411mania’s Marc Morrison dives deep into the Cave. What mysteries does he uncover? Click this review to find out inside.
Title: The Cave
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Genre: Platformer/Adventure Game
Players: 1-3 (Local Co-op)
Rated: T for Teen
The Cave is a new puzzle/adventure game from the fine folks at Double Fine, spear-headed by game developer luminary Ron Gilbert. I’ve generally liked some Double Fine’s work in the past, despite a bit unevenness to some of it. The Cave has some issues, both big and small, but is a decent enough game, that has some good puzzles in it. Some of the problems drag it down though, both from a design perspective, and just from a technical one, however. It still is worth being played if you need a new adventure game though, for sure.
The Cave is a hybrid platformer/puzzle/adventure game. At the start of the game you pick three characters, out of 7, for your adventure. Each character has their own story and special ability, which can help you navigate the Cave’s puzzles. Here are the character classes, and what each can do:
The Knight -- He can surround himself with a lair of invincibility that can negate all damage (but is stationary as he does so).
The Scientist -- She can hack terminals around the Cave, which usually lead to opening new doors.
The Hillbilly -- He can hold his breath for a longer time than any other character, which makes swimming a viable option with him.
The Time Traveler -- She can teleport a short distance in front of her. Useful for getting around certain locked doors.
The Adventurer can use a grappling hook to get around certain parts of levels. She also has a “Pitfall Harry” vibe going whenever you play her.
The Twins -- They can create a ghostly double of themselves, which will continue to do the action they were doing when they spawned it.
And finally, The Monk, who can telekinetically bring objects to him with his mind, which can really break some of the puzzles.
At the beginning of the game you pick any combination of these 3 characters to go through the game with, but some are a little better than others. On a ranking scale, the Knight and the Monk are by far the most effective, at least to me. The Hillbilly draws the short end of the straw with not having a great power and his area being a little lackluster.
The basic game structure is pretty linear, but does have different paths as you play the game. There are a few common area’s for the game, the zoo, the mine, and the island, but the other areas are character-specific. Each character has their special area of the cave to go through. This area is unique to them and their abilities, and helps fill in a lot of their individual back stories. You also find out about what pieces of human garbage all the characters are, which I actually kind of liked. There isn’t a “hero” in the bunch, with everyone being fundamentally flawed in some pretty impressive ways.
You can only control a single character at a time, using the D-pad to switch between the three characters. This is one small problem in the game. Switching is fine, but there are some massive environments you’re dealing with in some levels. When you need three people for a switch but two of your characters are on the other side of the level, it becomes a slog to switch between one, run to where you need them, and then repeat the process; you lose patience by some of it. The easiest way they could’ve fixed this is with a button to just regroup all your characters on whatever character you’re in control of. The game does group up your characters in spots, like when you’re transitioning from one section to another, but it is infrequent and a bit broken. One spot in the Island level does this, which makes you lose the placement of your other characters, when they need to be on specific switches.
The character-specific levels are both a good and bad variable. I think my favorites were the Adventurer, the Monk, and the Knight just for being the most straightforward. The Time Traveler’s area is challenging with the temporal mechanics involved, but is rewarding. The Hillbilly Carnival might be the most confusing, tied with the Twins house. I actually almost stopped playing the Hillbilly part because of a few puzzles.
The puzzles pretty much involve figuring out how items work, and what to use them with. Early on you find two wells, but only one of them has a crank. You use the crowbar you found in an earlier area to break the handle off the one well, to use it on the other. This lets you get a bucket from the well, which you use in a later puzzle. Almost all the objects in a level have a purpose, but a few are thrown in just for fun.
Once you get through the Cave once, you’ll see your character’s endings, then you’re dropped back at the character select screen to begin again. And that is pretty much it. The problem with this is that with only 7 characters, if you want to see everyone’s story, you’ll have to beat the game three times, but repeat 2 of the character’s stories. Had they either eliminated one character, or added two others, it would’ve made the 3rd cycle a lot more enjoyable.
