On a dark and dreary night, the camera pans down from the musky purple backdrop to reveal seven protagonists. Three of them are to be chosen by you to go on a series of wild and wacky adventures. Awaiting you after your choice is the cave. An unforgiving, soulless, abomination. Who tends to try and make me laugh every now and then. What will the depths of the cave reveal to you? Will it reveal adventure, bliss, a mediocre puzzle game, or an instant classic?
So the game begins atop a cliff with seven (eight if you count twins) very different people standing beside one another awaiting a magical entity (that’s you) to select three to go on an extreme mission into a cave whose inner depths are yet to be explored. There is no tutorial, merely narration by ‘The Cave’ itself. The cave explains that each character has a reason to be there and needs to find something they truly desire. After scrolling through each character on the screen, I was pondering how I could pick the ones that I wanted. As it turned out, the game had begun and I just needed to take the three that I wanted off of the cliff.
The controls were easy to master once I realised I was in game mode; the D-Pad is used to change the character you’re controlling, the analog stick is used to move left and right. A to jump, X to use items and Y to use special powers. Walking speed is adjustable by pressing or not pressing the analog stick a certain amount and the controls are pretty much catered to any person that could hold a controller in two hands. The difficulty in this game is not in the actions of your hands, but more your mind. Combinations of certain items that just don’t go well together are what will help you advance in this game. Very reminiscent of the point and click adventures of old, but more on that later. The menus are easy to use and accessibility is not an issue at all. Saving comes as easy as pressing start so no troubles having a hard look for your next save point.
The characters are all very different from one another, and their stories and desires are detailed to you by the nifty little narrator (The Cave) before you make your selection. First up, is The Adventurer. The Adventurer is searching for two lost companions and some ancient treasure. Her special ability is her grappling hook, which enables her to be able to swing across large gaps that other characters can’t reach. Next is The Hillbilly. The Hillbilly is simply looking for love in the cave. His specialty is the ability to infinitely breathe underwater. The Knight is looking for a sword of unequalled power. The Knight’s special ability is by far the most useful, he has the guardian angel ability. This enables him to fall from great heights and protect himself from taking damage. The Monk is searching for his master and has the ability of telekinesis. This means that he can float nearby objects to him. Next up is the The Scientist. The Scientist is on the cusp of a great discovery for all mankind. Her ability is hacking consoles that you find upon your journey. The Time-Traveller is a female who looks to undo a wrong a million years in the making. Her special ability is teleportation through a short distance. You can use it to get through walls and such. The Twins are searching for their parents. Their special ability is to clone themselves for a limited amount of time. This is useful in keeping switches held down and other similar things. I chose the Knight, the Time-Traveller, and the Twins. Then I set off on my journey.
The level design is dark, bleak, and sad. This was clearly intentional and sets the mood for the entire game. The levels that you will encounter, depends on the characters that you have chosen. You will be given levels specific to their story. You will also find cave paintings that reveal more backstory to each character. There are six common levels that you will experience regardless of who you pick, however. But the three will be specific to the your characters. The Cave is an entirely 2D platforming puzzle-game that is designed in such a way that you’ll never have to sit through a loading screen. All levels are a part of the cave, and you will be lead to each differing level based on the choices you make. But there is no straying path. That’s right, the games map is so intricately made that there are seven levels you can enter, plus seven more mini-levels, along with six other preset levels. They all somehow intertwine even though you are taken different paths for different characters. I’m very impressed with Double Fine for pulling this off.
The character specific levels are designed to look as though you are in the character’s world. The twins’ level is an industrial Victorian mansion, featuring their own foster parents. The Knight’s level is a castle which contains a dragon, a princess, and Excalibur itself. The Time-Traveller’s level is the museum at which she worked in the future. There is also a time-machine that will immediately transform the future museum to its present day cave.
So the most important part of the game is of course the puzzles. They work in quite a linear way. There is no inventory system, you have control of three characters at one time and each character can carry one item in their hands at any one time. Pretty much all of the puzzles need more than one of the characters. For Example, Character X stands on button so Character Y can move past opened gate. We’ve seen this a thousand times in games in the past, and it isn’t intuitive. The true puzzle aspects will depend on the characters that you choose. The Time-Traveller’s were by far the hardest puzzles as they required you to manipulate time and all the environments around you to proceed. Sometimes you will have to be quick on the trigger to get both characters to do their desired actions in tandem. This is not strenuous or hard whatsoever, it’s just unexpected as the rest of the game appears to be quite the stroll.
This game is not heavy on the score. There isn’t much of an orchestral vibe unless you’re nearing danger. But when you’re just having a look around for the next item to use or the next part of your puzzle (which you will be doing 95% of the time), the game is pretty much silent. It lets the narrator do all the work. The narration is done fantastically. Humour is on point, and doesn’t get in the way. It gives hints but doesn’t make them too obvious. At one point, I was horrifically stuck and felt like there was no way to advance. The narrator simply said “Oh I dunno, take a leap of faith or something”. It was then that I realised that the Knight’s power did play an angelic noise when I pressed the button. I jumped into some fiery flames, activated the power, and what do ya know…survived. Thanks, awesome narration.
In summary, The Cave is not a long game to play. You can do a full playthrough in less than an hour if you please. It can get slightly annoying, but anyone who has ever played a point and click adventure will have felt that fire much more than this game will cause. The level design is spot on for what they were going for. The different combinations of characters will help with the longevity of the title. It’s funny as hell, well written, and well made. A delightful romp if you will. So what’s the problem?
The only negatives I can see for this excellently crafted game, is just how easy it can be at times. The puzzles go from easy as hell to “hmm, that was quite easy”. Puzzle games are supposed to make you want to hurt loved ones through frustration and pure sadness. But again, this is not the main issue as I don’t think Double Fine were trying to make this game a super-hard puzzler.
This game fails where it should have put its main focus. A game that is based on teamwork, doesn’t support online co-op. I can’t ever condone that, and it infuriates me. That truly hurts the game’s score for me. However, locally you can play with up to three players. So if you have any flatmates or siblings or friends that often come around, I’d recommend picking this up.
Double Fine have certainly put a lot of effort into this puzzler. It is very well designed and amazingly written. Makes you laugh as do the majority of Double Fine games. A lack of online co-op well lowers the score of the game. However, it is still a top notch game.
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