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The Cave

Trivia:

-The Cave was directed by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer, the people behind classic adventure games such as Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango and The Secret of Monkey Island

-Ron Gilbert has been developing the concept for The Cave for twenty years

“That’s me.  The Cave.  Yes, yes, I’m a talking cave.  D-d-d-don’t laugh, it makes dating hell.”

Rarely do we get a game that makes a hilarious first impression such as this, setting the mood for an adventure quite unlike any other.  The Cave embodies many of the traits associated with platformers, puzzle games and adventure games, since it is at heart a combination of the three genres.  Despite a few minor flaws, it is very much a reminder of why Ron Gilbert was the s**t back in the day.

The Cave opens with an explanation of its dark nature by, well, The Cave.  Having a sentient cave act as the game’s narrator would be interesting enough, but the fact remains: The Cave is one of the funniest new characters I’ve encountered this year, and indeed in quite some time.  It (He?) possesses a dry wit, a sinister undertone, and an often hilarious sense of contempt for the player.

The core of this experience, though, is the player’s actions.  At the game’s onset, you choose three of the seven available characters to control and send into The Cave.  Your party could consist of a Hillbilly, a pair of Twins (acting as one character) and an Adventurer, or a Knight, a Time Traveller and a Monk.  While none of them have speaking roles, their expressions and animations add hints of personality.

These three you choose will determine what quests you’ll undertake in The Cave (apparently subject to corporate influence and mechandising… trust me, it’ll make sense).  Each character you select has a personal goal, a dark desire that they seek to fulfill, which the player must satisfy to progress further in the game.

For instance, the Knight’s desire is to claim Excalibur, the sword in the stone, for himself.  Unfortunately, the reigning King overseeing Excalibur will only let the Knight try his luck at pulling out the sword if he – the Knight, that is – earns the Princess’ favour and brings back her amulet.

This, in turn, proves to be easier said than done, as the Princess will only yield her amulet if the Knight brings back gold stolen by a dragon resting in the dungeons.  Managing to obtain the key to the dungeons using the Monk’s special ability to “summon” objects from afar, the trio makes their way down into the dungeons to obtain the gold – again, the Monk’s services are required – before making their way back.

But wait, what about the dragon? Wasn’t the gate to the dungeon left open, for the Dragon to escape!?  Yes, ultimately, the Knight does manage to bring back the amulet for the King – it’s just that the chunks of Princess all over it don’t quite complement the natural glow of the gemstone.

Each quest is set up to pay off in a hilariously aweful manner, from dragons snacking on Princesses to innocent carnivals burning in hell.  There’s definitely moments where some puzzles will stump you for a while, requiring a break to relax and get back into a rythym, but the so-called “adventure game logic” tends to be accessible enough that you won’t experience too much trouble.

Fortunately, the payoff is worthwhile and doesn’t stop with just one playthrough.  Throughout the game are hidden runes corresponding to each character in your party, granting you a piece of drawn artwork when you click on them which fleshes out each person’s backstory.  These tend to be intriguing and entertaining to look at sequentially.

Additionally, the game’s three-person party system means that to unlock every characters’ backstory (as well as both good and bad endings, as I hear), you’ll have to play a minimum of six times.  If you can handle the occasional tedium of travelling from major puzzle to major puzzle, and the repetition of certain fixed portions of the game, then multiple playthroughs are certainly an option.

The greatest problem I can foresee for gamers is the looseness of the platforming.  I recall Little BigPlanet being called out in reviews for this same issue, and the fact that it is one of the closest things I can relate to The Cave makes it worthy of note.  Characters tend not to be consistent in their jumps, often barely making it to the other side of any given chasm.  They also feel a little slow in coming to a full stop, resulting in a few instances of backtracking.

However, that and the shakiness of moving large objects aside, the game still manages to present itself quite well.  The game engine works in tandem with the 3D animated art design to create a Monkey Island-esque visual style that is clearly cartoonish and exaggerated (particularly in regards to the characters), but in a pleasing manner.  Likely as a result of the amount of detail in the backgrounds, though, expect some slowdown on your average computer.

Sound, though, works very well in this game’s favour, with audio clues often serving as a guide to completing puzzles and little background tracks to set up the foreboding tone.  The Cave, being the most predominant speaker in the game, is well-voiced by Stephen Stanson, providing the already charismatic entity with even more personality and charm.

Ultimately, the odd-ball nature of the puzzles and the intriguing (though thematically underdeveloped) player-influenced story, tied together by an excellent omniscient narrator, makes this game a must-own title.  Is it Ron Gilbert’s best work? No, it lacks some of the depth and storytelling prowess that his other games reeked of.  Yet in an age where nostalgia for the old ways of gaming continues to thrive, The Cave is certainly a welcome addition to the roster.

Score: 8/10

Recommendation: Buy It

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