Wot I Think: The Cave

By John Walker on January 24th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

We’d strongly hoped to bring you a review of the PC build of The Cave before now. Now the PC version is unlocked, and we’ve finally been able to play it, I’m able to tell you wot I think. And the strangest thing? The PC code is significantly better than the dodgy 360 version, making it all the more mysterious that it was kept from us.

The Cave is from a parallel universe. It’s one where no one ever invented the puzzle-platformer, and this is humanity’s first go at the genre. That’s the only explanation I can figure.

Ron Gilbert, of course he of classic LucasArts adventures, has taken what appears to be a fresh approach to a few adventure tropes. There is a cave, The Cave, a sentient, narrating chasm of underground tunnels and biomes, and into it will venture three of seven possible characters. Along with general areas, each has her/his own specific areas of the cave, although all three are always needed to progress, and along the way you’re told some sort of peculiar morality tale about each.

It’s first and foremost a side-scrolling platform game. That’s important to remember, because for the vast majority of the time you’ll be traipsing your characters back and forth across the large levels, jumping holes, climbing ladders, screaming in fury when you can’t jump off the ladder, finding yourself somehow back on the ladder, finally managing to escape the ladder, and getting stuck on a rope. Each section of the cave is a collection of puzzles, often using objects you find along the way, and it’s perhaps in this that it shares a fraction of anything in common with an adventure.

Each of your three chosen characters can carry one object at a time, which are then used in apposite circumstances, always with the purpose of opening up the next section of the Cave to run into. Adventuring minds are helpful, as you’ll need to assume to use the sausage with the dinosaur to create the oil, and so on. But there are also a decent number of red herring items to pick up, so having the right character in the right place with the right thing is a large part of your purpose here. And a large reason why you’ll shake your fists at the sky.

It’s the most frustrating part. Because while the concept of taking three characters, each with a unique ability that allows access to specific areas of the Cave, is a splendid one, you’re left having to move all three of them around the same sprawling area, climbing the same set of godforsaken ladders and ropes over and over, and spending far more of your time manoeuvring than doing anything satisfying. And I can find no option for co-op in the PC version. It’s this that gives The Cave an overwhelming sense of dullness.

And it’s a real shame, as were this tightened up, made far more engaging for the vast, vast majority of players who’ll play it alone, it could have been a nifty, cute idea. As it is, even the most unique locations become tainted with the bitter taste of drudgery.

Take what could have been the absolutely superb Time Traveller section. As you might guess, in this section of The Cave there’s a time machine. It transports you from the present to the sci-fi future, to the prehistoric past, and with more than a touch of Day Of The Tentacle, you’re using causality to solve puzzles. The aforementioned dinosaur/oil conundrum is a great example of this, but also a great example of the frustration that lies in the way. To solve this you end up running back and forth across the same map not only with three separate characters, but in three separate timezones, with extremely poor flagging of what’s where, and those ladders to tiresomely negotiate at every point.

Where the game becomes even more peculiar is when encountering a section designed for one of the characters not with you. While I’m very impressed at the whole game being designed to be possible no matter which three you take with you, why an area that is specific to someone you didn’t pick must be sort of half-played bemuses me. There’s nothing to tell you that you can’t do anything in an area, just a bunch of doors you can’t open, keys you can’t find, and objects you can’t do anything with. It’s only when you realise you can just run past the whole thing via a certain passage, puzzles seemingly solved ahead of you, that you realise you’re just not meant to be playing here. Huh.

Having finished the game, I immediately restarted with three new characters. (Would I have done this were I not reviewing it? I’m not sure.) And I got stuck on the very first puzzle. A puzzle I’d completed with no problems the previous time, with three other sets of skills. This offers a huge potential, and I thought for a moment I’d failed to recognise how smart it might be. But sadly it was a blip.

The motivation to play again is to reach the areas previously inaccessible, and perhaps to learn the stories of the other characters. However, these tales told in stills collected throughout the levels hint at a pathos the game itself never comes close to. Each is a morbid story of lost loves, cruel ambitions or murderous greed, clearly mimicking the memories unlocked during Psychonauts. But sadly the stories themselves aren’t nearly as strong, and more significantly, the characters they’re about never earn your sympathy, let alone interest, while you’re playing as them. Since each is silent, just having a story Sellotaped on top of them doesn’t really cut it. And it’s just not that funny. Not that it’s trying and failing – when it puts out a joke they’re mostly decent – but that for so much of the game, the humour is spread incredibly thinly. Instead it attempts morbidity, but even here it falls short of reaching anything particularly noteworthy. The murderous twins get the closest, but the rest are just insipid tales of nothingness – a guy might not get a girl, a scientist’s morals are tempted by money, an adventurer’s ego is a bit big.

