By SHANE MCKAY, GAMERHUB.TV (MCT)
Thirty years ago, revered designer Ron Gilbert of “Monkey Island” and “Maniac Mansion” fame, had an idea for an adventure game and on Jan. 23, it finally came to life. Following seven unique explorers as they venture into a talking cave (yes, a narrating cave), they delve deeper into the mystery behind their stories and their most sought-after desires. But what will they need to do to get there?
Developer Double Fine Productions returns in spectacular fashion with their newest platform-adventure game “The Cave” capturing the very essence of the style that has made its previous games successful: stylish visuals, intriguing story and hilariously dark humor. I knew right from the opening narration that this wasn’t going to be just any ordinary adventure game and I was so glad that I was right.
You begin with a choice of seven characters, each with its own unique story and special ability that will change certain parts of “The Cave” as you explore through. Each one is simplistic with names like The Hillbilly, The Time-Traveler, or The Knight, but they all have a dark secret and an equally interesting backstory that you will discover in your descent. Special abilities also help to distinguish them; for example, The Monk can use telekinesis to grab items through walls or from a distance, which you will need to complete his part of the story or can change how you solve other puzzles. You can only select three to take at one time, however, and they will be locked with you until you make it to the end.
Puzzles are what make up the bulk of the gameplay in “The Cave,” with the controls being very simplistic and consisting of jumping and picking up objects to use for the puzzles. Each character can pick up one object at a time and you must use this in conjunction to get past certain areas. What makes these puzzles interesting is how they are just simple enough to get by with minimal frustration, but just challenging enough that they make you think and feel satisfied when you figure out the right combination.
“The Cave” also supports up to three-player co-op, one of its shining features as solving puzzles as a group and coordinating accordingly is a much better experience than just playing alone, even if it might’ve been somewhat unorganized at times. Since a character doesn’t die when going off-screen you have to leave it in spots to pass certain puzzles (such as holding a lever while the others go through the open door), which in single player is fine but with three people you have to “pass” the camera, which I found sometimes didn’t work properly. This in turn became annoying and in some cases caused us to have to start a puzzle over again, which was frustrating. Also for a game with gameplay that consists almost entirely of jumping, I found it felt very floaty, which is helpful for control but had my character often grabbing onto ledges or ladders I was hoping to avoid, creating a minor nuisance.
Despite being an arcade game, the game looks as gorgeous as any major retail release graphically and aesthetically. Even though it’s set in a cave, its environments vary widely, going from dark and mysterious sections to vivid tropical islands (hey, if a cave can narrate then a tropical island isn’t that crazy). It really reminded me of previous Double Fine games like “Psychonauts” with its character designs and overall visuals that looked quite stunning in HD. It did a good job of balancing the claustrophobic feeling of being in a cave with larger lush landscapes, which really makes you want to explore everything and not miss a single section.
What really brings this game to life is its excellent storytelling and humor. Double Fine has shown itself to be master of combining the two in previous titles, and “The Cave” is no exception. Each story is wonderfully interwoven with each other, with transition areas to make it feel like it is all part of one big narrative, and the dark humor of the narration parallels the dark nature of each character’s tale, making it weirdly hilarious. There are also collectible cave paintings throughout the descent that show each character’s backstory and sinister motives for achieving their ultimate desires. In the end, however, the conclusion did feel a little underwhelming, but the story leading up to it kept me interested and engaged the whole way through.
Despite any minor issues I may have mentioned, they don’t deteriorate the enjoyment of this title at all. It’ll probably only take you about three to four hours total to finish a run through with each group, so replay-ability isn’t very high as the story and collectible artwork are really all that will bring you back. But for only $14.99 it’s well worth the experience you get out of this wonderful title with its simplistic gameplay, co-op and hilariously odd story.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Wii U, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T for Teen