The Cave – Sorta Review

I have now played and completed The Cave quite thoroughly. 3 playthroughs, all 7 characters run through, 2 of them twice, so I feel like I have good grounds to write up one of my sorta reviews on it.

Mmm, sultry voice.

The Cave is a product of Double Fine, and published by Sega. It launched across all platforms simultaneously: Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U. If Tim Schaefer’s twitter is to be believed, this is their first game on a Nintendo console, which coincidentally is the version I played. It was about 1.3 GB to download, and cost 105 NOK, which is about €14 or your regional equivalent, and I believe it’s fairly similar on all platforms.

The Cave is a curious little title. It feels like an adventure game, complete with prime adventure game logic, but it plays like a 2D platformer. There are seven playable characters, and you have to pick three for each playthrough in true The Lost Vikings or Trine style. Which honestly is a little annoying, since it means you need three playthroughs to see all the stories, and you have to bring along two characters you’ve already completed. Why couldn’t it have been six, or nine, characters?

While I’m nagging, I’ll bring up a few other things. The game could have used some in-game prompts to remind you of what you’re trying to do. A small objectives list, maybe. And some brief explanation on each character’s special ability, perhaps. That wouldn’t require you to go into the menu and check the How To Play section, which anyway just offers up a single image with a word as briefing.

The order they're standing in was different in my game. Monk was far-right and knight far-left, for starters.

From left to right: Monk, Adventurer, Hillbilly, Scientist, Twins, Knight, Time Traveler.

See, you don’t even start at the menu, it’s just a title screen that tells you to press start, which just starts the game rather than putting you on the main menu. You can then press start again to open the menu, and from there go into Options and then choose How To Play. It’s not exactly intuitive, is what I’m saying. I didn’t even think to look for it on my first playthrough, so I wasn’t able to figure out what the Monk actually did until I reached his character level.

For the record, he has telekinesis, so he can activate and pick up things from afar, even through walls. As for the others; The Adventurer has a grappling hook that can attach to certain objects; the Twins can create a ghostly double that continues to hold levers for a few seconds after they move away (and somehow doubles their weight); the Knight has an invulnerability spell that requires him to stand still, but can be activated in the air; the Scientist can hack certain terminals and other electronic devices; the Time Traveler can phase through anything you can see through, like a gate; the Hillbilly can hold his breath under water indefinitely.

While most of these abilities will allow you to take certain shortcuts or access a few areas you wouldn’t be able to without, none of them are totally necessary outside of the specific level for the character in question. In the common levels you’ll always be able to find a way through with whatever mix you picked, and there are only minor variations based on who you’re bringing along. I can see how this might feel pointless to some people, but personally I liked how the abilities just added flavour rather than felt absolutely necessary.

SCORE!

As you can see, the GUI is minimal and crystal monsters love hot dogs.

Interestingly, the split between male and female characters is even, since the twins are girl and boy. And honestly not one character is especially ‘good’. You take them through the terrible deeds of their past, while hoping for a better outcome than what actually happened (you discover what actually happened via cave paintings). I will admit I resisted a bit at first, because I generally don’t like being forced to do bad or dumb things in games, but this quickly gave way to a morbid fascination to see what the stories were.

It also helps that we have a fantastic narrator in the Cave itself. The deep and sultry voice of the narrator guides you through all the small and big evils it wants to show you. Since I watched Totalbiscuit roleplay the dungeonmaster in Dungeonland shortly before The Cave came out, the narrator reminded me of an American version of Totalbiscuit, and I mean that as a compliment. There is some delightfully dark humour in there.

Strictly speaking, there are eight levels in the game. An opening, three character levels, three common levels, and then a final wrap-up. Since it’s all set up as one seamless map, you do a bit of wandering between each level. Back-tracking is limited though, as you often fall down places without a way to get back up shortly after you complete a level.

'Tropical island.' 'Shut up.'

And inside the cave you’ll somehow find a tropical island.

I’ve heard people complain about fiddly controls, something I didn’t have a huge issue with in the Wii U version, but I can’t really speak for the other platforms. It is definitely built for console though, that much is easy to tell, so perhaps the controls are worse when using keyboard and mouse. I did notice that going down ladders, or even just past ladders can be a bit tricky. And climbing up ropes can be annoying, as you can’t jump up them like you can with ladders. Both ropes and ladders allow for dropping down though, thankfully. The character catches the ladder/rope again at the point where they’d reach terminal velocity, so that’s nice and won’t get you killed unnecessarily.