The largest demotivation for playing again are the sections common to every time through. Finding a miner his three minecarts was by far the least interesting and most laborious section the first time. Realising I had to do it all again, and that the unique skills of the characters played no part whatsoever here, wasn’t one met with relish. Nor the next barely varying challenge to get rid of a dragon-thing, and indeed nor the beach section that comes right after it (unless you have the Monk with you). The idea that you’d play a third time through to take the final of the seven characters seems bewildering. Let alone to see the tiny cosmetic alternative ending available for each.

It all looks very pleasant, as you’d expect from Double Fine, but there’s no getting around that you’re always in the washed out colours of an underground cave (bar one section on a beach). The PC version’s animations are all really splendid – massively different to the 360’s glitchy, poppy struggle. And the detail with which each background is packed is utterly lovely. If you’re deciding between the PC or 360 version, there’s just no competition in looks – it is so vastly superior on the Mother Machine, the Vaseline smear gone, the choppiness smoothed out, and the whole thing a much more crisp, fluid affair.

Also significantly improved in the PC build are the controls. While you can still play with a pad, there are also options for keyboard and/or mouse. The latter seems the best option, with movement on the left button, jump on the right, and then a sort of splurged confusion of interaction draped over the rest. Which still isn’t great, clearly, but oddly feels better than the more instinctive choice of a controller. However, any hopes that a “point and click” mode would replace the platforming must be instantly abandoned. You’re still required to leap gaps, scramble about, and scream into space about why it’s so slow to climb or descend ropes. In fact, clicking at a certain point on the screen is more likely to send your character running onto spikes than anything else, so it’s always about direct control.

The Cave just needed to go further in almost any direction, to avoid being the almost-something affair it is. If it wanted to be about narrative, then have the tales be more vividly explored by the action of playing (it should be said that the Scientist’s and Twins’ sections get much closer to this than the rest, and both is memorable, unlike the rest I can barely recall a day later). If it wanted to be about exploration, then create something more elaborate, and more elaborated. If it wanted to be a platformer, fix its bloody platforming. And if it wanted to be an puzzle-based adventure, then remove the vast corridors of nothing you’re forced to repeatedly-repeatedly run down. And whatever it wants to be, for crying out loud, why couldn’t it have included a button that – should all the paths be clear – gathers your whole team together in one space? It does do that for you when you progress through major markers, but I was desperately missing such an option so very often, and think I’d have liked the game about thirteen times more if it were present. (Oh, and then there are the times when you’ve deliberately left characters at certain points, and then it gathers them for you when you don’t need it – those are fun.)

The whole game feels like the puzzle interstitials in a fully-fledged puzzle-platformer, the variation from the combat, or acrobatics. But this is just those puzzles, and far too often they’re not particularly interesting. (I’d say about half of the characters’ areas are left very wanting.) Hence that sense that parallel universe sensation, where this would be a brave step in a completely new direction for the adventure, rather than a peculiarly diluted version of a genre with which we’re very familiar. Trine this is not.

That you can pick any three of seven characters and still have a meaningful game feels impressive. Although after an initial sense that you’re adapting to circumstances, it quickly becomes apparent that individual skills really only apply in a character’s specific section – somewhere mostly inaccessible if they’re not with you. But when the vast majority of your time is spent scrambling about the dull platforms, the mechanics needed to be so much better than they are. The levels needed to be so much tighter than they are. The characters needed to be far more developed. The puzzles needed to be less based on pulling levers to open doors. The gags needed to be much more frequent. And the damned ladders and ropes needed to be fired into the Sun. You get the idea. The Cave, while inoffensive and occasionally rewarding, ends up falling short in too many ways. It sadly isn’t the trailblazer for a new genre – it’s a game that doesn’t seem to have learned from the examples that came before it.

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103 Comments »

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  1. throwaway888 says:

    Hello English is not my native language, so I might be wrong,

    but I find it kind of confusing when reviewers use the word “PC code” or “xbox code”.
    Do you get to review the source code of the game?
    I assume it means a review version of the game, is this correct, so why do you call it code?

    • mr.lutze says:

      Because it makes reviewers know what they’re talking about (even if they don’t).

      • gladius2metal says:

        +1!!!

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        Hypocee says:

        …If the reviewer’s a jerk. Or, in this case, if you like to rhetorically presume that all reviewers are jerks to make yourself feel big and clever. Walker, because he’s a responsible writer, was specifically talking about differences in the programming between versions – better resource streaming code, better input code.

