Directed by Ron Gilbert (the man behind the Monkey Island games), and from Double Fine Productions (who give us the PS2 hidden gem Psychonauts and the PS3 gem Brutal Legend) comes The Cave, a lesser known game that’s available on basically every home platform (PSN, PC, Xbox Arcade Live, Apple, Nintendo e-shop, and even Android, via download).
The Cave is a 2-D side strolling puzzle platformer, where you choose 3 characters (or 4, I’ll mention why) out of 7 (or 8), to go into a mystical talking cave and search for their heart’s desires. Among your main characters include: The Adventurer (a greedy, sociopathic female Indiana Jones), the Hillbilly (A lustful, lonely and shy carnival worker, looking to impress “the two-legged lady”), the Knight (who isn’t really a Knight), The Time Traveller (Who’s jealous of a co-worker in her own time), The Scientist (Who has a dilemma about whether to use her discovery for good or evil), The Monk (Who wishes to find and ‘surpass’ his master, somehow…hmmm), and lastly, The Twins (the 2 of 4 characters I mentioned, 2…innocent children…who just want to go out and play!). They enter the Cave to find something you would wish to find in real life – a gift shop. Because you see, you’re not just going on an adventure, you’re going on a tour. Adventuring for 1’s desires in this cave are so popular, it has its own gift shop. The gift-shop clerk says the Cave is closed, but makes a deal, telling you to find 3 items of great desire to put on his display cabinet, then he’ll open the door. Among the treasures you find can actually include the desires of other main characters, who are now looking a little less animated than before. After retrieving these, the tour/adventure can now begin.
By only choosing 3 characters at a time, each with their own special abilities – this leads to something that isn’t always possible in video games – strong replay value. Which, when you consider the type of story and dialogue this game has, isn’t entirely a bad thing.
On the get-go, you’ll instantly notice what makes this game fun – it is a whimsical, dark, quirky, funny game, presented without anything to offend parents (unless the kids are a little too impressionable). It often breaks the 4th wall (since your narrator is a talking cave), and the NPCs all have amusing dialogue mixed into the surrealism and absurdity of the entire experience. Which includes areas that are in the cave, that would never be found in a cave at all. How many carnivals can be found in a cave? Or Castles? Or Desert Islands? You heard me.
However, with its great humour, funny dialogue, surrealism, absurdity, quirkiness, good stories, great soundtrack and great voice acting, comes a game that unfortunately is a disappointment in the technical department. I would stick this game almost into the “Deadly Premonition” category. It’s very easy to like. With a lot heart, humour and substance – but the presentation and execution of it as a game is the main thing that lets it down. Each play through consists of 8 puzzles. There are 5 puzzles that are mandatory in every playthrough. And depending on who is in your party, you play 3 puzzles that each go with a character, such as the Hillbilly’s level being a Carnival, The Twins’ level being their Victorian London Home and the Monk’s being a Buddhist Temple on top of a mountain…which, once again, for some reason, can be found in a cave. Some puzzles are incredibly difficult the first time you encounter them, while others are easy when you figure out the order in which to perform certain tasks. However, when they’re all figured out – the game becomes less about the puzzles and more about seeing how quickly you can complete the game and receive all of the endings. It becomes tedious, because despite how well you know the puzzles, there isn’t an ultra quick way around it. You’ll be running from place to place and backtracking, a lot. Also the jumping isn’t great either. Try the ferris wheel in the carnival level, you’ll see what I mean. And if you’re really good, you can try to earn the trophy/achievement where you don’t die at any time during the adventure/tour. Which can be very difficult to accomplish.
Also, the graphics are about as good as a PS2 game, and while the illustrations (Cave Paintings) are done in an awesome chalk-pastel style, some of the character designs when comparing the illustrations to the playable characters, don’t match up that well.
As somebody who played this game 6 times in a row in order to get all of the endings, I can say it was great fun. But sadly the fun factor does begin to lessen after you have played as every character and seen at least 1 of their endings (can be done in 3 play throughs)…and then you have to play them again to “get the whole story”. There was an awful lot of potential here, with lots of good among the bad, and I would even encourage the development of a sequel. Would I recommend this game? Very much so, if it’s part of a sale. When it’s full price, it’s not like buying the new GTA or Mario game, which would be worth their release-date price. But I found it to be a worthy part of the collection, and even 1 I would recommend to a friend for a laugh.
Overall Rating: ***1/4 star out of 5