Spelunking: (noun) the hobby or practice of exploring caves.
The scientist deployed a nuclear device whilst spelunking with the knight and the twins.
To say I’m a fan of Ron Gilbert would be wrong. I’m no more a fan of Ron Gilbert than I am of say, oxygen, or water. He’s just there, has been there all my life, and if you took him and his games away I’d probably go blue and die in a matter of seconds. Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island; the influence of the Gilbert pedigree on my love of adventure gaming is incalculable. As a result, I’ve been waiting for The Cave since its announcement, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be getting a free pass. If anything, Ron Gilbert’s got the weight of thousands of fans sat on his shoulders, just waiting for him to make a mistake.
The Cave is Double Fine’s most recent foray into the adventure gaming realm. Like Stacking before it, the game involves juggling the abilities of a number of characters to solve a series of puzzles. Seven explorers, (well, eight if you count the seemingly inseparable twins as individuals,) venture into the titular cave, a sentient hole in the ground with the ability to grant your life’s every desire. After a long period of agonising over your choice, you will eventually select three of the characters and begin your descent into the surreal adventures of The Cave.
However, if you want to experience The Cave with all available characters, you’re going to find yourself with a small problem. The seven characters on offer will not divide evenly into three, meaning your last play-through will inevitably involve two characters you’ve already used. As a result, a large chunk of the game will be spent repeating previous segments. Even worse, by the time of your third run, you’ll have committed entire sections of the Cave to memory, rendering their puzzles little more than an irritating time-sink on your way to experience the final character’s unique area.
Taken purely aesthetically, The Cave is a work of art. Its gorgeous backdrops are riddled with in-jokes and references that will have you squealing with delight, shouting ‘I remember that!’ In motion though, it’s even better; the character animation is strongly reminiscent of Pixar, with each character given their own bumbling movement style, distinguishing them from their spelunking brethren.
While you may come for the view, even the most ardent appreciator of art will still expect some kind of gameplay from his game. Despite its appearances, The Cave is not a platformer. Navigating between locations is less about pixel-perfect jumps as it is mastering a somewhat cumbersome control scheme – whilst you will need to hop the occasional spiked pit, you’ll never find yourself repeating sections due to difficulty. The biggest threat to my adventuring came in the form of insufferable ladders, which the characters had a tendency to stick to like glue.
Crude control systems aside, The Cave features all the sharp writing and wit that we’ve come to expect from Double Fine, with the cave itself occasionally commenting upon your escapades. Despite the cave’s omnipresence, the narration is only sporadic, preventing it from becoming repetitive or intrusive on the experience. Whilst the game does delve into some dark places of the human psyche, it is all laid beneath a plaster coating of twisted humour that revells in the suffering of the denizens of the cave.
Don’t approach The Cave expecting a challenging platformer or a mind-boggling adventure. Both aspects are certainly present, but they are held back from ever presenting a barrier to your progress. You’ll most likely cruise through your first run of the Cave in just a couple of hours, and you’ll certainly have fun doing it. Whilst it’s not the deepest of Gilbert’s adventures, it distils the greatest parts of adventure gaming into a bite-sized adventure, without being afraid to abandon the pixel hunts and inventory juggling of old.
Verdict: Head Shot
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3, Wii U
Platform Reviewed – PC – Review based on code supplied by publisher.
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