As for having to move three characters all by yourself, the game makes some concessions for you. If you walk far enough with one character, the other two will automatically teleport in behind him/her, and the checkpoints for this are generally well-planned. And normally you do what you can with one character, and then move the other two as needed, so there’s not too much of having to move all three through the same areas over and over. That does still happen, but thankfully it isn’t all the time.

A lot of whether you’ll enjoy this game is how much you can abide adventure game logic. Let me give you an example. SPOILER WARNING!!! At one point there’s a bridge you need to break. The only thing heavy enough to do so is a large monster nearby. To get the monster onto the bridge, you have to lure it with a sausage. To get the sausage you need to get rid of the hunter guarding it. To get rid of the hunter you need to get a recording of the monster roaring. To get the recorder working you need to get a dead battery from a dead robot and charge it by swimming with electric eels. Then you need to start the recorder in front of the monster and drop something heavy on its tail to get it to roar, which lets you play that recording to lure the hunter away, which lets you fetch the sausage and lure the monster onto the bridge. END SPOILER! It never goes too far towards ‘moon logic’ territory, but it does occasionally flirt with it. On the plus side it allows you to experiment freely.

D-don't come any closer!

Muahahahahaha, lasers!

Hopefully I’ve helped you understand whether or not The Cave would be something for you. Personally I enjoyed my time with it, even the final playthrough where I had to repeat two characters. You can find the game on most digital download stores, and if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask.

~Wulf

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Posted on January 27, 2013, in Games, Sorta reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I wouldn’t describe The Cave’s interface as un-intuitive, but that could be because I’ve seen so much worse*. I’d describe it opaque now that I remember the word exists. To me The Cave is a good example of what nearly every single game is right now, interface wise. It’s just different enough to show it how they are even to active gamers.

    * Also I’ve been told I’m a quick learner, but it took me couple of puzzles to press “use” while standing in front of the glowing cave paintings, so that’s one hypothesis out the window.

    To me the controls were worse with keyboard or mouse.* Changing to the 360 pad felt much better, but there is still some fiddling. Dropping down ladders works some of the time, jumping up ladders doesn’t work all the time* and there’s a split second time that I have to wait for the character to turn around before jumping to actually jump where I want to.

    * You can use one or both. Yes, you can play with just the mouse. It’s not as bad as one might think, but it’s nothing special either. I used them mixed since some jumps felt easier with the mouse, though.

    Luckily the game is forgiving with jumps, to a less than a second, where even if you’ve run over a cliff before you press ‘jump’ you still jump. This is easiest to spot when walking into water as you can hear and see the splash yet jump normally.

    The only problem with the Monk that I had was finding out how it works in practice.

    The puzzle you mention, in spoilers, can be done more simply. Two ways, one needs a specific character and omits most of the whole shebang, the other just drops the drop.

    “Why couldn’t it have been six, or nine, characters?”

    Ron Gilbert mentioned that “…seven is a really nice number.” Also that in Maniac Mansion players tended to pick a favourite that they always brought along, and with seven that fits perfectly: 1,2,3 then 1,4,5 then 1,6,7

    He admitted that it would hurt “min-maxing” but that he didn’t know if a lot of people played games in that manner. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/06/01/ron-gilbert-interview-pt-1-all-things-cave-related/

    Of course it would work with nine too, but that would mean there’s an optimal way of doing the runs. Therefore offering a choice between taking your favourite with you every time or having an extra run. A lot of developers, Valve for instance, try to prevent such scenarios because players often choose the efficient route and basically sabotage their own experience.

    I don’t know the reason behind this behaviour, but I suspect it boils down to “we’re all dum-dums in the end”. I’ve noticed it in myself in a bunch of other people, so I know it’s not nonsense either.

    • Yeah, I never actually felt the controls were a hindrance. A little bit fiddly, but so forgiving it didn’t give me problems.

      Also, opaque is a good word for it. It doesn’t exactly say itself, but it’s not hard to find either, if you know to look for it.

      And I can imagine a few alternate solutions for things, but I preferred doing them as intended so I was sure to get all the cave paintings.

      Having the Time Traveler along definitely made a few puzzles easier though, like the Knight’s character level.

      But yeah, I’m sure some combinations are better for ‘speed-running’, but that’s not a focus of mine at all.

    • See, here’s the thing about that seven-split: while it makes a certain amount of sense, and I’m sure Gilbert has data to back it up, it works with nine as well. 1-2-3, 1-4-5, 1-6-7, 1-8-9. And nine characters would accommodate the 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8-9 split as well.

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