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The Cave Review

The Cave (1)Successful rockers are often faced with a difficult quandary. Venturing into unexplored directions can present new opportunities for musical expression. However, crafting an album that delivers only a slight variation from a fan-favorite can be a dependable (if contrived) method of maintaining stardom. Undoubtedly, adventure gaming guru Ron Gilbert must have felt a similar tension.

While Gilbert’s helming of the Deathspank franchise elevated the two-game series to both critical and commercial success, the titles didn’t garner the same acclaim as the designer’s pioneering work in the point-and-click genre. Certainly, guiding an eponymous hero to victory offered an adept amalgam of pugnacious action, perplexing puzzles, and irrelevant humor. Yet, the end result couldn’t surpass the lofty watermark set by Gilbert’s trifecta of Lucasarts-published titles- Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Money Island, and Day of the Tentacle. The release of The Cave for PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PC, finds Gilbert collaborating once more with Tim Schafer- to resurrect a concept that revisits many of Mansion’s mechanics. From branching plotlines to protagonists who possess character specific traits, The Cave recalls many of the rudiments of the 1987 classic, albeit with woefully inconsequential platforming element.

The Cave (2)Upon initiating a new game, an introductory cutscene introduces players to the Cave- a sentient, sardonic cavity that offers a Rod Sterling-esque commentary on the action. Shortly after, players choose three adventurers from a pool of seven protagonists (or eight, since one entity is a pair of twins). Echoing The Twilight Zone, there’s nary a sympathetic protagonist around, with nearly every character sharing a sinister impetus for venturing into the cavern. The title’s narrative enjoyment comes from two sources: the dependably amusing observations offered by the Cave as well as consequences of each character’s actions. Typically, players will see karma’s merciless reprimand long before the oblivious explorers ever do.

Navigating through the subterranean environment is accomplished with the left stick, with characters able to jump and pull themselves up from ledges. The later was likely added to temper The Cave’s half-hearted physics modeling. Not only does jumping feel floaty, but there’s a micro-second delay between a button press and the initiation of a leap as well as persistent framerate flutter.  Remarkably, there’s a noticeable lack of action-oriented risk in the game, with perilous drops merely resetting the character without penalty. Coupled with a large quantity of backtracking, skulking through The Cave’s locales grows tedious. While it’s commendable that developer Double Fine aspired to make travel more interesting, the title fails to capitalize on its ambitions.

The Cave (3)Faring a bit better are The Cave’s collection of conundrums. Generally, the title’s puzzles aren’t too cerebrally strenuous, although players might become perplexed by the dilemmas faced by one protagonist. Essentially, the game brainteasers come in two varieties- general puzzles that can be solved by any personality as well as others which are only accessible by a character’s unique special ability. With seven personas and the ability to direct three protagonists concurrently, it’s not exactly a head-scratcher to determine that you’ll have to play The Cave three times to see all of its content. Yet, what is perplexing is the provocation behind that final go-round. By the third play-through, most of the game’s general puzzles have been solved twice, diminishing the concluding experience. That said, the first two trips through the title will likely please adventure game aficionados. Ron Gilbert’s posers habitually give gratification when they’re solved, awarding players with a pleasing sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, the trend continues with The Cave.

The ability for the title to accommodate multiplayer suggests that Double Fine wanted gamers to be a communal venture. Yet, the lack of game’s lack of split-screen is troubling, sullying what could have been a lively romp with a pair of local or online acquaintances. As mentioned earlier, the game’s refresh rate can be a bit lethargic, which is surprising given the game’s charming, but hardly hardware-pushing visuals.

The Cave (4)The Cave reveals Gilbert straddling the gap between replication and innovation. Regretfully, this middle road approach means that the title lacks Maniac Mansion’s magnitude of consequences, while new additions such as platforming and multiplayer never congeal. Although nothing about The Cave is precarious enough to offer an ‘enter at your own risk’ admonition, potential adventurers might want to try the demo before committing to a full-priced expedition.

ScoreC+

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

28 comments

  1. “It’s empty in the valley of your heart
    The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
    Away from all the fears
    And all the faults you’ve left behind

    The harvest left no food for you to eat
    You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
    But I have seen the same
    I know the shame in your defeat”

    Ooops, wrong cave…

  2. I doubt ANYONE will get this joke….

    “And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.”

    Ok, more seriously, I tried the XBLA demo. I found it frustrating that you couldn’t order other character to follow you. Backtracking felt boring, because as you said the platforming was lacking.

  3. As a big MM fan (I own three different versions and just played the NES one) I’m a bit let down by The Cave.

    For me the big problem is backtracking. Nowadays, gamers are aware of the technique and it feels pretty lame. I do like the characters and the writing. As always, Double Fine Production’s voice talent is top shelf as well.

  4. So why is it that when Robert reviews an adventure game (See Cognition) he score is quite a bit lower than a crappy JRPG?

    Might I suggest a new reviewer for adventure games?

  5. Downloading the demo now. I love the Deathspank games. Both were funny as hell.

    C+ seems low at first but pretty close to Metacritic.

  6. Good review. I like the whole rockstar comparison. I like Meshuggah and all, but man they don’t really change their sound any.

  7. I didn’t notice any framerate problems. Its an adventure game. Does that even matter?

    To me this review was too harsh. Too negative. Cheer up, man.

    • If you want a fluff piece, go to the developer’s site. I’d rather have an honest opinion.

      Speaking of, did anyone listen to this week’s Weekend Confirmed? Basically Andrea Renee gives a pr pitch about Disney Infinite and Jeff Cannata is honest critical and funny. You can feel the tension. It was great.

  8. I downloaded the demo and could already see some issues. This review pretty much confirmed them.

    Good review, BTW.

  9. I bought The Cave on Wednesday and beat it once.I think your score is a bit low. Its a lot of fun.

  10. The one really hard path that the review is talking about is the time traveler. Get yer FAQs ready.

  11. Comparing the game to Ron Gilbert’s early work seems unfair. He’ll never top Monkey Island. Few could ever hope to. It’s a classic.

  12. I bought without reading the reviews. I like the idea of the game but the execution isn’t all that. The movement really isn’t fun and the puzzles are too easy.

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