        And yes, per below, source code has a 1:1 mathematical correspondence with machine language so all programs are valid targets of “code”. Its why we add a word to make the distinction for “source code”.

      • f1x says:

        The mention to the code here is because as the PC version was delayed, he started reviewing it on the XBOX version,
        thats why the differences are pointed out

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        Arren says:

        -1

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      What you build from source code is code too, so it’s not wrong.

      • jalf says:

        But there’s a lot more in a game than just code (compiled or otherwise). Textures and sound files aren’t code, for example. So technically it is wrong, unless reviewers get a *very* stripped down version of the game.

        • ANeM says:

          Correct, but models, textures and sounds don’t tend to differ much from build to build short of how they might be compressed and sized. The code is what changes.

    • John Walker says:

      Despite people’s excellent defences of me, the word “code” is just a standard term to mean “a copy of the game”. I’ve been doing this job too long to know if it’s purely an industry term I shouldn’t use, or a commonly accepted word for the purpose.

      Although I’m pretty sure it’s an acceptable term to use when distinguishing between two versions of the same game.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Dunno about the standards of journalism lingo, but in the world of Computer Science, “code” is the preferred term whether compiled or not.

        Although, referring to the (compiled) code of a game rather than “PC version” distinguishes the version the reviewer is specifically playing from the version that the readers might have. This allows the journalist to future-proof the article whether a patch is released before the article is published or not. Plus there’s future versions of the game, expansions, and so forth.

        The code of Minecraft back when first reviewed is very, very different to today, in spite of the basic gameplay being nearly identical (punch trees for wood always being the first sensible move, there are still creepers, etc.).

      • mr.lutze says:

        Too be honest I was just joking, probably shouldn’t reply to first comment. I love you, Mr. Walker.

      • The Random One says:

        You’re too humble, John. We all know you review games by just staring at the code, like in the Matrix.

        …Now I wonder if, with their limited English, the OP will be able to understand this answer, and what they had wrought…

        • Mctittles says:

          I always wondered why someone didn’t at least mod a tile set for viewing the matrix.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            If it can be done for Dwarf Fortress I am confident that the matrix would be a piece of cake!

    • Brian_Ott says:

      my buddy’s sister-in-law makes $69/hr on the laptop. She has been without work for nine months but last month her pay check was $16121 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site… http://xurl.es/h5t4o

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Thank you for you insightful input, Brian but Mr Walker has already explained his reasoning so your deep analytical thoughts are somewhat superfluous to requirements. Keep up the good work though

        • Pray For Death says:

          Gotta admits though, he does present a rather solid argument on the subject.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Oh well, yeah, sure. Brian’s one cool cat, with his head on straight. He’s really gotten to grips with the surprisingly metaphysical aspects of this subject and frankly causes me to question the nature of my own assumptions.

    • alison_brie says:

      as Howard explained I cant believe that any one can make $9740 in 1 month on the computer. have you read this page… http://www.youtube.com.qr.net/j62T

  2. eRa says:

    Looks like I’ll go spelunking elsewhere then.

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      Yachmenev says:

      It’s a dirt cheap game already. If you had the slightest interest in it before, go buy it still and see for yourself. It’s not a big investment in either time or money, can turn out be enjoyable for you, and at worst you have supported a lovely development company.

      • monkeybars says:

        That’s just charity, and I can think of better ways to spend my charity dollars.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Well, I see what you mean and I mean you no disrespect but not everyone’s economic situation is the same as your own. The price of this game, for example, is equal to my budget for a week of lunch.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        “Dirt cheap” would be more like $1.

        • Groove says:

          I don’t think that a game needs to be $1 to be dirt cheap, but I whole-heartedly agree that £10 is NOT dirt cheap. Personally I find £3 to be hard to resist, all I really need out of it is an hour or two of good entertainment, or the possibility of something really good, or even just some really interesting ideas that I want to play with. However, after that review, even for £3 the Cave would just be a maybe, which is sad.

          • zhivik says:

            Well, outside the UK, Steam sells this for €15, which is about $20 at the moment. It’s certainly not expensive, but I wouldn’t call it “dirt cheap”. It’s more like in the vicinity of new indie games in the GOG catalogue. Anyways, the review just doesn’t invoke much confidence, I’m afraid, so I guess I will hold on for some time before I decide whether to buy it or not. It looks like it has some very good ideas, yet not entirely polished.

      • MondSemmel says:

        Everyone with a backlog of games should value if not their money, then at least their time, more than to spend it playing mediocre games. Which The Cave appears to be – I rarely disagree with RPS reviews, and judging from the Metacritic scores, the sentiment seems unanimous.
        It’s a shame, though. From Amnesia Fortnight and the DFA Kickstarter, Double Fine seem like nice people, and I wish them the best. But that obviously doesn’t excuse making mediocre games.

