[Review] The Cave: Gilbert’s Grotto

The Cave seems like an amazing idea on paper. It takes the character switching mechanics from adventure game classics like Maniac Mansion and wraps them in a beautiful pseudo-adventure game platformer. Helmed by Ron Gilbert, one of my favorite dudes in the industry, and backed by Double Fine’s outstanding art team, to say that I was “looking forward to” this game is a gross understatement. Does The Cave actually equal the sum of its parts or is this sanctum better left unsoiled by curious hands? Hit the jump to find out.

The Cave is a tale of seven travelers each longing to find the object they most desire in the depths of The Cave: an apparently popular tourist attraction for wandering adventurers. Much like Maniac Mansion, the player must choose a team of three to enter, leaving the other four for another day. Each character has their own unique story and ability, so multiple playthroughs will be required to see everything The Cave has to offer.

Once the party is formed, you’ll make your way into The Cave, which is quite literally brimming with personality. The titular cave provides an interesting role to the game, serving as both the narrator and the primary antagonist. The Cave itself is a fun character, both well-written and well-voiced — a definite plus since he’s one of the only real “characters” in the entire game. He’s always there to laugh at your misfortune or just generally be menacing. It’s his monologues that hook you in and make you want to continue your quest.

 

Each of the playable characters are more archetypes than characters in their own right, serving as mere hosts for their stories to be thrust upon. Each of them has their own semi-tragic background, told in still images revealed by finding cave paintings hidden throughout the environment. Each painting unlocks a single image. While these stories are fun to see and discover, without any real depth, they aren’t exactly a driving force to keep you moving forward.

To progress through The Cave, you’ll be forced to use your team to solve simple puzzles. Each member can carry a singular item and has one unique ability at their disposal. Most of the puzzles, as such, involve maneuvering your threesome to separate areas so they can flip a switch or use an item, allowing another to advance further. Frustratingly, the characters will rarely move on their own to catch up, meaning that you’ll end up doing the same platforming sections with each character just to get them all in the same place. Areas like the Time Traveler’s, which have you traversing the same area over multiple time periods with multiple characters are a nightmare to trudge through. The game will generally regroup you when you enter a new area, but all progress in that area will have to be done with each character.

In structure, The Cave is a bit too simple. You’ll alternate between universal areas that everyone will see and an area that is specific to each character. For example, if you have the Knight, you’ll be taken to a medieval area centering around him. You’ll find out a little bit about what makes each character tick, but when the characters are silent and non-emotive, they won’t leave much of a lasting impact. That said, these areas are the best in the game. The tiny vignettes are entertaining in their own right and showcase the puzzles better than the game’s more generic environments.

Unfortunately, these are the only places where each character’s abilities actually matter. There are rare occasions where you’ll be able to solve a puzzle by using a character’s ability somewhere not specifically built for them, but these situations are so rare they don’t warrant multiple playthroughs. This is The Cave’s major weakness. It’s a profoundly short experience and not one that facilitates multiple playthroughs as well as it should. I finished my first playthrough at just over the two hour mark. Going in again with different adventurers should have been new and exciting, but instead I found myself seeing half of the game again. Each of the character specific areas was new and wonderfully different, but when over half the game is just solving the same old puzzles the same old way, it’s hard to recommend anyone come in multiple times.

Even more frustrating is that there are seven characters. Since you pick three each time, you’ll have to complete a third playthrough just to see one new area and one character’s story. This would have been fine if having different combinations of characters really mattered, but when the vast majority of the game will be slogging through twice-solved puzzles, I can’t see myself finishing that final character’s story any time soon.

It’s disappointing that more of The Cave isn’t different depending on who you pick, because it ultimately makes the game hard to recommend. If you’re a fan of Double Fine or Ron Gilbert, you’ll find a giddy smile on your face for almost the entirety of your first tour of The Cave. Going in for seconds is a slightly different story and I can’t imagine anyone being immediately ready for a third helping. With a maximum runtime of about six hours if you do find yourself completing it with everyone, it’s a hard recommendation knowing that it sours after only the first two.  If you need something to whet your appetite until the Double Fine Adventure comes down the pipeline, this will keep you entertained for an afternoon, but this is much more a palate cleanser than a full course meal.

[Final Breakdown]

[+Fun Personality] [+Beautiful Graphics & Art Direction] [-Positioning Multiple Characters Can Be A Chore] [-Not Enough Difference Between Playthroughs] [-Brief]

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