If there’s one thing you should know before playing The Cave, it’s that appearances are deceiving. What at first seems to be a whimsical spelunking adventure gradually becomes a surreal trip through the depths of the soul. Cute, big-headed stock characters hide dark, twisted secrets. And what might at first seem like a straightforward 2D puzzle-platformer is in fact a clever throwback to classic point-and-click adventures of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Of course, discovering all that is a big part of what makes The Cave so irresistibly engaging.
At the outset of The Cave, you’ll be able to assemble a team of three explorers (who you can switch between at any time) from a pool of seven. Most of the game’s puzzles require at least two of them to work together, carrying around items or manipulating the environment to let each other through, but each character also has a unique skill that can make things a little easier. The Adventurer can use her grappling hook to swing across certain gaps, for example, while the Hillbilly can hold his breath indefinitely, letting him swim through long tunnels that would drown other characters. The team you pick determines not just how you’ll navigate the Cave’s imaginative challenges, but also the path you take through it.
See, the thing about the Cave itself is that it’s sentient, possibly even omnipotent. Not only does it provide genuinely funny narration throughout the adventure, but it changes its layout depending on who’s exploring; and while some levels are the same every time, others are tailored to each character’s unique abilities (and to their murky pasts), and will only appear if the right character is in your party. This means you’ll have to play through the game at least three times with different teams to see everything — and you’ll want to, because the character-specific areas are some of The Cave’s most creative and rewarding sections, featuring unique gameplay twists like time travel and elaborate switch-driven death traps.
The upshot of repeat plays is that, once you know how to solve their puzzles, the familiar areas of the game can be breezed through quickly, and a playthrough that at first might take six to eight hours will be doable in two or three. The downside is that this turns familiar stages into rote obligations that you’ll want to slam through so you can get to the new stuff, and the big, twisty cave networks that make up each stage require a lot of tedious backtracking even if you know what you’re doing. Even so, The Cave's clever gameplay and goofy-yet-dark storyline are enough to keep us coming back for more.
The bottom line. While we could do without all the backtracking through huge, empty tunnel networks, The Cave packs in more than enough twisted charm and inventive gameplay to keep players riveted.
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