        • Venkman says:

          I think that for a fan of adventure games and Maniac Mansion this is probably worth a play, even though most of us have backlogs of much better games. There is some value in playing things that are “new” (I can’t exactly define that value, but it’s there somewhere). Call it a “guilty pleasure” if you will. That said, it is quite possible that the demo will un-sell me on the game, and I’m probably going to wait for a 50%+ sale anyway.

          • wu wei says:

            Shouldn’t you reserve commenting on it’s “worth” until you’ve actually played it?

            Long time adventure fan here, since the original Colossal Caves, and loved Manic Mansion, Monkey Island et al. But the review is 100% spot on: this is a tedious, tiring affair.

    • rapchee says:

      it seem that the game didn’t dare to make the descent into true depths …

      wasn’t this supposed to be the pun thread?

  3. Lemming says:

    I have to disagree here, John. I found the game well worth the tenner it costs. The platforming didn’t annoy me much, although I got stuck on a ladder a couple of times, it’s easy to jump off when you figure it out on the controls (down and jump provided you aren’t too near a platform left/right).

    The stories are played out in each character’s level as well, I’m sure you knew that, but your review seemed to imply it was just about the postcards, which are more of a set up.

    I found the time-traveller section tough, mainly because of what appeared to be an ill-thought out bucket puzzle, but traversing it was fairly easy as the area isn’t that big and you can have a character sitting in each time period. There is only one part of the whole puzzle where you need two people at the same time (the aforementioned Dinosaur part). It seemed fairly logical to me to infer 3 time zones for 3 characters, but I realise it isn’t telegraphed.

    The humour is fine. It’s dark and amusing, although it’s not ‘LOL’.

    Maybe it’s just the three characters I used, but I really liked that each one’s story was purely selfish and not as innocent as first appeared. (I’ve played the game with Knight, Time Traveller and Twins so far).

    I’m not saying this is ‘the best game ever’, but I think that John (and others) have been harsher than they should’ve been.

    It’s a humorous puzzle-platformer for a tenner. That’s as far as it goes. Don’t go in expecting the second-coming of Monkey Island. It’s in the roots, and references, but not the scale.

    PS> the co-op is not worth a damn. You have to take turns anyway, and you may as well just play it with one person controlling and the other sitting next to you making suggestions.

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      Yachmenev says:

      The review seems a bit angry, but he should he tell his experience with the game, and if he’s frustrated then his frustrated. I don’t agree with him at all about the controls, which for me works perfectly fine. As for the story and quests, I haven’t played it long enough to be able to judge the game based on them.

      The game has received with very mixed reviews, so no one should take one single reviews as the truth about the game (that said, Johns opinions is just as valuable as any other reviewers).

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        Morlock says:

        Only played it for 30 minutes this morning, but I was already disappointed of the fact that I can’t get two characters to follow the third if I am just navigating through the cave. Apart from that, it was fun.

        • ramirezfm says:

          Pretty much this. Apart from the inability to easily get all the characters together it was pretty fun. I wasn’t expecting a new Monkey Island though.

        • Lemming says:

          You can’t get through the end of a section without them all automatically joining you, so you don’t need to ‘gather them up’ . Just move them when you need them for something specific.

      • John Walker says:

        There’s no anger at all. Apart from that directed at the sodding ropes.

    • wccrawford says:

      I purposefully didn’t read this yesterday because I was waiting to actually play it first. (And I’m glad, because there are a lot of puzzle spoilers in there!)

      I’m surprised to see so many people disliking it. I thought it was well worth the money and was actually considering buying it for my friend as well. (He has money issues.)

      Yes, ladders and ropes are horrible things in the game. The climb speed (up AND down) is too slow and ropes won’t let you jump up them (ladders do, sorta), and it doesn’t help the game any. I’ve gotten rather good at jumping down ladders and ropes, though.

      All day today, I’m going to be looking forward to playing my second set of characters when I get home.

  4. andytizer says:

    I think there is an option for co-op on PC as stated by a forum admin here: http://www.doublefine.com/forums/viewthread/8385/#258081

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Co-op just requires one player to use a keyboard and the other a gamepad. Unfortunately activating it is a bit unintuitive (basically at the select screen you need to select a character with each controller.)

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    basilisk says:

    Yeah, that’s a fair review. I’m currently playing the Time Traveller section and it’s lovely and tedious at the same time. The Adventurer’s was mostly predictable and dull, to be honest. It’s basically a Dizzy game, except with infinite lives (which is good) and pedestrian platforming (which is bad). And just like Dizzy, there seems to be way more padding than content. It’s weird.