This sense of repetition pervades as you play the game multiples (semi-required) times. You don’t have to play through over and over, but if you don’t, you’ll obviously miss a lot of what is going on. The problem is that nothing changes from playthrough to playthrough. The Cave (it’s a sentient, talkative Cave) makes the same jokes, and the same characters show up multiple times, saying the same lines. Getting through the Mine level took me about a 35 minutes on my first playthrough, and about 15 on my 2nd and 3rd. By the time I finished the 3rd time, I didn’t want to see the game ever again, let alone play it a 4th, or possibly 5th time, to get some of the achievements I missed.
The biggest problem with this game, by a country mile though, is just the technical imperfections there are with it. I played the 360 version and it was stuttering every 30 seconds or so, with some of the framerate issues being incredibly severe. With big, action-packed stages, it’s a bit more forgivable, but these hitches happen during slow scenes, when you’re just walking around or swimming. I also had an instance where I fell through the game world. You can never really “die” in the game, once you do you turn to mist and resurrect at a safe spot close to your location. In one instance, in the Adventurer level, I died, but I resurrected through the game world, into a flat world. I thought it was some clever idea from Ron Gilbert to say how video games are pointless and that by playing The Cave, I was just going through endless cycles like the characters were. It turns out, it was just a glitch. Luckily, you can kill yourself at any time, by holding the LT and RT buttons, and once I did that, I spawned back into the actual level. I’ve spoken with one other reviewer, where it happened to him, and I was also able to reproduce it every 5 times I made the jump, so expect a patch at some point hopefully addressing this. Also, an achievement glitched out on me, which made me annoyed (Not dying once in the game).
Taken with my iPod camera, when it happened.
The game has a pretty nice art style, all things considered. The backgrounds are interesting, the levels are detailed, and all the 7 characters are very different from one another. The Hillbilly has a lanky walk, which is very different from how the Time Traveler walks (or hovers, in her case), which gives everyone more of a sense of character. The game kind of feels like an early CGI movie come to life, especially with the Cave narrating what is going on. Were it not for the framerate issues, it would be a nice game to play more often.
Most of the music in this game is ambient and is largely neutral. The sound effects are also a bit bland, but they are effective in getting the point across. The voice acting is where the game shines though, with plenty of known voice actors doing roles. The weird part is that your characters themselves never talk. Stephen Stanton is the main voice actor as The Cave itself, and does a good job. His voice work is a little less impactful than Logan Cunningham (Bastion’s narrator), but he still gets most of the humor across. Aside from Stanton is; Lex Lang, David Kaye, Robin Atkin Downes, and the lovely Grey DeLisle doing the work for most of the female characters, save for one. Everyone is effective in their roles, and the personality comes across, especially with the Princess’s last line when talking to the Knight.
Well, having to play the game 3 times to see everything is somewhat required. If you do play through multiple times, I’d recommend going through an achievement guide to maximize your time spent (if achievements are a goal). Aside from that, there are cave paintings (8 per each character) for you to find in the levels, which give you a reason to explore a bit. The other notable thing the game has is local co-op, which I couldn’t try. If you have someone around to try it, I’m sure it’s fine, but still problematic due to how big some levels are, and the increased coordination it takes for two (or even 3) people to make it through the game, rather than one. Still, the achievements and multiple run throughs will keep you busy for around 6 hours or so.
There is a lot of heart within The Cave, be it the humorous dialog, good puzzle design, well-designed characters, and interactions the characters have in the environment. The technical issues crop up too often though which drags the game down. Some fundamental game design choices are also a bit odd. I would say to check out the PC version, but they have been very reluctant to show off the PC version which makes me…not hopeful. I can only pray that the increased power of a good gaming computer can help with the issues I (and many other people) experienced.
Good designs, and a few nice effects can’t hide how stuttery the framerate is. Aside from this limitation, the characters all animate pretty well.
Generally decent, but there are some difficulty spikes with certain character’s personal levels. The repetitive nature also becomes a grind after a while.
The sound effects and music fit into the atmosphere, but aren’t that memorable. The voice acting comes from some top-notch actors though, and it shows in their delivery.
By the time you’re on the 3rd cycle, you’ll be a bit bored. Still, seeing new areas, finding cave paintings, and unlocking achievements is fun.
Some of the puzzles don’t make a lot of logical sense, but are still fun. You might get frustrated by a few of them, but you’ll solve them and feel smarter for doing so.