An explorer, a knight, a scientist, a hillbilly, a monk, a time traveller and some twins walk into a magical, talking cave. They're all terrible people. Ron Gilbert's been using adventure games to tell jokes for many years now, but they've rarely felt so dark.
Mixing his preferred genre of item-oriented puzzling with 2D platforming, and setting it in a single, seamless environment, The Cave tasks you with picking three of those seven characters, and spelunking your way into their deepest secrets.
Not for Gilbert a mere story, however - you'll be discovering more by taking on a series of beautifully themed puzzles in distinctly out-of-place locations, each tailored to your characters of choice and their own special abilities. The scientist, for instance, will stumble across a dated underground bunker where she'll seek to launch a nuclear bomb (all accompanied by a score that manages to stay on just the right side of Bond plagiarism), finding passcodes, dealing with guards and turning ominously large launch keys along the way.
The time traveller, on the other hand, successfully lives up to her name with an area that, in the half-hour it takes to get through, manages to outdo the entirety of Telltale's Back to the Future series for chronological hijinks (and with no incest subplots to boot).
It's a fantastic concept and, barring some occasionally horribly imprecise platforming and an over-reliance on backtracking (each character is limited to one usable item at a time, making the occasional schlep an unfortunate inevitability), it'll keep you enthralled on your first three-hour playthrough. Of course, the lure of the rest of the characters necessitates more time with the game and, despite the excellence of both stories and personal puzzle areas across the board, the experience suffers for returning to the depths.
The more you play, the more you'll become familiar - revealing that the allegedly unfathomable topography actually contains a lot of recycled material. The fact that our second playthrough reduced some of the puzzles to a series of learned actions reduced much of the effect, and we found ourselves playing for answers rather than questions.
The three-player co-op could well help with spicing up repeat journeys, though, and with every character's area worth playing (not least for the lovely hidden endings for those who think around the final section), those intent on searching its every inch will find that The Cave runs very deep - and dark - indeed.
It's out tomorrow, 23rd January, and costs 1200 MP. Are you keen?
Classic adventures, new ideas, mixed results
- Compelling storylines
- Brilliant art and puzzle design
- Built-in replay value
- ...if you can be bothered
- Sloppy platforming mechanics