    (Unlike John, I found the mouse controls very peculiar. Controlling a platformer with point and clicking feels really odd, and makes traversing the area even more boring. A gamepad feels better to me. More engaging, somehow.)

  6. Feriluce says:

    Something not mentioned as well. The PC version is locked to 30 fps. Really annoying.

    • zeroskill says:

      I just don’t see a reason why any developer would lock FPS to as little as 30. It’s mind-boggling.

      • TCM says:

        Providing a slow, surreal, dreamlike quality maybe?

        I have no idea either, I’m just guessing.

      • andytizer says:

        It’s something to do with the way physics are calculated in games is my guess: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4935510

      • luukdeman111 says:

        perhaps for the same reason that films are still all shot in 24 FPS (except The Hobbit of course)

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        Illessa says:

        I vaguely recall the technical director at Double Fine talking about this a bit during the Amnesia Fortnight livestream – IIRC it’s an engine limitation. Every Double Fine 3D game other than Psychonauts uses the engine they built for Brutal Legend ie. for a console game – so the frame-rate is hard coded in. They’ve been talking about fixing it for a year or so, but apparently it’s tricky enough that they haven’t had the spare man power to pull it off.

    • lordcooper says:

      Can you actually tell the difference without bringing up a frame counter? I sure as hell can’t.

  7. MeestaNob says:

    I’ll be grabbing this in a few months purely out of curiosity when it’s dirt cheap (it’s hardly dear now though, $15 is a fantastic price). Giant Bomb played this the other day and it looked fairly tedious, just watching them walk between puzzles with Ron leading the way directly was so just… boring. And boring is probably my most hated word, but it fits best here.

    This is an interesting concept that needn’t be a platformer. I guess they needed to do that to make it accessible (hnggg) to a wider audience, primarily consoles, but it’s clearly to the detriment of the game itself.

    • Buemba says:

      Yeah, that Quicklook unsold me on the game as well. I’m sure I’ll eventually get it, but it won’t be for full price.

      I’d be more than willing to stomach tedious gameplay if the humor was firing on all cylinders, but in the 30 minutes or so of gameplay they showed I don’t think I cracked a smile once.

  8. DexX says:

    Wait, are you saying each character has a separate inventory? If so, WHY??? Why not have a single inventory shared across all three?

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      Yachmenev says:

      They don’t have an inventory at all. Each character can carry one item at a time.

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      basilisk says:

      There’s not even an inventory. Each character may carry one item at a time, that’s it.
      On the other hand, it’s not like there’s an awful lot of items in the game (from what I’ve seen so far).

    • John Walker says:

      “Each of your three chosen characters can carry one object at a time”

      • LionsPhil says:

        Makes me think of slightly odd not-quite-adventure-game Zach & Wiki for the Wii, except that was actually fairly good.

  9. lokimotive says:

    Is it just me, or does it kind of seem like Ron Gilbert doesn’t really give a shit anymore?

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      Yachmenev says:

      Silly comment. With this he has tried to do something new in the genre, and no matter what you might think of the result, that’s a sign of someone caring. If he didn’t care, then he can spend his time doing much easier things than this.

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      Morlock says:

      He obviously does. There is a decent interview with the German “gaming veterans” (basically people who started working as game journalists in the 80’s). One of them later translated a couple of LucasArts adventures.

      Anyway, Ron talks about the design aspects of the cave, and it is very clear that The Cave is not an half-assed attempt.

      The conversation is in English, partially with German accents of course:
      http://www.spieleveteranen.de/?powerpress_pinw=955-podcast

    • lokimotive says:

      You know, I don’t really believe that, and I will just go ahead and admit that I posted it more out of a sense of provocation than anything. However, I would like to point out that Gilbert has a somewhat unique and world weary conversational style in his interviews, which is really what contributed to my silly comment. I think he is one of the industry vetrans that has been around the block enough that he really doesn’t feel like playing any sort of promotional game, readily sharing opinions and perspectives that more PR aware designers might shy away from.

      So in some respect, no I actually DO believe what I just said, just not in terms of him not giving a shit about the games he’s working, but rather not giving a shit about the industry marketing standard. Refreshingly, he seems like the type of guy who has a sort of, “you know, this is what I’m doing and if the public thinks it works that’s great, if they don’t, well that’s fine too.”

      • gwathdring says:

        He seems to be a very mature creative talent, yes. Like his games or not, he doesn’t seem to be trying to prove anything.

