The Cave is the latest game to come out of Double Fine Productions and is the brain-child of Ron Gilbert, who is perhaps the granddaddy of the Point-and-Click genre…if not that then at very least very influential to its development. Godfather maybe, or perhaps a distant cousin who Point-and-Click hung around with during its formative years? I think this analogy has gotten away from me; the point is that Mr Gilbert is a big name in the Point-and-Click adventure genre and The Cave is a new breed of point-and-click adventure.
The Cave is set in the eponymous magical fissure while as the player controls a group of unlikely adventures as they quest for their true desires. They are an odd bunch featuring; a Knight on his quest for a mystical sword, a Scientist on her pursuit for money, an Adventurer on the search for fame and adoration, a Time Traveller on her quest for revenge, the Hill-billy that just wants love, the Monk whose journey is less to do with enlightenment and more to do with murder and finally the Twins who just want to go outside and “play”. Finally the Cave is not only the location for this bizarre spelunking expedition but is also a character in of itself; providing a running narration and guiding the player through the game, as the characters themselves are mute.
You may have noticed that I said this is a new breed of point and click because it’s also a platformer. When I first got to grips with the game I got stuck at the first puzzle mainly because it looks like a platformer and it plays like one; but don’t be fooled this game is a puzzle game first and a platformer distant second. Throughout the game you’ll be confronted with obstacles and the way to get around them is to find items hidden in the local area. In the first puzzle the player needs a fuse; the only problem is that the fuse is getting wet from a drip and will electrocute you if you remove it. The solution is to find a bucket to place over the socket so you can steal the fuse and use it to power a vending machine to get the hotdog you require to bait a trap with. If that all made perfect sense to you, then congratulations, you (‘ll) enjoy Point-and-Click games.
Of course you can’t just get the bucket to stop the drip because the well where the bucket is doesn’t have a handle to pull if up, however there is a well without a bucket with a handle on it. It’s clear what you need to do right? Take the handle off one and put it on the other well but you can’t simply take it off you need to do something first. Because this game has no inventory, and as it looked like a platformer, I had already forgotten the crowbar I used at the start of the level and it took a while for the cogs in my mind to turn. That is the solution to getting the crank off one well and onto another. This game is less about picking up every object you see and rubbing it on every problem and hoping it’ll work, more about finding things logically and then using them in a semi-logical way.
The player controls three different characters (you pick which at the start of a new game) and each character can be easily switched between on the fly. This is completely necessary as many puzzles require multiple switches to be pulled in different parts of the level. Each character can carry one object (and von only) which means lots of going back and forth between the characters as you attempt to get everything to work out correctly.
The characters you choose to take with you through The Cave will affect what areas you have access to. Choose the Knight, the Twins and the Adventurer for example you’ll have a castle section facing off against a dragon; be transported to Victorian London, having to escape your loving parents; and then tomb-raiding a pyramid, attempting to get past the various traps. Each character has their own distinctive section and as there are seven characters it means that you’ll need to replay the game at least three times to see everything the game has to offer. This does sound like a good idea but there are also three sections in the game that aren’t dependant on your characters and you’ll have to get past these sections each time you enter the cave which does get tedious by the third outing. There are also two endings for every character so you’ll really need to play the game through six times if you’re desperate to see everything good/bad ending.
The puzzles themselves are good fun but don’t expect to be challenged by them, each area only has a few objects and puzzles are only solved with objects you can find in the immediate area (as backtracking is impossible). So there are only a limited number of possible solutions for the problem at hand, you may get stuck once or twice but don’t expect to be looking online for hints. Also don’t expect the platforming to balance out the difficulty as the jumps are simple and rather bland to be honest. It doesn’t help that the game constantly forces you to backtrack to areas because you have to pick up multiple objects from the same location or that you have to navigate three people to the same spot to open a door. It really doesn’t help that the three areas you’re forced to play through each time you enter The Cave are heavy on the backtracking and lugging multiple objects from one side of the map to the next, over and over again. The game also has some minor issues with glitches, on more than one occasion I found myself stuck in the floor or wedged between some objects; however a quick save and exit and the problem solved itself.
The game is from Double Fine, a name synonymous with ‘quirky bizarre games’, and they don’t disappoint. The scenarios you play through are laced with black-humour that cleverly twists old clichés in unexpected territory. The dialogue through the game is brilliantly handled, it’s very funny and it’s sure to put a smile on your face. The characters themselves, despite looking very distinctive, end up coming across a tad bland because they don’t speak and don’t have any personality outside of the still cartoon collectables that provide their backstory. They also don’t really affect the game in any way other than having the odd ability that might make things slightly easier.
The Cave will take you around four hours to complete, being reduced down to around two and a half hours for each replay-through meaning that even if you played through it three times (to play as every character) you’ll still find the total play-time is under 10 hours. However the game is cheap and I think it’s well worth the money; it’s a clever, funny, wonderfully dark game that leaves a satisfied feeling in your stomach like you’ve just enjoyed a fine meal.