Like Maniac Mansion, Ron Gilbert’s latest foray into adventure gaming starts with picking three characters out of a possible seven. The Cave gives off every appearance of being a throwback to the glory days of LucasArts, before the downfall of the point-and-click and the Star Wars prequels, and in many ways, it hits its mark. But, it’s missing one important thing that helped make games like Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and Monkey Island memorable: a story.
Starting things out on the right foot, players can try out each of the seven characters and their respective abilities before the spelunking adventure begins. Once your dream team is assembled, it’s off into the cave to fulfill each character’s deepest desires and, well, find their way back out again. The Cave itself narrates the characters’ journey and while the non-sequiturs it blurts out every time a puzzle is solved are humorous – there’s nothing on the level of brilliance that insult sword-fighting though – and moves the story along, they don’t make up for the fact that you never really feel connected to any of the characters.
While traipsing through the caverns, none of the chosen characters speak or give much context as to why they’ve just jumped down into a giant hole in the earth; instead, character specific cave paintings, much like the glyphs found in Assassin’s Creed, provide players with exposition in the form of a slide show. Each character has around ten paintings to find and by journey’s end, the picture is a little clearer but it comes a little too late since each character has essentially lived out their slideshow while conquering their character specific dungeon.
The best way to describe The Cave’s story progression is by imaging it as a pyramid chart. The first, third, fifth, and seventh “areas” and their associated puzzles will always be the same, though the puzzles might be solved differently based on which characters are in play – think Maniac Mansion. The character specific dungeons, which are in play for areas two, four, and six, focus on the abilities of a solitary character, allowing them to act out their destiny which ultimately turns out to be diabolical. The problem in the dungeons is that only one of the characters is truly in play, while the others are there to merely stand on floor switches, hold levers, or be generally ignored. Granted, they’re still fun to play through, but the puzzle tactics feel constrictive and unimaginative in a sense.
Speaking of multiple characters, one of the really irksome quirks of the game is that you can only move one character at a time while a puzzle is in play, which causes you to traverse the same path at least three times in some instances. Sure, sometimes your whole party magically appears behind you sometimes, but in areas like the deserted island it’s a huge pain considering how massive it is.
The Cave runs smoothly on Wii U and the control scheme is comparable to the other consoles, though the use of the Gamepad is practically non-existent. Taking the game’s content into consideration, there really isn’t a whole lot they could have done – there’s no inventory or map system – but being able to play on the Gamepad sans TV would have been a welcome feature. Instead, you can switch characters by tapping on their avatar; sounds great, except it’s more of a hassle to do it that way than to use the D-Pad, conveniently placed next to the left stick for easy switching.
The Final Word: The Cave is a fun, cute and charming puzzle/adventure platformer that requires at least three playthroughs to see everything, but falls short of greatness due to a few gameplay quirks.
This review is based on the Wii U version of The Cave.