  10. killuminati says:

    Well I was waiting for this review because the others were tken from XBOX version. And after reading the first yesterday I got back home and reinstalled Day of the Tentacle thx to SCUMMVM. And I must say I don’t have ay more hype to get this game.
    I think the idea is brilliant but in the effort of freeing the adventure game from the point and click mechanic, they got way to over board and forgot what game they were building.
    RIght before Xmas I got me for 3 Euros some old Lucas Adv. Games like, The DIg, Loom, 2 Indiana Jones ( oh Fate of the Atlantis I finally meet you again!!) and with DOTT and Monkey Island 1 and 2 on my XBOX I think nothing can come any close to all those fantastic adenture game.
    As much as I love the jo or Ron, I think he should be aiming at recreating a character so well described and characterized (sorry)like Guybrush and build around him a truly good Adventure Game.

    • f1x says:

      The problem is exactly that, people keep expecting/wanting another Monkey Island from Ron Gilbert, and thats not gonna happen

      I have not played The Cave, so I cannot judge, but kudos to Ron for trying something different

  11. frightlever says:

    “And the strangest thing? The PC code is significantly better than the dodgy 360 version, making it all the more mysterious that it was kept from us.”

    Perhaps the delay is WHY the “code” is significantly better. The release “code” would have been submitted for Xbox days ago and patches cost money on Xbox so any improvement will have to wait, and may hopefully address some of the gameplay issues as well.

    I fewkin hate platformers so I was never going to play it, but it’s a shame they didn’t hit one out of the park. for those who do enjoy them.

    • Lemming says:

      It’s only a platformer in the strictest sense. All that comes into your mind when you think of a platformer? There’s none of that. No timed jumps, no twitch controlling, no reaction tests. The platforms are there merely to get about. There’s occasionally a pit to jump over. That’s it.

  12. sirdavies says:

    Good review, bought it anyway.

  13. Kinth says:

    My first worry appeared when I saw the price for the game. at £10 I knew that something was going to be a miss, Gilbert says he has had this game in his head for years and years, it seemed odd that a game with that much planning would be so cheap. I bought it anyway just to support old Gilbert and the many, many times I have played Monkey Island made it worth chucking another tenner his way.

    I had no trouble with the controls or getting stuck on things etc. My main problems with the game are

    1. It’s far too short, you can do a first run through in less than 3 hours.

    and

    2. It’s far too easy. With the game being this short I expected the puzzles to be diabolical, but instead I solved most within 10-20 mins and a lot of that was just traversing. Maybe it’s because I am a veteran of the Adventure game that I am used to the slightly wonky logic that comes with them. But I think the main problem is each area has it’s own little select group of items. In old Point and clicks you could be stuck with a certain item for most of the game before you get a use for it. In The Cave you have 3-4 items per area and it’s quite hard to go wrong with them.

    I plan on doing a second playthrough, though I’m not looking forward to having to repeat certain sections. Though at certain points on my first playthrough it did seem like I could go in two separate directions that didn’t appear to be limited by character, so I shall have a look into that. I did see a few areas where the solutions to little bits of puzzles would have to be done differently, but I don’t think they were often enough to keep it refreshing. The question is whether I will manage a third playthrough, I don’t think it will be worth it just to see one characters area if everything else is just a repeat. I find the fact there is 7 characters instead of 6/9 to be quite frustrating.

    Is it worth £10? Yeah I think so. Overall it feels the game has been rushed, probably by Sega and it’s a shame this couldn’t just be a Double Fine published game. The controls aren’t as wonky as people are making them out to be, I played it happily with a 360 pad on my PC. I find it odd he chose to make a platformer considering he has repeatedly stated he hates them.

    I’m hoping in the future Gilbert will go back to the proper point and click route I know he is probably sick of making them and hearing about them but it is really where he excelled. Gilbert is great at story and Humour ,The Cave doesn’t seem to have much of either. There are a few bits here and there but it really just serves as a bit of structure from one area to the next.

    Gilbert is helping with the DF Adventure game which is meant to be traditional point and click so we will likely see his talent excel again there.

    Pony up the money, you will get a at least a few hours of enjoyment out of it and it’s not like you don’t owe Gilbert and Schafer your soul anyway.

    • Lemming says:

      Even though you end up having to repeat with a character in other playthroughs, it’s quite interesting that you end up going about the same puzzle in a different way.

      For instance, my first time was with Knight, Time Traveller and Twins. My second time was with Knight, Monk, and Adventurer, and it’s surprising how different things are using the Monk in the Knight’s area. I wont say more than that because, you know, spoilers.

