Tim Schafer is, in my book, one of the most talented game designers and writers in the industry and has been for decades. Growing up I was a huge fan of all of his games, as the point and click adventure games of yesteryear were some of the most influential games on me in my early days as a young gamer. I was a huge fan of Lucasarts games, and many of my favorites were games designed and written by Tim Schafer including The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChucks Revenge, The Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. If you aren’t familiar with any of those games then I recommend revisiting the past and witness the glory of well written, humorous point-and-click adventure games by playing these games, which I consider to be some of the best in the genre. Some of his later projects include the critically acclaimed platformer Psychonauts which saw some recent limelight when it was re-released on the Playstation Network on August 28th, 2012. Psyconauts however, was originally released on April 19th, 2005 for the Xbox. One of Schafer’s later works was Brutal Legend, an action/adventure game with RTS elements that starred Jack Black and sported Schafer’s signature hilarious writing style. Like Psyconauts, Brutal Legend also met critical acclaim upon its release holding a solid Metacritic rating of 82. I know I can sometimes be like a broken pencil and never come to a point, but this one is that Tim Schafer has a solid track record of releasing damn good games, whether it be for Lucasarts or his development company Double Fine. Now that I’ve spoken so highly of Tim Schafer, I have to tell you where The Cave really came from. Ron Gilbert worked alongside Schafer in many of the games that he worked on and co-wrote a lot of the classics including the Maniac Mansion series, and the Monkey Island games. Ron Gilbert is the creator and director of The Cave and he said that an the comes from an idea that he has had for nearly twenty years about a cave that lures people into it to explore their darker personality traits.
Being a huge fan of Schafer and Gilbert’s past works myself, I can tell you that I was hella excited when I first learned the details of The Cave, one of my favorite designers would be releasing a game in what is quickly becoming my favorite genre, puzzle-platformers. Almost immediately, The Cave’s humorous narrative and cartoony art style scream that this is obviously a Tim Schafer/Ron Gilbert game. The narrator, wielding a deep menacing voice, lightheartedly guides you through your journey with laughable lines like “I can’t let anybody die here because of what it would do to my insurance rates.” Fans of Schafer’s past works will feel right at home with the atmosphere that The Cave creates for the player. I am however, speaking as someone who has been a fan of this style of writing in games for years, if you aren’t amused by the silly humor then you will be more than likely turned off immediately as it is prominent throughout the entire game. The game itself offers some solid, rewarding gameplay that I believe anybody, especially fans of the puzzle-platformer, genre will find enjoyable even if you have to turn the volume down to avoid the quirky narrative and humor (but you’re really just weird if you don’t find the writing hilarious, or maybe I am, I don’t know, whatever).
In The Cave you are given 7 characters to choose from (actually 8 because of “The Twins”) which are The Knight, The Hillbilly, The Time Traveler, The Scientist, The Adventurer, The Twins, and The Monk. Each character has their own unique abilities, and one of the interesting gameplay mechanics is that you will build a team of 3 of these characters to traverse The Cave with together. These people who have come to the Cave have come to search for the things they desire most, and all the characters are seemingly guilty of some horrible deeds in their lives, which would lead us to believe that the Cave itself is some sort of metaphor for judgment. With each character having different abilities and very different stories, you can expect that multiple playthroughs are a must.
The visuals, although nothing groundbreaking by far, are smooth and colorful with some very amusing character design. The animations are fluid and aesthetics are altogether perfect for the theme of the game and I think the altogether presentation is exactly what Double Fine was going for. The environments, nevertheless, can become a bit repetitive which is a bit understandable being that the entire game takes place in, well, a cave but it was worth making note of. The repetitiveness, as it may be, is only a small drawback in the amiable appearance of the game. It has become a staple of the puzzle-platformer genre that less than amazing visuals aren’t much of a hindrance on the overall gameplay, especially when it is thoroughly enjoyable through the use of intelligent puzzle creation. The three player cooperative play is only a positive addition to an already wonderful single player experience.
The Cave offers just that, intelligent and amusing puzzles, some more than others but as a whole the entire game offers memorable and equally enjoyable moments in storytelling as well storytelling and game mechanics. The puzzles in some areas seem a bit unrefined and really give the player no sense of direction in solving them, making some areas seem trial-and-error more or less. These moments don’t come along very often, however, and still leave the player feeling rewarded as the story progresses afterwards. This has led many critics to say that the game feels “misplaced” but I feel that many times you are given little direction in order to discover the entire environment as well as the abilities of the characters. The journey through the game is very much a perfect partner for the amazingly humorous storytelling.
Speaking of storytelling the voice-acting in the game is spot on. The narrator perfectly executes the wit and humor which I feel is so crucial to this game. The sound effects are also an important piece of the puzzle that is the whole unified experience of this title. I do have to say that the constant whir of the Time Travelers boots as you control her can become a bit annoying. The ambient sounds of the game aren’t over encumbering and set a darker mood that sarcastically run parallel with carefree storytelling. The audible ambience as a whole is a perfect match for the overall feel and presentation of the game.
I think that The Cave has a lot to offer, but it has really caught a lashing from other critics in my opinion. Some are saying that Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Double Fine are simply cashing in on the nostalgia of the humor and style of their past games, but nevertheless, the aesthetics and humor, although very recognizable and nothing new, are a tried and true formula that never ceases to be entertaining at the least. For $14.99, I think that you’ll get every penny worth of a good time, but if nothing else take the time to try out the demo, you may be impressed, and you’ll probably even get a few laughs.