The Cave was recently released by the same people who did Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion and some other people who did Psychonauts. That’s some pretty impressive video game chops, so it’s no surprise that adventure game-cum-platformer The Cave has been met with high expectations.
How does it perform on the Mac, and just what is the mystery of the Cave? We’ll try to find out!
Welcome to the Cave
The Cave introduces itself to you right at the beginning. It knows you’re there to go inside of it, and it’s ready. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last to seek answers inside the Cave. You can choose among seven playable characters, and the Cave will introduce you. Each harbors a shady secret and has come to the Cave to discover something about themselves. You get to choose three characters, and you’ll switch among them as you make your way through the Cave.
Combining aspects of point-and-click adventure games and platformers, your characters move through the Cave using the mouse or arrow keys–or game controller, if that’s how you roll–discovering and collecting objects to solve puzzles and unlock the next section of the Cave. You’ll find your team hopping from ledge to ledge and running up and down stony corridors, but without a lives system, the Knight’s fall to squished death doesn’t have the same sting; he’ll just respawn somewhere close to his last pre-dead location.
The characters are more than just a replacement for a cursor and a means to fetch the stuff that’s going to make it possible to keep moving forward. Each has his or her own special ability, and while you can absolutely complete the game with any combination of the seven, for every three characters you choose, you get a different play experience. Not only does everyone have their own story to reveal as you move deeper into the Cave, but entire areas of the Cave may be made inaccessible if you don’t have the right power on board.
While you’re learning about each character’s clouded history, finding out what was so important that they’d throw themselves into a big hole in the ground, it’s not all sadness and woe. The game has an incredible sense of humor, and even the darker parts of the story are funny. The Cave makes great use of black humor, though it never gets scarier than its 9+ App Store rating.
For a giant rock formation, the Cave is pretty talkative, serving as the narrator and commenting on the events occurring within itself. Early in the game, you’ll learn that as long as you’re inside of the Cave, you’re effectively immortal, or at least your characters are. They’re in a liminal state, somewhere between what they were before they entered the Cave and what they’ll be when they finally emerge. The Cave will cause your characters to change, because it’s special, and the Cave wants you to know that.
There’s at least one other voiced non-playable character, incidentally voiced by the same guy as the Cave, and he’s the one who sends you on your first quest. For a guy you don’t see a whole lot of in the game, he’ll talk your ear off if you let him. The Cave’s NPCs are a loquacious bunch, especially when compared to the player characters. They don’t make a peep. With those guys, it’s all about mystery and discovery. What are their stories and what are the hiding? Though they won’t ever speak up, you’ll run across special symbols, cave paintings, that when activated will reveal a bit more about each character’s past.
Point-and-Click Puzzle Play
While The Cave sure is a lot of fun to play, some of the puzzles are just dumb. Even simple puzzles that are are easily deciphered require one or more of your characters to run back and forth over the same section of the Cave, over and over again. After the first few times of retreading the same ground, it becomes almost boring, especially if you got the puzzle figured out a while ago.
If you want to learn the stories for all seven of the characters and see everything that’s in the Cave, you’ll need to play The Cave three times. That’s means you’ll be doing the same puzzles three times! Okay, so with different characters, you may come up with new solutions, and no two playthroughs will be identical, but that’s still a lot of spelunking. I can’t help but think that the third time through with two characters you’ve already used, just so you can find out what’s up with the Hillbilly, is going to feel pretty stale.
Climb Your Way Out
Being honest, I probably won’t play it three times in a row just to see every single thing that happens in The Cave. What I’ll do is play it, love it immensely, and then set it aside until I get that itch again. While on the surface, The Cave wouldn’t have a ton of replay value once you made it through and figured out the mystery, being able to create a new experience with a new mystery definitely makes it a lot more appealing to go back later.
It’s funny, the graphics look great, and the animations are okay on my three-year-old Mac once I’ve adjusted some of the settings. Some running back and forth is inherent in adventure games of this type, and while it certainly feels The Cave got more than its fair share of to and fro, the characters will be doing interesting and hilarious things while they’re running around. And throughout it all, the Cave will be revealing its secrets, but only if you can prove yourself worthy.