  14. HothMonster says:

    I only played for a little over a half hour before I managed to jump into some rocks and then walk off the map causing the game to crash. But in that time I found ladders and ropes to be no issue. With the xbox controller on the pc i was able to jump onto ladders, jump off of ladders and even jump up to get to the top faster.

    Not sure if you just didn’t try a pad with the pc version since it sucked so much on console or if I just didn’t play it long enough to run into areas that magnify some problem I didn’t see but I was surprised at how unirritated was by these things after reading your notes yesterday.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    Where the game becomes even more peculiar is when encountering a section designed for one of the characters not with you. While I’m very impressed at the whole game being designed to be possible no matter which three you take with you, why an area that is specific to someone you didn’t pick must be sort of half-played bemuses me. There’s nothing to tell you that you can’t do anything in an area, just a bunch of doors you can’t open, keys you can’t find, and objects you can’t do anything with. It’s only when you realise you can just run past the whole thing via a certain passage, puzzles seemingly solved ahead of you, that you realise you’re just not meant to be playing here. Huh.

    I’m a little curious about this objection. The idea that you need to skip certain content because you don’t have the abilities to work with it yet, but that you can revisit it later to apply said abilities once you get them, has been a pretty standard part of a lot of side-scrollers I’ve played — Mario, Kirby, etc.

    I suppose most of the games i’m thinking of are console/handheld titles rather than PC ones, and arcade-style games rather than adventure games, but this paragraph still struck me as a little weird in light of how often it’s used in so many games.

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      Yeah, but this isn’t a Metroidvania. You do not upgrade your abilities in any way – you just select different characters for different playthroughs. If you play the game only once, these obstacles will remain completely inaccessible, and it does feel quite odd having them there. The way they’ve designed the hub areas is impressive, but still feels not quite finished.

      Example: towards the end, I spent at least half a minute going left and jumping up and up and up the side of some bloody mountain only to reach the top, discover that there’s nothing to be done there since I’m not playing with the Monk, and go back again. That’s just shoddy design, really.

      • Xocrates says:

        Mind you, at the base of the Mountain they did have a sign implying quite strongly that you needed the monk.

        • Premium User Badge

          basilisk says:

          Fair point. Then again, they do reward exploration with those (horribly pixellated) postcard thingies, so you want to check if there really isn’t anything for you. And it’s simply a bummer when there isn’t.

          It’s a tricky design issue, that’s for sure, but considering how tedious navigation can get in The Cave, I really think they should have smoothed these things out. But that’s just echoing the last paragraph of the WIT which I fully agree with.

  16. Rusna says:

    Somehow this sounds like a bad Trine?

    • Xocrates says:

      It isn’t. Both games have very different approaches and pacing, though they share some conceptual similarities.

  17. Xocrates says:

    Just finished one playthrough, and overall I’ve liked it. I can’t really say that I agree or disagree with this WIT since every point where I either agree or disagree tends to be pretty subjective.

    The game reminded me of Unmechanical a lot, not least of which because they both have very similar problems. Ultimately I probably prefer the Cave simply because I feel it has more personality.

    It’s worth a punt for the price, though.

  18. brulleks says:

    This WIT makes it sound like Dizzy crossed with Trine with some unnecessary and frustrating mechanics thrown in. Given that I found Trine and Dizzy both full of unnecessary and frustrating mechanics, I don’t think this is the game I was hoping Ron Gilbert would create.

  19. Radiant says:

    Adventure games – Long stories interrupted by bad jokes and shitty puzzles.

  20. deadpan says:

    I played The Cave for about an hour and so far it reminds me a lot of The Lost Vikings, which was a great game but this game suffers from some of its flaws as well. In The Lost Vikings you also have to move your characters one at a time and gathering them could be a pain, but the levels were much shorter so it didn’t feel as much like chaperoning a 3rd grade field trip as in The Cave.

    Still it’s good fun for the price, and it controls fine on the PC.

  21. scoopsy says:

    John says this in the review:

    … a genre with which we’re very familiar …

    I must admit that despite being something of a game nut, I wasn’t aware there were many games in this vein. There’s Trine, there’s The Lost Vikings, and… uh…. er…. I’m stumped.

    Can anyone recommend other games like this? Trine 1 was basically the only game my wife and I have ever both adored, and I would love more.

    • wu wei says:

      I think by “genre” John is referring to puzzle-platformers, rather than multiple-character-puzzle-platformers specifically.

      So, uh, Braid, Gateways, 1000 Amps, pretty much every indie platformer from the last 3-4 years really.

