The Cave Review

Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Sega

Console:

  • Linux
  • Mac OS X
  • PlayStation 3 PlayStation Network
  • Xbox 360 Xbox Live Arcade
  • Wii U eShop
  • Windows

Players: 1-3 cooperative (local multiplayer)

Rating:

  • T (ESRB)
  • 12+ (PEGI)

Release Date:

  • January 22, 2013 (US)
  • January 23, 2013 (Europe)

Genre: 2D puzzle/platformer

-Greg Livingston

I’ve got a cold. Ib I were obnoxious, I wud tybe like dis. But I’m not. Point is, when I get so much as the sniffles, I tend to hunker down with a relaxing game: something that allows my brain and reflexes to leave the building while my immune system is busy. However, The Cave relies entirely on puzzles, an area where I don’t excel. So, I said to myself, I’ll give it a shot and stop when I get stuck.

(Is that considered a cold open?)

Things started off easy enough. After choosing three characters from a cast of seven and guiding them into The Cave one by one, I wandered around some.

I should put the boring details up front: you can walk left or right, jump, and climb ladders. If you die, you spawn at a nearby safe spot with no progress lost. In single player mode, you control one character at a time but can switch to any of the three with a button press. Also, each character can pick up and hold one item at a time.

Anyway, soon after I started wandering around the dark, dank cave, I came across a bucket. I had no idea what it was for, but I figured I may as well pick it up. Then I came across a fuse which was short circuited by a steady drip of water. Easy peasy, right? Just place the bucket above the fuse and have it catch the water. It wasn’t until a minute later that I realized I had needed to fix the fuse all along. It powered a device which I used to remove a hideous beast from my path.

image

The hideous beast in question.

With that puzzle solved, the narrator tried to pull off a joke. “I have high hopes for this group. Much better than the last,” he said. “I think they may still be down here. I should probably get them out. Nothing scares away the tourists like rotting a corpse.” There’s nothing wrong with these lines inherently, and the script in general is okay. The problem, rather, lies in the voice acting. Every voice in The Cave was over-the-top and incredibly goofy, acting as a blaring siren to get me ready for some humor. It was as if the game had to say, “get ready to laugh,” before each and every joke.

As I continued, puzzles fell into a predictable pattern. I would come across a barrier that required an item, I would fetch the item, and then I would go through the barrier. Other varieties of puzzles would show up on occasion, but only as a rarity; for instance, in an Egyptian tomb, I commanded two teammates to step on switches in a certain pattern according to wall scrawlings.

Most of the time, though, puzzles boiled down to simply using an item. While visiting a deserted island, I found a gap in the island’s plumbing. You can bet the solution for that area involved fixing it. My task was to wander around the area until I bumped into the proper piece of pipe. It’s a lock and key system of the most mundane sort.

Characters have unique abilities, too, but those function in a similarly shallow lock-and-key fashion.

image

The Scientist’s ability is to hack computers. The puzzle is: when you see a computer, switch to her.

As these tasks fell into predictability, my mind wandered to other things, and I considered what I was doing in the context of the story. In The Cave, you visit areas based on the fears of each character; the Scientist is concerned about the moral use of her research, so you pay a visit to her lab.

Initially, I didn’t register the surrealism of this experience. The Cave has some cartoony aesthetics, featuring characters with exaggerated features and animations. With zany big-headed protagonists, it almost made sense that a mountaintop and a research lab were right next to each other inside some tourist trap cave. It helped that I directly saw little to nothing of the outside world, as if all I knew was The Cave.

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At the top of your arduous journey up this mountain, you’ll find the ceiling of The Cave.

But before long, it hit me that my progress was always marked by death and destruction. As a player, I was content to just perform whatever task allowed me to get further along in the game. And, hey, The Cave made it easy for me, because most puzzles were in a simple lock-and-key pattern. In the story, though, inserting whatever key into whatever lock always set off a horrific event; trapping a miner in the cave was the lightest crime I committed.

And as I came to understand each character’s story through his or her fears, it fit. (Each character also has additional story told by collectible pictures you run across during your quest.) The Cave features a cast of characters that feels trapped. Hence, well, being trapped in a cave. Characters feel the pressures of emotions, social responsibilities, or even fate, and they feel strong-armed into some morally reprehensible easy way out. As a result, you don’t have a choice, either; to advance, you must use the easy puzzle solutions given to you. You can seek out other solutions to maintain the moral high ground, but they don’t exist.

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While not necessary to get the story, cave paintings (collectible pictures) certainly add a nice touch.

The ending—well, I can’t spoil the ending, except to say that it made sense of the whole experience, and it cast a new light on the concept of being forced into The Cave’s singular puzzle solutions. It was at once cheap and fulfilling. To be fair, cheap but fulfilling was my experience with this game; the game’s effortless puzzles at first felt uninspired until I got the whole picture. Even the story itself isn’t the greatest, but there are some neat tricks in how it’s told.

Is this a good game or a boring one? All I know for sure is that I didn’t end up quitting the game. Heck, it even drew some analysis out of my cold-addled noggin.

Pros:

  • Nice aesthetics
  • Story is told in a neat way

Cons:

  • Humor falls flat
  • Puzzles are uninteresting

Verdict:7.5

I can’t tell if The Cave is bluffing or not. Is it truly interesting, or is it just a bland puzzle game that has some interesting window dressing? I’ll err on the side of generosity and say that The Cave takes mundane puzzles and puts them in a thoughtful context, creating meaning from cookie-cutter solutions. There’s nothing new here strictly in terms of gameplay. Even when you do consider The Cave’s strengths, there’s nothing brilliant—nifty, but not brilliant. Still, it made me think.

Value Verdict:Purchased new in 2013 for $14.99.

One playthrough will take a few hours, but you can go back through with other characters for unique content specific to each character. As I said, puzzles don’t go through a whole lot of development, so what you see at the beginning is more or less what you get for the whole game.