It took all of twenty seconds of research for me to be interested in The Cave. I had adventure games from my very first computer, onwards, and some of the games that’ve stayed in my memory longest have been such games. I played through most of the Lucasarts and Sierra catalogues, as well as the more-than-occasional other.
They were both very different styles for the genre, and though as a setting the Quest for Glory games were my favourite of the bunch, there was something special about the Lucasarts (or sometimes Lucasfilm) games.
I have memories of playing Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge with my dad – who wasn’t a huge gamer anyway. Zak McKracken was another of my firsts, and somewhere in the mix, there’s also Secret of Monkey Island, The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle, Loom, Grim Fandango and of course – Maniac Mansion.
The famed Ron Gilbert, purveyor of Adventure and Grog, was involved in a great many of those. And by involved, I mean that he’s responsible for them. To blame, some might even say.
Whatever his crimes against free time might be, one can’t deny that if it wasn’t for him, the early ones wouldn’t exist. Unless one is just being obtuse, in which case, I’m moving on anyway because Ron is back. Well, still here. La la la, other superfluous tangent, The Cave! (No, that wasn’t to fill in later).
The premise is that there’s a cave. It’s sentient, and talks to you, the player. More specifically, it narrates. What it narrates, is the exploration of itself by three of the seven available characters, who seem to be facing the worst of themselves – their most despicable pasts. There are parts of the cave where all three of the characters you choose need to work together, and others where they have their own story told. Sometimes they still need to work together in those, too. The Cave can also prevent death, and do stuff with time travel when relevant. I don’t think it’s after your Artron Energy, though I haven’t yet finished it, and you can never be too careful with sentient geology.
My first (and current) playthrough has The Scientist, The Time Traveller, and The Twins. Each has their own special power – the Scientist can hack computers and machines, the Time Traveller can phase through walls, and the Twins can creep you the hell out. The other characters are The Monk, The Hillbilly, The Adventurer and the Knight. One interesting note to these characters is that there’s exactly 3 male characters, 3 female characters, and then the creepy twins. Each of the characters are caricatures, without being hypersexualised.
The majority of the game is puzzles. Running around, picking stuff up, and then using it on different objects to get other more-different objects. It’s a definite throwback to the old adventure games, though the single-object approach to inventory leads to a lot of running back and forth. The puzzles are definitely on the same level as the old monkey-wrench-waterfall in MI2, but this is what you expect when you play something involving Ron Gilbert.
I hate to say it, but there’s a lot not to like about the cave, and it comes back to the puzzles. I don’t know if it’s the years that’ve passed since I could spend weeks on an adventure game, or just the finicky nature of the inventory. Because it came up more than once, I carried the fuse box from early in the game (if you’ve played the demo, you’ll know where) for a lengthy amount of time, along with a spare hotdog. Through two areas, I figured that alright, I probably didn’t need it. Twins enter their house, and hark, there’s a fuse box required. Sure, there was one in the area, but it was an unnecessary frustration with general bad timing. The other bit that got me, was sometimes not seeing the way forward. The Twins area had me stuck for a while, because I didn’t see one of the objects I needed to use, much along the lines of the hunt-for-the-pixel puzzles from the actual old Lucasarts games. The Time Traveller’s area had something different, because I’d incorrectly assumed that like The Twins’ area, the TT had to do it all by herself. Nope!
That doesn’t sound like the ‘a lot’ I mentioned, but the game is probably 30% puzzles, and 150% walking around. It’s a large component. You get satisfaction when you start wandering around, solving puzzles and learning how things work – plus while I might sound like I’m decrying that ominous 150% worth of the game, the environments you walk around in are pretty damn gorgeous. They’re styled in an homagey way that’s reminiscent of DoTT or MI2, but crisp in graphics too. The first splash in the water at the start looks great, and in fact, the whole sensory nature of The Cave is great. Voices, music, graphics. None of that’s in doubt.
As much as I want The Cave to grab me by the hand, and pull me back into my childhood, it doesn’t. If anything, while the tone of the game is definitely like Lucasarts, the game itself reminds me more of Out of this World, or Coktel Visions’ Gobliiins (or Ween: The Prophecy) game. It’s not overly complicated, and there’s something special in its simplicity. If I had to pick one of the Lucasarts games that it feels most like, I’d actually have to go with Loom. I’d say that it also owes a lot to the many wonderful indie platformers that exist, and in that regard it feels like it’s stuck halfway between classic adventure, and indie platformer. I think this might be a good thing, and could potentially lead to a new paradigm for platformers – or an old one – I don’t even know.
The peculiar thing is that comparisons to Out of this World and Loom lead me back to the last game, I compared to both of those, and their company aside, if I can speak about the Cave having the same cues or notes as the fabulousJourney, then I’m pretty damn sure it’s got more going for it than against. That’s why I’m happy with my jaunt into The Cave, because I think it’s a step in the write direction for platformers, closer to adventure games of yore.
So, I just wanted to say…
Jebediah Springfield The Cave was… great.