The Cave PSN review – Underground adventuring way more fun than the Central Line
Between them, Tim ‘Psychonauts’ Schafer and Ron ‘Monkey Island’ Gilbert can lay claim to creating some of the funniest games on PSN – Deathspank, Costume Quest and Stacking to name three. So it’s no surprise that this collaboration between the pair – created by Gilbert for Schafer’s Double Fine studio – is packed with dark humour, from the moment the sentient cave of the title introduces each of its seven characters by taking the mick out of them, to its reminder, a few hours later, than you’ve basically achieved nothing by reaching its melancholic climax. At the outset, the joke is on the colourful cast; by the close, it’s firmly on you.
The Cave PSN review
That’s not to say you won’t have fun along the way. On first playthrough you select three of those seven cast members to steer through The Cave’s underground puzzles, each of whom has a unique power: The Monk can move certain objects with the power of his mind (in a manner weirdly akin to Voldemort in the Lego Happy Potter games), The Knight can encircle himself in a shield which protects him from fire, and so on. Four generic levels are bridged alternately by three character-specific ones, with each character’s story told via pictures scattered throughout the subterranian levels – a carnival, ancient temple, even a desert island. And you thought the TARDIS looked deceptively tiny from the outside.
While the game looks like a platformer, and the way in which death leads to an immediate respawn is cribbed from LittleBigPlanet, clambering between ledges and moving around the beautifully-drawn environments is only ever a means to an end. This is very much a traditional fetch-and-carry puzzle game: you spend the first ten minutes of every level scoping it out, the next 15 getting your head around its various mysteries, and the final ten resolving them. None took me longer than an hour, and when you do get stumped the trial-and-error process that ensues always brings about the correct result eventually.
The best levels are those split into further sub-sections: for instance, to find ‘true peace’, The Monk must complete four separate trials with the aid of his two comrades. One is a maths puzzle that’ll remind you of Messrs Willis and L. Jackson in Die Hard With A Vengeance: counterbalance a see-saw holding 3 gallons of water on one side using a waterfall, drain, 7 gallon jug and 4 gallon jug. (I had to borrow the wife for this.) Another sees the three of you riding magic carpets to the top of the temple, passing ‘objects of desire’ en route. By this point, you’ve learned to pick up everything you see in case you need to resort to trail-and-error later on; but resolving the magic carpet puzzle comes down to staying still as you pass all three trinkets. A true master of zen shuns all objects of desire, you see…
Sadly, other levels lose their attraction once you’ve resolved them in your head, simply because of the time it can take manouvering everyone into position. I sussed the desert island pretty swiftly – move the boat you need to escape from one side to the other using levers, explosive and a hot air balloon. The parts in between then felt like busywork. Find three pieces of pipe. Get each character to place one in the correct place. Turn a valve. Walk each to a separate lever, each a fair distance apart. Pull with the first, then the second, then the third… and so on. If reading it sounds laborious, imagine what the thirty seconds actually carrying out each menial task feel like.
Adding a second or third player removes a little bit of the frustration (control is transferred with a simple D-pad press), and my best times spent in The Cave were with the wife at my side, helping to solve puzzles, and halving that busywork. Even so, it’s telling that the moments where the game frustrates most aren’t when you’re scratching your head trying to make sense of a problem – it’s endlessly to-ing and fro-ing with three characters once you have. Living up to its developer’s name, this puzzler is double fine value at £9.99. Just be warned that its own see-saw of fun counterbalances every five belly laughs with a mildly exasperating headache.