The Cave is the latest from Double Fine, a puzzling adventure game that is part homage and part evolution. Walking this line perfectly, I was smitten in my preview. At it’s core it is an excellent game in all the ways you’d expect: witty, well-designed, charming and funny. However, it is far from perfect. Amongst all the gems, there are some clods of dirt and hair and straw. Let’s get into it.
Live By the Cave, Die By the Cave
The Cave — the character-cum-setting — is the real crux of the game. It is a multi-pathed, multi-leveled (both in depth and the traditional sense of video game levels), talking, living, fourth-wall-breaking entity. If the Cave itself fails to grasp you, there isn’t much else. Luckily, as far as presentation goes, Double Fine went all-in.
Everything about the game’s design is good, but everything about the Cave is wonderful. The settings are rich, the dialogue is perfect and the omnipresent Cave never wears out its welcome. Truly, you can feel the TLC put into The Cave’s Cave graphically and thematically. So, right there, the largest hurdle was cleared with aplomb. Be warned: Though a small game, it can be quite graphically demanding as my second-string computer had to drop it down a peg.
Flawed Characters Are Real Characters
The characters are all driven by greed, only entering the Cave to obtain whatever they desire most (I’ve beaten the game with six of the seven, The Hillbilly being the odd man out). Their stories leading up to actually entering the Cave are all told by finding cave paintings scattered throughout. These stories then continue in the various character-specific levels as you progress. I really enjoyed these segments, thrusting the characters towards their own self-inflicted dooms. Honestly, each one felt richer because of these faults. I’m sick of playing one-dimensional heroes, I guess.
Choose Your Own Adventure!
Those character-specific levels that I mentioned up there really do shine. The stories they tell and the challenges they present are almost universally exemplary. Sure, some of the levels are better than others, offering more of a mental workout and giving you that feeling of real satisfaction, but they are definitely the highlight. In fact, when put next to the standard, in-every-playthrough ones, you’ll begin to wish the entire game was crafted around them. Still, the idea of making a party and using everyone’s abilities to succeed in both specific sections and the entirety of The Cave is implemented very well.
There is also a small nuance of story carry-over from playthrough to playthrough that further lends to the Choose Your Own Adventure vibe. The beginning of the game shows you the accomplishments of the past playthrough as a puzzle and story point. The game is littered with small but loving winks like this.
The “In-Every-Playthrough” Levels
The first time around, all the puzzles are wonderful. So good that you never want to play them again. However, littered between the character puzzles are the same three puzzles in every playthrough. These wither when set beside the amazing character ones, not because of creativity but acquaintance. You just want the old sections out of the way so you can get to the new material. I fully understand the immense workload that developing three or four more puzzles would bring, so I understand their absence. Sadly, the replay value takes a hit because of it.
Poor, Poor PC Port
With a reasonable amount of graphical options, I thought the PC version would be lovingly crafted, but it isn’t. It is a game meant to be played with a gamepad (something not everyone has). I found myself really struggling and frustrated with WASD + mouse input. Sometimes it would just not respond to either. Other times — especially when moving crate-like objects — it would have this habit of grabbing it and walking a few steps forward before I could pull it backwards. This almost broke one late-game puzzle and threw me off the scent of many solutions because I thought the object was immobile. What a bummer, right?
The Cave is a really, really good game held back by issues of execution and scope. Sadly, these do add up. Repeatedly running into the same technical problems while retreading content immediately took me out of the game. But, there are moments of perfectly-crafted humor and experienced game design that make up for it. Luckily, these far outweigh the negatives, making for an absolutely tickling game that delivers on its promise to reflect on and jump-start adventure games. With its low barrier of entry and immediately apparent whimsy, The Cave is a game for everyone.
Review Platform: PC