Ron Gilbert tries something new to bring adventure games back into the mainstream with The Cave, but is taking it underground for some side-scrolling a good replacement for old fashioned pointing and clicking?
The Cave is unmistakeably from the mind of Ron Gilbert. It’s not just things like the Grog Machine Easter egg that make it obvious either – the entire game just exudes that very same personality present in Maniac Mansion and the rest of Gilbert’s back catalogue.
The Cave itself (the character, not the game. Oh, this is going to get confusing) is a brilliant narrator and a funny guy/rock formation, his “sultry and mysterious” voice brimming with sarcasm and knowing humour. I’ve quite often had a chuckle as he pokes fun at the inhabitants inside him. However, he does like to go on a bit, which means he storms through routines such as how explorers cannot die inside him, only to repeat jokes over and over again. It would have been better if these had been spread out a little, instead of being forced out one after the other.
As well as The Cave, each of the seven characters you can play are also filled with personality, despite not having their own voices. By just paying attention to their movements and animations you can get an idea of their idiosyncrasies. The Knight scours the environment nervously, obviously not quite as brave as he first appears, and the Adventurer makes a few shifty checks around her, revealing she’s not one to be trusted. You really get a sense of who they are, even before you begin to uncover any of their history deeper in The Cave.
But most of all, The Cave is an adventure game – the genre that Gilbert is known for best. And trust me, it most certainly is an adventure game. It may have replaced pointing and clicking with some platforming, but there’s no denying what it is you’re actually doing here. The game is all about solving puzzles, whether its finding hot dogs to lure monsters onto a rickety bridge in order to collapse it, catching lit dynamite in buckets of water, or manoeuvring your different characters to overcome obstacles.
Three’s a crowd
Occasionally, I got the feeling that they hadn’t planned fully for certain character combinations, though. For example, I was able to bypass a puzzle involving a dragon during the Knight’s sequence thanks to the Time Traveller, leaving me feeling clever and impressed that the game allowed multiple solutions. Then the dragon broke free because a door was left open. Only it wasn’t. I’d teleported through it.
The rest of the time the character’s unique abilities barely feature in the game unless you’re in their specific area – and even then only for one or two puzzles. The Adventurer’s grappling hooks are only useful trekking through the Egyptian pyramid, and the Monk’s telekinesis is practically non-existent outside the temple. Meanwhile, the Scientist’s hacking and the Knight’s invulnerability make just a few puzzles that little bit easier.
Controlling three characters at once can be a hindrance too. Each one has to be moved independently and early on this is a major chore. You get to a room and realise the puzzle needs at least one extra character to solve, and then have to make the same trip you just made again. Certainly, there will be times when one or both of them can’t reach you for puzzle purposes, but don’t go make me traipse round the map several times to do one action if they could have just followed me. It’s even more frustrating in sections like the mine where you’ll spend more time sluggishly climbing up and down ropes and ladders.
Co-op might help, but then I feel that co-op might help the majority of my niggles because The Cave reeks of being perfect for playing with mates. So it’s such a shame that multiplayer is only a local affair. I was all set to start a second game with some other lucky reviewer and assure my worries when I found out that wasn’t possible, and unfortunately I have no one nearby that would be interested in this sort of thing.
But The Cave is still a funny and intelligent adventure game. Some puzzles delighted me with their genius, the artwork and characters are a joy to behold, and it does try something new to reignite the genre. Only, ironically, some of what it does try ends up holding it back. If you can get over the wandering around, are a super adventure game fan or have someone to share the fun with, though, then The Cave is most certainly worth your time.
The Cave, from SEGA and Double Fine, is available now for Wii U and PS3, and will be available on Xbox 360 and PC from January 23rd.