Despite some dodgy platforming mechanics, The Cave is tremendous fun

The Cave is an adventure platformer from Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer-led Double Fine Studios, co-creator of games such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. Sega takes up publishing duties this time around, and it’s great to see them sinking their teeth into a variety of projects. The Cave is not your usual platforming adventure — sure, when broken down to its basics, it remains a jumping game with puzzles, but the twist is that not all the puzzling has something to do with the jumping.

At the heart of The Cave’s story is, as you would expect from a Ron Gilbert game, a talking cave. This cave also serves as a setting for adventure, with seemingly endless caverns and tunnels all filled with puzzles and vending machines (yes, vending machines). You will be able to take three of seven available adventurers along for your journey (a theme carried forward from Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion), choosing between the Monk, Adventurer, Hillbilly, Scientist, Twins, Knight and Time Traveller. Each of them comes with a special ability. For instance, the Knight can render himself impervious to damage with his “invincibility” skill, the Hillbilly can indefinitely hold his breath underwater and the adventurer can swing across chasms with her grappling hook. There is no wrong combination of characters that you can take along on your journey since all the puzzles are designed in such a way that they can be solved with a combination of any of the three (except character-specific levels). The trio you pick will also determine the areas you discover; character-specific levels which require unique skills of a particular character to beat. Pick the Knight, for example, and you’ll reach a “castle” level where you will be tasked with killing a dragon to win the affections of the king’s daughter. Depending on your roster, there are chances that whole areas will remain undiscovered, requiring different combinations of characters and multiple playthroughs.

The puzzles in The Cave have more in common with point-and-click adventure games than platformers such as Braid, Limbo or LittleBigPlanet. The old noodle will be employed on several occasions, often on multiple fronts, since solving some puzzles requires the use of all three characters. Predictably, the puzzles are all very well designed ranging from the logical (placing a bucket over an electrical socket to contain a water leak) to the absurd (making a dumbbell disappear to prevent a carnival game show host from guessing your weight), but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the platforming in general — jumping (or even running around, for that matter) feels very “floaty”. It’s almost as if the characters are on ice skates when running, while the jumping just feels very imprecise. Fortunately, the instances where your jumping skills will be put to the test are limited. However, the time spent traversing (there is a lot of it) could have been made to feel less tedious with better platforming mechanics. In addition to the puzzles, there are cave paintings in The Cave (who would have guessed?) which serve as collectibles, while offering a 2D hand-drawn glimpse into each character’s past.

Overall, it’s a nice little adventure with a great bunch of characters, pleasing visuals, fun puzzles and great voice acting. The Cave is available as a digital download on PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360.

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