The Cave Xbox 360
As soon as you start up The Cave and hear a deep voice speaking at you, only then to find out that it is the cave itself that is narrating, that is when you begin to realise you are in for a strange and amusing adventure within this bizarre entity. This game signals Ron Gilbert’s return to his adventure game roots after dabbling in the action-RPG genre with the DeathSpank series. While The Cave does not seem directly like those old point-and-click games, it is still an adventure game that is filled with puzzle solving that just happens to blend it with 2D platforming elements. But does it cross these two mechanics well?
The beginning of The Cave is an interesting one, as the player is given the choice to pick three characters from the seven available – The Knight, The Monk, The Time Traveller, The Hillbilly, The Scientist, The Twins and The Adventurer. Each character might seem normal from first impressions, but the opening of this game is truly unique and there is some importance to the three people you decide to pick. This is because each of the seven characters has their own story that unfolds with specific character puzzles when inside the cave, thus creating a distinctive order of puzzles depending on the player’s choice. The writing and humour in the story is mostly great, although it is not as laugh-out-loud as some of Gilbert’s older masterpieces. That said, this game is not just about the laughter, as it does delve deep into the dark side of each character and what extreme actions they would use to get what they desire the most – even as far as murder (in a comical fashion).
Along with their own story, each character also has a special ability, which their puzzle section revolves around, along with a theme based on the protagonist’s role. The Time Traveller can use her powers to move her body to the other side of blockages and walls, and her area is based on a puzzle that requires you to shift between three time periods. The Adventurer has a whip, Indiana Jones style, and can swing over large gaps with it as she hunts down treasure. The Knight has invincibility, allowing him to survive huge drops or other dangerous hazards. These powers, while mainly used in the character-specific puzzles, can be handy in other sections. I had The Time Traveller in my party, which helped me acquire a key to a door much easier, simply because I could just travel through the gate and pick it up and travel back, rather than having to find a latch far off in the area) to open the sealed gate.
Once in the cave, the game design slowly introduces how to solve simple puzzles and control your three party members. Solving most puzzles often requires you to separate your three explorers by taking control of them individually, which is done by pressing a direction on the D-Pad. There is no way to make the characters follow each other, so unless you hit a checkpoint to teleport characters towards that area, you need to constantly switch between each explorer and bring them to the area you need to be at. A lot of the puzzles focus on using the three characters to work together in some way, such as three switches that need activating at the same time, or a platform that needs weighing down by the three spelunkers. Puzzles do get more complex as you go forward, but a lot of the cooler puzzles are reserved for the character areas rather than the general cave sections that link those specialised areas together.
Items are littered around inside the cave and are often used to figure out a solution, such as the area where you have a bucket that can catch dynamite that is about to explode, but to make it safe, you need to fill the bucket with water from a nearby pool. Each character can only pick up one item at a time due to the lack of any item management. It just means that you have to travel more often with the characters to move items where they need using, which introduces backtracking into the game’s level design and thus becoming a little tedious. The co-operative play does not do anything to counteract this, since people will still be waiting around for the character to finish what they are doing, especially when some of the story-driven puzzles rely heavily on that character to complete them.
One of the negatives I have with the game is down to its need for using all seven characters to see all puzzles. It is not explicitly that aspect, but the fact that to see all of the game means that you have to replay through it three times, with the third time forcing you to redo two character sections, since having seven spelunkers gives it an uneven amount for three completions. I would have rather the game had nine or six people to pick from to save it from this problem. As it is, the game will be a breeze in following playthroughs for all but the new puzzles you encounter. I can imagine people will most likely finish with the game after completing it the second time.
On the Xbox 360, The Cave can suffer from quick frame dips from time to time, but it does not affect the gameplay, since the game moves at a slow pace and is never dealing with any fast-motion scenes. The cartoon art style of the characters gives them caricature features to make them stand out, while the cave designs are full of little details to keep an eye out for. Audio is quite limited, with The Cave itself the only voice acting in the game, as the protagonists prefer to shrug their shoulders rather than speak any dialogue. The soundtrack is rather empty: there aren’t any memorable tunes, and most of the background tracks are ambient sounds – not that I have a problem with that, as it gives the game’s environment a sense of interest and discovery through less overpowering music.
Even with some of the structure and backtracking problems I had with the game, The Cave is an amusing title that on the first time through is entertaining enough to warrant attention. It’s just a shame that even with the clever puzzles, once you have travelled through this amusement of rocks, you will most likely not want to go much deeper into The Cave’s concept of a changeable adventure game. The concept sounds fantastic, and there is potential in setting a game up like this, but in reality, The Cave’s take on telling a story like this ends up making it a fun but flawed adventure game.