Can The Cave make your dreams come true?
The Cave, from Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Studios, is a 2D puzzle platformer that takes place within the titular cave. But this cave is different from other caves. Firstly, within its dark and mysterious depths it is rumoured that people can have their dreams come true. Secondly, it talks and has the dry, occasionally dark wit that will keep most players chuckling to themselves through this game.
From the offset, and with very little instruction, the player is given a choice to take three of seven characters on their adventure (with one of the characters actually being a pair of “Children of the Corn” style twins). Switching between the three characters they control at will, the player then begins to explore The Cave.
The platforming side of things involves climbing to ledges, leaping across gaps or shimmying up and down ropes. The platforming mechanic is slightly loose, especially when it comes to grabbing things whilst jumping, but there is not enough threat in the game to make it too much of an issue. The majority of the time will be spent moving the characters one at a time to wherever the player wants them. It would have been better to have the other characters follow the controlled character and then giving them an order to stay if that was needed.
The cave can be a confusing place to explore, ans it can be quite easy to get lost. It is not always apparent where to go, or even what to do. A good example of this relates to the characters special powers. Each different character has a power that will help them on their journey, such as the Knight who can become invincible. But this isn’t clearly explained and, on my first playthrough with the Knight I spent ages wandering before realising that I had to fall from a great height whilst my invincibility was activated. This was easier said than done as moving cancels the power and, as the hole I had to fall down was quite small, my Knight kept grabbing the edge.
However, once the powers have been worked out, subsequent instances where a power has to be used are much, much easier. The Cave consists of different areas specific to each of the characters, connected by general areas. It is within the specific areas that the powers can be used to their full extent, in the general areas the powers make very little difference.
When it comes to the actual puzzles, there are some real head-scratchers. Unfortunately, the head-scratching comes not from trying to work out the solution, but more from the sheer mental strain of trekking three characters all over the place, one by one, to achieve a relatively simple solution. Don’t get me wrong, there are some clever moments in the game, and they do make all of the lesser, more frustrating moments feel more worthwhile. It is just that the constant back and forth that seems to be the core mechanic of the game manages to infiltrate all different aspects of The Cave.
With seven characters and seven different stories to explore, along with different character specific areas, and the player being able to only take three characters at a time, it is encouraged to play through the game at least three times to see everything that is on offer. This is quite handy as a single playthrough only lasts around five hours. Also extending the experience, and adding to the fun, is the option to have up to two other players join in the adventure locally. Having three players working together takes away a lot of the back and forth gameplay, but play is limited to the same screen so they will still essentially have to take turns.
Visually, the game looks nice and has a Double Fine flavour about it. The real star of the show though, is the humour. From the little references in the backgrounds, and the regularly unexpectedly twisted turns that the game takes, to the cave’s very own dry narration through the game, The Cave manages to weave an enjoyable tale.
Published by SEGA, The Cave is a mix of frustration and joy. The back and forth nature of the gameplay can be irritating, and the puzzles are merely average. The platforming action is competent, but nothing special. What is special however, is the humour, and it is this that will keep players coming back to follow the stories of all seven characters. The Cave is not perhaps the must-buy game that we were all expecting, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable romp.