The Cave is a side-scrolling platformer that focuses heavily on puzzles. Much like Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert’s other works, its story elements are dark and twisted, including but not limited to children poisoning their parents’ food. Yeah, it’s like that. Looking at screenshots of the game alone is deceptive, because The Cave is not about running and lightning-quick reflexes -it takes thinking, experimenting and some timing to get through.
Before starting your adventure through The Cave, you are prompted to choose 3 out of 7 characters and from start to finish you will be stuck with these characters. From there, you will have to alternate and position the characters in order to do things such as set traps, hit switches and open doors to move forward. There are also moments where characters will break off as individuals to finish areas.
The best character in the game is the setting itself, The Cave. Throughout the game, The Cave speaks and narrates with lots of humor and some clever jabs to boot. I’m not sure whether to laugh or be angry when I am constantly being killed and The Cave wonders aloud if I’m purposely trying to die. Bastard.
On the other hand, the cast of 7 characters aren’t fleshed out as much as desired. You learn a bit from them through collectible pictures and their individual areas, but more would have been nice. They are all radically different characters, such as a caveman, a set of evil twins and a female version of Indiana Jones, and it’s a disservice to not hear as much from them as we do from The Cave.
The characters are intriguing, voice-over is great and the puzzles are fun and challenging. However, the game suffers very much from a technical standpoint. First, there is a consistent framerate drop when moving through different rooms and areas and it’s disruptive enough to throw off a jump or something else that takes timing. Another nuisance is some of the ledge grabbing and ladder climbing that happen when you don’t want them to. There is a hefty amount of backtracking and exploring in The Cave in order to solve a puzzle and these issues make advancing feel like a pesky chore; it makes you appreciate point-and-click adventures over this.
Replayability is encouraged after your initial playthrough. The 3 characters you have chosen each have a unique ability that opens up areas inaccessible by anyone else, such as teleportation or a supply of air to stay underwater for a longer period of time. Since all 7 of the playable characters have their own tailor-made areas to discover, you really get the urge to see what off-the-wall scenarios you’ll be put into playing with a different set of characters.
Since the game is played with 3 characters at a time, the game does offer 3-player local multiplayer. Unfortunately, this feature is no better than having to share one controller. While playing, you can press the “pass camera” button and simply let the next player take control of the game. Simply put, it’s a throwaway feature.
At the end of the day, The Cave is a great puzzle game that is practically ruined by being a platformer. Being a platformer instead of a point-and-click title like many other puzzle games is what sets The Cave apart and its poor execution is its downfall. Too much time is used walking back and forth and it’s a bothersome experience.