once, one with the gamepad, the other two with a Wiimote and Nunchuk each. While the puzzles remain the same, it makes the game a lot more enjoyable when you are communicating with each other to solve each puzzle, and is incredibly time saving when you are all travelling together to reach the next destination. It does not go to split-screen when one character goes off screen, meaning it is imperative that you keep both characters on the screen when possible, otherwise you will need to backtrack to save them and keep them in control.
Inventory is made simple by having each player only hold one item each. Each item you find is generally able to be used pretty close to where you found it, so there are no real issues as far as keeping track of where you left your items. Some characters’ abilities sometimes lend to not even needing certain items, meaning that some puzzles you come across can be solved in more than one way, which can be refreshing, especially the parts of the cave that are played no matter what characters were chosen.
There is no death in The Cave, if you fall into a spike pit, drown or even get blasted by a dinosaur, you will turn into a bit of mist and transported not too far away, this follows the old Lucasarts concept that games can be more enjoyed if they don’t punish players for experimenting. It is also a god send because it prevents even more of the vast amounts of backtracking already forced due to the three-character control scheme.
Overall, the game looks fine. The platforming is done in 2.5D, and the art style does its job of representing the different worlds from where each character hails, such as the castles representing The Knights area and the pyramids representing The Adventurer’s area. The music also does its job of setting apart each area, though it is nothing memorable. The game is presented well, with minimal menus and options; it is purely focused on the game.
While The Cave is tremendous in concept, who does not want to be reminded of Maniac Mansion and The Lost Vikings? The characters’ backstories are interesting, the co-op is fantastic, The Cave represents a well-written narrative and the overall darkness shines throughout the game.
Unfortunately, with some simple things missing such as a ‘follow’ button, split-screen in co-op mode, too much backtracking, and lack of intended humour.
The expectations from fans (however unfair they may be) placed upon any game from Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer have not been met. Overall, The Cave has missed the mark of a great game. It is currently one of the better games available on Nintendo’s eShop, but it won’t be one of the best games when the inevitable top 10 eShop game lists start coming out at the end of the year.