Review: The Cave

Carli Velocci puts on her spelunking gear and delves into The Cave.

The mystery surrounding The Cave falls somewhere between light-hearted, nostalgic adventure and existential, cryptic thought, and what you gather from it is all up to how you plan to take the journey. Everybody wants to discover The Cave‘s secrets. It’s a need in all of us. Whether or not the need for self-discovery is strong enough in you is left up to the imagination and how you play the game. You can explore this new title for this pilgrimage alone. 

Or you can just play it for the witty retorts, the cartoonish visuals, and the fun yet difficult puzzles. Or if you’re up for it you can play the game just to see how it all turns out. 

The point is that there is more to The Cave than meets the eye. While it may seem like a simple, humorous puzzle platformer, what you find in its bowels may surprise you. The game has a few technical flaws, and a repetitive nature that may grate on some, but its heart and creativity are hard to resist.

The Cave is the latest creation from Monkey Island genius Ron Gilbert, whose personal mark appears in the game’s challenging puzzles, fully-realized universe, and witty dialogue. You choose three out of the seven (technically eight) characters and guide them through The Cave‘s anatomy, solving puzzles to open doors and continue on your journey to discover your deepest desire. 

At this point you may be noticing a personification of The Cave. That’s because it is alive. The Cave serves as your introductory narrator and guide, but also as self-degrading and sarcastic commentary. You may not ask for it, but The Cave is your game’s ninth character and probably the most important. While which characters you choose in the beginning can change the outcome of the game, The Cave is constant and omnipotent. His cynical tone is amusing, but the undertone of his words show that he knows more about you than you will ever know about yourself. Who or what is The Cave is never fully answered, but his presence is undeniable and hilarious.

Even the characters you can choose from are mysterious, yet ridiculous. Each are stereotypes–from the Time Traveler to the creepy Twins to the Scientist–but each brings something different to the experience. Each character has their own special move, so the way you solve puzzles could change. The Time Traveler can do a short-range teleport through walls, and the Twins can create shadow copies of themselves in order to scurry under gates.

Due to this, as you go spelunking, you begin to realize that what is in The Cave is personal. The characters you choose affect which areas you encounter, the way you solve puzzles, and the stories that you unravel. These stereotypes are more profound than they seem, and each has their own story and reason for being in The Cave. Without admitting any spoilers from my playthrough, each person has a motive that you can only uncover through cave paintings and through photographs, and nobody is innocent. This transforms the game from a typical, light-hearted puzzler into a twisted story existing within a fully-realized world. The amount of thought and heart put into creating this universe shines through each playthrough and is probably the game’s biggest achievement. 

However, The Cave’s foundation leads itself to some repetition and unnecessary difficulties in solving puzzles, mainly in its three-character structure. Since the puzzles usually concern all three of your avatars, there ends up being a lot of back tracking when it comes to gathering items. Switching between your three characters also breaks up the flow of gameplay. This style has a tendency to tire out the player, and can create a bland experience. Focusing so much on going back to previous areas and similar puzzles can take you out of the story. Forgetting why you are playing something based solely on this kind of flaw is pretty glaring, but mostly disappointing.

As sad as this is, the game has enough in it to push through the flaws and become one of the more interesting titles of 2013. It proves that there can always be something more; that games can be more than just visuals. You can have a mysterious story that can tell you something about yourself, and keep you engaged for hours.

You can always push further into the depths your mind, and The Cave.