Gaming Review: The Cave

The game opens with a brief monologue, delivered by none other than the living spirit of a magical cave. Yes, a talking cave. It makes dating hell.

The Cave doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Booming proclamations and self-aware melodrama are used to good effect in this entertaining adventure/puzzler. There’s also more than a little bit of black humour.

Choose three of the seven characters hanging around at the title screen to begin the game. I don’t know if archetype is the correct word for this motley crew. We have “the time traveller”, “the hillbilly”, and “the monk”, for a start. But though each has their own quest to fulfill — true love, enlightenment, that sort of thing — what they all have in common is a willingness to lie, cheat, steal, and worse things, in order to get what they want.

The control scheme isn’t terribly important. This isn’t a game of reflexes, by and large, but of finding the right item and taking the correct actions at the appropriate time. The game’s available on every system and it should make no particular difference what console you decide to download it to.

The game is ultimately in the tradition of the old text adventure games of the ’80s, though updated with a graphical interface, much like Windows updated the user experience for PC operating systems. Actually, creator Ron Gilbert previously brought this type of gaming to consoles with the NES-era title, Maniac Mansion, and guess what? It still works.

It’s also pretty cool to see Sega, which has been exclusively a software publisher since getting out of the hardware game in 2001, getting some buzz on an IP that didn’t originate in the ’90s. Sonic the Hedgehog is great and all, but I like seeing something fresh from some of the old guard.

Each character has a special ability, required for their own quests but otherwise mostly irrelevant. Some of them allow you to cheat at the non-character specific quests, shortening aspects of certain puzzles depending on who you have. But for the most part, the game is one of switching between characters, collecting special items, and using them appropriately.

The puzzles are fun, challenging without being maddening, with the solutions making sense in retrospect, although they may not be obvious at first. There’s no dying, although the cave is full of dangers. Characters immediately respawn if eaten, blown up, or squashed, with no major time penalty to the player.

The Cave’s biggest flaw is that they designed the game for replay but hampered their own replay value. Having finished the game with three characters, you’ll want to select another three, so you can see their special levels. But now you have to redo all those generic levels again along the way.

Doing a second or third run-through is fine for sidescrollers, platformers, action adventure titles and the like. But not the tedious steps of “solving” a puzzle you’ve previously completed. That’s boring.

The developers would have been better off having all seven characters available (though only three per section), and making the game longer so that each level could be completed without repetition. Alternately, replays with new characters should allow the opportunity of skipping previously completed sections.

Another possibility suggests itself. If the characters’ special abilities played a greater role in level completion beyond collectibles and achievements, a replay might take on new meaning. The same level might have had to be played in an entirely different way based on the characters available, essentially meaning entirely different puzzles would be solved depending on who you play with.

Alas, it is not so. The choice of characters has little effect on how you play the game, which strikes me as a missed opportunity. That’s a shame, since going through the game the first time was such great fun, I wish I could enjoy playing it again.

Make no mistake, though. That first playthrough is just enchanting. I think everyone should check this one out just once.

 Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: The Cave on Blogcritics.

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