More Comfort Food Than Caviar: A Review of The Cave

Double Fine’s latest effort is an adventure game called The Cave. Spearheaded by Ron Gilbert, the game takes place – you’ll never guess – in a cave, and the player is tasked with guiding a small band of miscreants through the titular depths.

If you follow adventure games, or have followed the development of the yet-to-be-completed Double Fine Adventure, you’ll feel at home with The Cave. As releases this year go, it’s notable because of its beautiful design, its interesting characters, and its classic puzzles, but what really makes this game stand out is the fact that it exists at all.

Ron Gilbert’s pedigree speak for itself: Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, and Secret of Monkey Island are all pivotal adventure games in the genre. Their ingenious puzzle designs and humourous character interactions not only set the bar for other adventure titles, but also defined the tastes of millions of fans.

Tim Schafer’s studio, Double Fine, also has a similar track record. Schafer worked with Gilbert on some of his early games, and has created equally groundbreaking adventure games himself, such as Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. With the help of his carefully assembled team at Double Fine, he has more than doubled his creative output in the last seven years alone.

To many fans, The Cave represents a dream come true: Gilbert and Schafer, together again. Though in the same regard, it’s safe to say that virtually nothing they could create would live up to the hype that’s been building since Gilbert was first announced to be working with Double Fine in 2010.

Roughly 87,000 people backed a Kickstarter project in March of 2012, putting their trust in Schafer and Double Fine to craft the kind of game they’ve proven capable of. While that game is far from complete, a similar logic can be applied to The Cave: Gilbert and Schafer are practically the godfathers of the genre; your money’s good here.

My friends and I call it “The Helmet Clause.” Helmet as a band defined what “heavy” meant in the early 1990s; their first few records are nigh flawless. Has their later output suffered, for one reason or another? Sure. However, overall, the band will retain the status of “Not Crap” based solely on the legitimacy of their early work.

Likewise, Ron Gilbert’s legacy outweighs any missteps in more recent contributions to the conversation. Are there missteps, even in The Cave? Yes. Movement in the game isn’t ultra-polished, rather a means to an end. The game’s design also forces you to play through multiple times, repeating not only the same areas and puzzles, but also repeating the use of some characters. Some of these puzzle solutions are crafty, but others (like mechanisms activated by weight) are nothing more than genre tropes at this point.

But The Cave is more comfort food than caviar, and more importantly, it’s exactly what you’d want from a Ron Gilbert game: it’s funny, engaging, and the characters are unique and entertaining. The Cave itself is even a character – a fully-voiced character, replete with dialogue that pulls gags from the unlikeliest of places.

There are cave drawings that can be found as you progress through the stages, too, and these are  certainly treasures worth finding. Much like expositional dialogue in a movie, the drawings add a surprising amount of depth by revealing the stories and motivations of each of these characters.

And don’t let the fact that you have to play multiple times dissuade you – there are myriad hidden homages to previous Schafer/Gilbert games to look for. For example, there’s a solid chance you could see a motorcylce of some variety buried in a rock formation, and only a maniac could miss the placement of a certain well-known pool.

To this point, charming games – earnestly charming, not get-in-your-pants charming – are rare, and as such, need treasured for their lack of pretension and loftiness. Games like this – games like The Cave – are palette cleansers to remind you that games are fun distractions. They’re Double Fine’s forte, and with Gilbert, they’ve crafted yet another in a long line of games that are all heart.

Pixels or Death rates The Cave: 4 out of 5.

  • JL

    Thanks for the review. Ron and Tim always deliver, will definitely try this one out.