A trip through Ron Gilbert’s cavernous mind
Many gamers of a certain age (read: crusty old curmudgeons like yours truly) have a soft spot for classic adventure games. Starting with text-based offerings like Zork—and going through an entire generation of point-and-click classics—we’ve been combining objects and looking for twisty solutions to puzzles for more than 30 years.
A smaller, more disturbed subset of adventure affectionados particularly enjoys the games of Ron Gilbert, the evil mastermind behind the Monkey Island series, as well as Day of the Tentacle, and Maniac Mansion. Featuring oddball characters and a twisted sense of humor, Gilbert’s games provide a nice, light respite from the serious storytelling that dominates today’s offerings.
Now, in conjunction with Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, Gilbert’s dropped The Cave on an unsuspecting new generation of gamers. And while the side-scrolling adventure may not appeal to everyone, we Gilbertians (Gilberites? Gilliwampuses?) embrace this opportunity to bring new recruits into the fold.
The Cave hearkens all the way back to 1987’s Maniac Mansion, with a diverse party of adventurers gathered to explore a creepy location. The location, in this case, is a cave. Not just any cave, mind you. And not some moderately sized hole in the side of a mountain, but a truly massive hole in the side of a mountain that goes down miles and talks. Oh, yeah—I should mention that the cave talks, but ironically, he doesn’t like to talk about being able to talk. It’s very complicated.
Anyway, these adventurers gather outside a cave—which should be referred to as a “Cave,” I suppose, since its ability to talk does warrant it becoming a proper noun. The characters—a Scientist, a Hillbilly, a Monk, a Knight (medieval, not dark), a Time Traveler, an Adventurer, and the Twins (they count as one character)—each have his or her own twisted reasons for wanting to venture into the Cave’s cavernous environs. I suppose that’s redundant, as one would expect a cave to be cavernous, but this Cave seems particularly proud of its size, so I thought it bore repeating.
These intrepid adventurers enter the Cave in groups of three, with a goal of getting out. The path you take though The Cave depends upon whom you include in your group, as each character somehow has his (or her—the Cave is an equal-opportunity tourist attraction) own area inside. It’s like the Cave can read their minds and create levels for them to explore. Spooky, huh?
Anyway, each character has a special place in the Cave to call home. The Adventurer gets a pyramid, the Twins a Victorian Mansion, the Hillbilly a carnival, and so on. By the way, I spent summers as a teenager working at a carnival and I think it’s games like this that give them a bad rep—I never worked with a single hillbilly! A set of conjoined twins and a bear trainer, but never a hillbilly. Seriously, people, stop the prejudice against carnies.
Anyway, each of the explorers has their own special ability as well, used primarily during their specific segments. For instance, the Time Traveler can pass through semi-solid objects like doors made of bars, and the Scientist can hack computer terminals. They can practice these abilities in other areas of the game—mostly to use as shortcuts—but the powers really only come in handy in the character-specific scenarios.
In addition to those segments, The Cave features a number of common areas that all of the characters must go through. Now, some people will object to these, saying that by the third playthrough, these sequences are completely played out, offering nothing more than an exercise in redundancy. These, of course, are the same people that purchase a new $60 version of Call of Duty every November and then spend the next 12 months shooting their same online friends in the face. So they can bite me.
You’ll have to play through the game three times to experience all of the different characters’ storylines; I did so three times consecutively over as many days and had a blast, noticing little touches in the environments that I hadn’t seen previously—as well as some hidden gems that led to some funny, surprise achievements. Speaking of Achievements, after running through the game three times, I’ve only unlocked about half of them. And there are still plenty of secrets to uncover—something I fully intend to do in my spare time. I don’t want to miss anything.
The game’s platforming elements are basic and perhaps a little clunky, but they’re serviceable; this isn’t a platforming game, though. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you Google “jumping plumbers” and go from there. What makes The Cave fun are the head-scratching puzzles that keep you thinking. Well, that and the wildlife—great use of wildlife. But I digress. The puzzles are clever, but they’re rarely frustrating. They range from simply throwing levers and pushing boxes to much more complex flights of fancy (guess the color of the spinning wheel and win a prize!). Some of the elements are repeated—fetching a fuse, for instance—but the humor keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
The graphics are sharp, with that distinctive Double Fine cartoony look, and both the soundtrack and voice work are top notch. The Cave and other voiced characters are funny as well, and while it’s possible Gilbert either enlisted his friends to do the parts or picked hobos at random, they all do a great job.
Really, the only element that hinders The Cave? Bugs. One time, a character got stuck in the environment, which required a reboot. Still, the autosaves were frequent enough that I didn’t have to backtrack much. And with luck, the bugs will be patched soon.
What pushes The Cave over the top is the inclusion of co-op. Up to three players locally can play together, each taking a character. If one or two people play, you’ll have to switch between the characters to get through the various co-op puzzles. I enjoyed the game a lot solo and with one other player, but it really shined with three. So, if you don’t have two friends, I suggest hiring hobos. They usually remain friendly as long as you feed them. Online multiplayer would’ve been a nice addition, but as someone who still enjoys having friends in the same room, the exclusion doesn’t bother me too much.
Inevitably, a lot of people won’t “get” The Cave. For instance, those who don’t see the benefit of using quotation marks around random words to make you feel superior, like you “get” something others don’t. But I suspect that those Gilbertonians among us will be able to use The Cave to successfully recruit a few more into our ranks. Beware—we will continue to grow!
SUMMARY: The Cave is a classic PC-style adventure game in which you choose between seven characters and take a group of three into a mysterious talking cave. Once there, platforming, puzzles, and hilarity ensue. If you want to know more than that, stop being lazy and read the entire (albeit lengthy) review. Seriously, do you think I have nothing better to do than to sit here and summarize for you?
- THE GOOD: The game’s sense of humor, which is sure to please anyone not quite right in the head.
- THE BAD: You’ll find yourself backtracking quite a lot, especially if you play solo (get some friends, miscreant!).
- THE UGLY: Thermonuclear war. Seriously, since when is that funny? Just say no to bombs.
The Cave is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), PC, and the Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.