Traditional adventure games always fascinate me, especially some of the older, classic titles I might've missed the chance at playing for one reason or another. They fascinate me because, by and large, I'm terrible at them. The point-and-click ones, I mean. One prominent example is Myst, which to this day I can't get through without a heaping load of help from the Webbernet. There's just something about some puzzles I can't handle, and it bothers me. And I know it's not just me… if the thing's too hard, it loses a lot of appeal. If it's too easy, the same thing happens.
But the true greats of the genre have found that balance of hair-pulling frustration and "skipping through a forest of attractive people" happiness that we all long for. The Cave, while not terrifically hard, finds some of that middle ground.
On the surface, its story sounds like a sure-fire hit: a self-aware cave with depths that can't ever be truly known, hosting life lessons for a batch of driven, crazy people (crazy over what, you have to play to find out) for the education and amusement of anyone watching. But dig a little deeper, and it has some of the most amusing puzzles and situations I've ever found in a game. That it technically falls under the guise of "side-scroller" makes me even happier. That it controls with few glitches—apart from some obvious ones like the "eternal fall" animation between two objects that are just far apart enough that a playable character can't "land"—is very, very nice.
Each run through the cave itself—in order to finish every puzzle, it has to be played through at least three times—requires three characters to be chosen from the opening, nameless roster of seven: the Time-Traveler, the Hillbilly, the Knight, the Scientist, the Monk, the Twins, and the Adventurer. Selection is important, as it determines which areas of the Cave you're able to explore, with each character having their own unique ability to contribute. The Time-Traveler, for example, can teleport forward past what might otherwise be blocked areas, while the Adventurer can grapple-hook-swing over wide pits or reach certain high spaces. But they're only special when used the right way… otherwise, a given character will just glow awkwardly and not do much.
This game is designed akin to the classic Maniac Mansion (though I didn't see any chance to put a hamster in a microwave, which made me sad), but this time with three players in mind. Yup, it can be played with multiple players, but works just fine going solo. Bouncing between characters is actually fun, as in many instances it allows players to explore the entire area they find themselves in and helps a bit with the large amount of backtracking involved in the bulk of the puzzles.
I would have liked to see more animation and exploration into each character, but instead their stories are left to the environments and a handful of notes to portray whatever brought them into the Cave in the first place. It's not a major complaint, but fleshing out the backgrounds more wouldn't have hurt, even if they're almost placeholders more than they are people.
I can forgive the little issues, though, because of what all is done obviously right: engaging NPCs who both help and hinder the tasks of each puzzle, the stylized world, the voice-overs of both the NPCs and the Cave itself, and the $15 price point. The voice-overs and plays on words, especially in the Time-Traveler's section, had me laughing out loud, and the voices themselves are surprisingly fitting. A single playthrough might not be very long, but be prepared to keep playing… you're gonna. And you'll enjoy it!