  22. Venkman says:

    Can the internet finally admit to itself that Double Fine is just not that great? It’s like there’s this collective guilt about the failure of Grim Fandango that forces everybody to pretend anything Tim Schafer touches is gold. Stacking is “okay”, Costume Quest seems “okay but repetitive” based on the demo I played and reviews, The Cave is “mediocre to okay”. Is it still sacrilegious to say that Psychonauts was also just “okay”, with a couple of brilliant levels but not amazing as a whole?

    At the very least, are we allowed to stop fake laughing when we come to “funny” parts in Schafer/DF games? And yea that includes Monkey Island.

    • Acorino says:

      Well, that’s, like, your opinion, man!
      Of all the games you mentioned only Psychonauts is a Tim Schafer game, so it’s kinda moot to suggest a personality cult.
      I think Psychonauts is plain awesome, honestly funny (always love it when my honesty is questioned, btw), a much better game than Grim Fandango imo (though GF has the better story for sure). Stacking is great, too! Love the cruise ship level there, just whizzing around the place, creating chaos. It’s not an all-time classic, the rather plain writing lets it down a bit, but it’s very good. Costume Quest…yeah, I kinda agree, the combat got repetitive after a while, but that seemed almost typical for the genre it tried to imitate. Still, had a lot of fun playing the main story until the end. The DLC was lacking though, since its story didn’t catch my attention at all.

      But sure, DF doesn’t only do excellent stuff, their output varies between alright and awesome. But I don’t think they have released a bad game so far.

    • MondSemmel says:

      I tried Stacking and haven’t been able to put in more than 15 min or so. It just felt so…cheap somehow. Console-ish. I mean to go back, to give the game one more chance, but I really don’t feel like it.
      I haven’t tried Costume Quest or Iron Brigade, and don’t intend to.
      That said, Psychonauts is one of my favorite games of all time. So no, I don’t agree, though I appreciate that someone has to counter all the unconditional and partly undeserved praise Double Fine gets.
      I think the issue is simply one of expectations: They switched to smaller, shorter, less expensive, less ambitious (!) games, and that made them less appealing to me (and probably many others).
      I’m very much looking forward to Double Fine Adventure, though. I have already received my money’s worth from the documentary, but I still hope they recapture their past glory and release a gem…

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      The way I see it, these guys have lots of imagination, great ideas and they’re good writers, but they’re pretty bad at actually designing games. That’s always the main problem in their games: That, in the most strict definition of the term, they’re just not very good games.

      Even with Psychonauts, which was a by-the-numbers platformer and therefore a genre they had decades worth of history to draw from, they managed to cock it up pretty badly (Meat Circus, anyone?).

      And when the writing is anything less than spectacular, you’re left with very little more.

  23. Jinxology says:

    Being a huge fan of Ron’s, I really want to like this game. I pre-purchased it a while back, and I’ll be firing it up tonight. I’ve been reading some reviews that are not so hot, and this one is no exception. John, I would imagine that it is difficult writing an honest review about a game that everyone wants to love. Thanks for maintaining that integrity. I didn’t feel like the review was angry, it felt candid and genuine.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Saul says:

    It does support co-op, it just doesn’t explain how it works (basically just hit start on your controller). We played two-player last night, and the character selection screen was a crap-fight, but once you get the three characters into the tunnel it starts to make more sense. It’s still a bit mental having two people constantly able to steal focus to whichever character they like. Especially when you keep accidentally trying to use the D-pad to move….

  25. meaiulowmn says:

    This is an interesting concept that needn’t be a platformer. I guess they needed to do that to make it accessible (hnggg) to a wider audience, primarily consoles, but it’s clearly to the detriment of the game itself.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOAgplgTxfc

    Relevant + well worth watching.

  26. Premium User Badge

    ts061282 says:

    Sadly, this is exactly what it looked like it was going to be. I don’t think Schafer really resolved his unfinished ideas so much as he realized unfinished ideas are par for games today. Shame.

  27. Baal_Sagoth says:

    Shame. Some of these problems really aren’t something I can forgive and move past in order to enjoy the good parts of the game. I at least hoped they would’ve figured out a way to prevent the player from tediously having to juggle three characters manually. I really enjoy some of the stylisitc choices here and the game isn’t terribly expensive but it doesn’t appear to be worth my time or money at this point.

  28. Hobz says:

    I can’t understand how anyone can design a level where you have to go down several ropes and ladder to pick an item then climb all the way back up and more, and then repeat the whole process two more times and be satisfied with it.

    You think it’s a perfect example of dullness ? wait ! there is more : All this boring “platforming” only serves as a way to access a room where you spend 10 sec figuring out the puzzle, and several minutes bringing all you characters in the room and climbing ladders up and down.

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