One great benefit of playing a game without researching it is that it can surprise you. I didn’t follow ‘The Cave’ prior to its release, nor did I pay it much mind after. It wasn’t until it hit Playstation Plus as a free download that I even gave it a chance. And even then I waited a good week before I finally downloaded it.
Right away, recent memory banks stirred. There might be many games that have those types of puzzles whose means of solving are not readily apparent but I have really only played a couple of them in my gaming history and even then they have both been in the last year. Many games will have a short tutorial with hints to accompany their puzzles. Sony Santa Monica decided to do away with that notion in God of War: Ascension and now (or perhaps previously since The Cave was released well before GoW:A) Double Fine’s approach is much the same.
Why was this so readily apparent? Because if you’re not careful, you may just start the game with 3 characters that you didn’t want to start the game with! Perhaps I am slow-brained, dimwitted, if you will, but I ended up embarking on my quest with 2 characters I didn’t want and 1 that I did. It hardly matters. The game is more or less the same except for 1 special ability per character (none of which are NECESSARY in the game’s core levels) and a character specific level for each of your chosen 3. You won’t get stuck playing the Knight’s level if you didn’t choose the Knight, for example, and won’t play the Twins’ level if they are not in your party.
The Cave is heavily influenced by a concept that began with a SNES/Genesis/PC title known as “The Lost Vikings.” This is, perhaps, its only knock. Not that modeling a game after that cult classic is a bad thing, but it takes a hit for not being an original concept. After selecting your characters, you work your way into “The Cave” who exhibits quirky humor, also reminiscent of The Lost Vikings. Yes, The Cave is a character, of sorts. He’s the narrator throughout your journey, the storyteller to your mute characters’ inability to tell a story. 3 characters, each with their own special ability, quirky humor, clever puzzles – if you haven’t played The Lost Vikings, that is it in a nutshell.
The cartoony visuals in The Cave are quite pleasing to the eye. The game stays true to its visual style from start to finish and the mood of those graphics fit the game’s dark yet light atmosphere quite well. They are especially crisp for a $15 game, one of TRG’s greatest compliments for a non-triple A release. The sound and music do not add much to the experience but do seem to fit the game well, too.
While the story itself is quite bland, the cute dialogue from various characters that you’ll run into plus The Cave itself fill that void more than competently. I chuckled, I smirked, I laughed out loud, at times during many of the sequences and level completion animations. This is one of the main contributing factors to a sense of fun despite some quite difficult portions of the game.
While this game offers a significant challenge in the form of having to think your way through its puzzles, it at no time feels overbearing if you’re ready to take your time and figure out what to do next. A ton of trial and error may be involved but the payoff is that ever elusive sense of accomplishment you’ll experience once you conquer certain parts. The proverbial “AHA!” moment happens often throughout your adventure. I especially enjoyed how even the most difficult of puzzles didn’t include an overbearing amount of options for their solutions. You just have to know what to do, when and how to do it and none of the puzzles seem repetitious or tedious.
Also, surprisingly, there is fun to be had in multiple playthroughs. At least two playthroughs can be accomplished without feeling like a rehash of the first one. Mainly this is due to the character specific levels you’ll encounter and those levels are the largest portion of the game. While one playthrough can take you anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, a second one isn’t a daunting a task considering the almost completely new experience you’ll have completing the unique levels and familiarity with the generic ones.
One can’t help but wonder if this trend in “the thinking person’s puzzle” isn’t going to become much more widespread in gaming. For the past 20 years, even puzzle solving games didn’t exhibit much of a challenge in their puzzles while now we are starting to see many more instances of puzzles that aren’t so simple to decipher, adding a much needed element of challenge to gaming that doesn’t involve tutorials, hints, or life bars. The Cave is such a game that might wake people up to just how much more content a game can have with very little of the classic definition of “content” actually added.
Final Score – 9 – Worth Every Penny!
A fun romp through a quirky cartoon that belies its considerable challenge that in no way feels overly complicated. A great way to spend $15 and several hours of playtime by yourself or with a friend or two (or your children).
Below is TRG’s grading scale for smaller titles and indie games. We list this key to give a better understanding of how we score those types of games which are released at a low cost instead of the $40 or $60 debut games that are standard in console/PC gaming.
I’d Pay Any Price! – Score 10 – Underprice. Game offers an experience worth more than the money required to play it. (Excludes free to play)
Worth Every Penny! – Score 8-9 – Whatever the price, you’ll get your money’s worth.
Great Value! – Score 7-8 – A great game that belies its low price.
Decent Buy! – Score 5-7 – May or may not be worth your time and money.
Forgettable – Score 3-5 – Neither a good value nor a worthy distraction. Passing on this game won’t harm your gaming life at all.
Way Overpriced! – Score 1-3 – Overpriced. A poorly valued game, even if it is cheap.