Double Fine’s recent downloadable game, The Cave, is a 2D puzzle platforming adventure game with a fairly interesting premise. It doesn’t do everything perfectly but it does have a lot of endearing qualities.
The game opens up with an introduction by our snarky narrator who just so happens to be the titular Cave itself. It’s actually responsible for the majority of the humor in the game, his dark jokes and seemingly ambivalent nature throughout the adventure always bringing at least a smile, if not laughter.
We are then introduced to seven individuals ranging from a knight, a hillbilly, to a time traveler and other colorful characters. Each of these people are driven by a selfish short-sighted obsession of one form or the other and venture into The Cave seeking the object of their desire. Our narrator reveals that the journey will bring them face to face with the darkest parts of their hearts and they may not like what the find there.
With that you choose 3 of the 7 characters to bring into the cave. You can play this game either single player or with up to 2 friends locally. I would recommend playing with 3 people otherwise you’ll have to constantly switch between all 3 to keep them together which can get incredibly annoying.
Depending on which characters you pick, your route through the cave changes, each character has a specific area dedicated to a representation of their situation. Completing each character specific stage always ends with the character committing some atrocity to claim their goal except the hillbilly who commits his crime after the denial of his goal.
Padding out the experience are a few generic puzzle areas that deal with other obsessed people in the cave. These are fun areas too, at least the first time. One of the major problems with the game is the tedium of repetition.
I really enjoyed my first playthrough of the game, when everything was fresh and new and I had to figure out all the puzzles for the first time. The puzzles themselves aren’t too challenging, though sometimes overly specific methods can lead to unnecessary confusion.
An example of this comes in the Time Traveler’s stage where one puzzle requires you to move a boulder in the past in order to change something in the future. I figured that out but it wasn’t working. The problem was that apparently you weren’t supposed to leave the other character pushing the boulder up the hill, but pulling it… am I wrong for having wanted to slap the designer across the face for this?
After the first playthrough, I was interested in seeing the stories of the other characters, so I played again with 3 different people. This time it started to feel more like busy work as only the 3 character specific areas change, leaving roughly 4 and a half puzzle areas that never change. The fact that I would have to play a third time just to experience 1 new room for the one character who’s story I didn’t see was not a pleasant thought.
By its very nature, a puzzle adventure game cannot demand multiple playthroughs if it doesn’t change that much. Once you know all of the solutions there’s no challenge anymore and listening to all the same commentary just gets old. The worst part is that there are 2 possible endings for all 7 characters, which means you’ll have to play a total of 5 times to see all of them.
Of course it has nothing to do with how you handle their stages, all the puzzle rooms remain the same for the characters, its a choice you make at the end of the game that changes things. I don’t understand who thought that was a good idea.
Jumping into gameplay, the controls are fairly simple, you have a button that interacts with things, one that picks things up or drops them, a jump button and one button that activates a special ability for each character. It controls well enough and I didn’t have too many issues with it. Unfortunately, the character’s special abilities have limited usefulness outside of their own stages, so even going in with new characters to try going through the puzzles differently will only change a couple of instances.
As I said before, most of the puzzles are fairly simple to figure out, but still fun and satisfying to solve the first time you confront them.
The game looks beautiful, the cartoony 3D graphics having a lot of charm to them. The level design is also gorgeous. It’s cool to see areas of the cave open up into a carnival, a Tim Burton-esque house or a secret missile base. Little story book pictures that you find through the game that give the back story of the characters have a cute quality to them.
Musically the game shines as well. There’s a lot of polish in the games presentation which immerses you in the otherwise fairly simple mechanics.
I liked this game a lot, enjoying is dark humor and unique presentation. It’s unfortunate they didn’t really mix up the experience enough to warrant the number of replays it asks for. Each time through can take a few hours at most depending upon how quickly you figure out what to do in each room, so value really lies in whether you’re willing to go through repeated journeys to get everything.
It’s less frustrating to play with multiple people, so if you have the chance, grab some friends to play the game. If you like this type of game I do think it’s a fun experience though it might be pushing it at around $15.