The Cave opens with a slow pan of a darkened forest, with an ominous voice, or at least a voice trying to be ominous, greets players. Around a campfire are gathered seven characters- a Knight, a Hillbilly, a Time Traveler, a Scientist, a Monk, an Adventurer, and a set of Twins. Each one awaits their turn to journey through the dark recesses of the Cave, which contains all manner of obstacles and trials to be overcome. The game, from designer Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island) and developer Double Fine shows its sense of humor early, as the ominous voice, who serves as the Narrator, reveals itself to be the titular Cave. This sense of humor- silly, and, at times, downright hilarious, is the game’s strongest suit.
Unlike Gilbert’s previous work, The Cave is not a point and click adventure title. Rather, it’s a side scrolling platformer filled with plenty of puzzles to solve on your journey. You choose three characters (you and two friends can play the game co-op, but there is no split screen, so you’re confined to not wandering too far from the other characters), break through the entrance, and pay a visit to the Gift Shop, where a man bemoans the fact that the Cave is closed to tourists, since the gift shop has no trinkets to sell. He offers help if said trinkets can be procured, and once done your journey begins in earnest. Each character visits an area particular to them- the Knight deals with a dragon in a castle, the Monk attempts to find tranquility in a monastery, the Adventurer plunders an Egyptian tomb, and so forth. Each area unlocks a story unique to each character, but to get them all you’ll need to play the game three times, and since there are seven characters, that means playing two characters’ stories twice. Adding to that bit of repetition are four main areas that must be played each time. The only thing that changes are the cave paintings you find, as they are specific to who you have in your party. The stories are enjoyable, as are the common areas to all the characters, but you may find it better to allow time between each playthrough to avoid the redundancy.
The graphics are nicely done, using a cartoony style that suits the game well. Controls are fairly simple to grasp, though jumping can be occasionally floaty and imprecise in spots. It’s never enough to be too frustrating. The puzzles are for the most part cleverly designed, and you’ll do a lot of switching between characters to accomplish them. Some may stump you, but taking a break and returning to the game with a clear head often helps to see the solution. The problem is that you’ll be doing some these same puzzles multiple times, in order to see every character’s story. On the plus side, you should have them down pat by your third run, so, there’s that.
All in all, The Cave is a bright, humorous platformer that’s worth your time despite the fact that while replayability is built in, so is the repetitive gameplay. It might have been nicer if each character could have gone through separately, giving you something different each time. Or that the common areas, like the zoo and the mine, could have at least been more varied depending on who was in your party. These quibbles do keep the game from being better than it is, but its sense of humor makes up for its flaws, making it an enjoyable title for all ages.
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