Do you have a dark secret buried deep within you? A heinous, selfish act that went against everything you believed yourself to stand for. Did you learn something from it, or did it turn into the nightmares that break you piece by piece with every passing day?
Double Fine’s latest downloadable title, a 2D side-scrolling adventure called The Cave, gives you the stories of seven characters that play out in the depths of a talking cave. The signature Ron Gilbert humour is present, especially with the stand-out narration by the Cave itself. But the story is notably darker, and with a deeper purpose than what we have seen in his previous work such as the Monkey Island series.
The game also lacks the complexity of the Monkey Island series, with no inventory to speak of, and rarely any combination of objects (and none of the really complex kinds). Instead, the player picks three from the seven characters in the beginning of the game, with each character capable of carrying one object at any given time. The ‘Cave Tour’ that the group partakes in is divided into various segments that play out as the standard adventure fare you would expect, coupled with some light platforming that is never troublesome. The segments can be split into generic ones, which are independent of the characters you choose, and character-specific segments which serve as story missions for the individuals.
The game lacks the complexity of the Monkey Island series, with no inventory to speak of.
The missions usually require the player to figure out the correct manner of using objects for the presented challenge in order to progress. For example, you might be required to deal with a hideous beast with a weakness for hotdogs blocking the way forward, or figure out a way to get some mine carts back to their disgruntled owner. Many of the puzzles require the characters to work in tandem. That is hardly a problem, thanks to ability to quickly switch between characters using the d-pad, and the generous margin for error built into the gameplay.
Since the game allows you to pick three out of the seven characters at any given point, there is an incentive to play through the game at least thrice if you want to see the stories of each of the characters. However, the generic segments repeat themselves in each playthrough, making them a chore since you have already figured them out on your first run. I would have liked to see a few more of these generic segments, which could be mixed and matched with the character specific missions and thrown into the game. Considering how the game is designed to be replayed, it would have injected a lot of freshness in subsequent playthroughs.
As things stand, the freshness is left upon the character-specific missions, where Double Fine has spent a lot of time. The players get a chance to play and witness a key memory from each character’s life that brought them to the cave. Some of these, such as the twins, frolic in their mansion that takes a terrifying turn of events, or the adventurer’s dark choices on the hunt for an Egyptian relic, are fairly straightforward. However, some, such as the hillbilly’s quest to find true love at a carnival, or the time traveller’s tale that requires the player to switch between three vastly separated time periods, can be decidedly convoluted, and consequently a real joy to figure out.
With cave paintings to collect and help expand upon the stories of these spelunkers, the first playthrough will take three to four hours to finish, and the subsequent ones much less due to repetition. There is also the option to receive a good or a bad ending for each of the characters, and the genius of the story telling lies in how the game explicitly doesn’t spell out how to achieve them. As a result, achieving a different ending, even if it is done through a simple action, feels like a proper closure to not just the sequence of events that make up the story, but the whole idea that the game stands for.