Gaming goes through trends; this is apparent. During the 8-bit era, it was platformers. During the 16-bit era, it was RPGs. During the 32 and 64-bit eras we got a better variety, but since the genesis of the dual-analog setup, one genre in particular has grown in popularity: the first person shooter.
First person shooters are so popular, and so profitable, that studios are oftentimes afraid to make any other kind of game. There are exceptions to this though, most notably smaller or riskier developers such as WayForward, Platinum Games, and Double Fine for example. Double Fine too, is home to Ron Gilbert, famous for being the father of modern adventure games.
Ron Gilbert’s pedigree is made up of gems like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, and his games have made a special place in the hearts of gamers who enjoy well-written narrative, brilliant puzzles, and unique charm. The best part about Ron Gilbert is that he hasn’t forgotten the importance of these elements in the composition of his newest game, The Cave. The Cave, available now on XBLA, PSN, eShop, and Steam, is an adventure game with modern gamers in mind.
It plays much like a platformer. The game is played on a 2D plane, and there is lots of jumping. Despite the control setup though, this is not a platformer; make no mistake. The game largely focuses on the narrative told by the titular cave, who speaks to you directly as you traverse his corridors. This cave is telling a story, and to do so certain scenes and environments from the main characters’ lives are [magically?] recreated inside just for your amusement.
You select three characters at the outset of your adventure who will stay with you for the entirety of the story. Each character has his or her own special ability, which corresponds to puzzles which require the respective characters to complete. Each character is equally funny, charming, and cutesy, and it is absolutely worth completing multiple play-throughs just to experience all the game has to offer. In this regard the replayabilty aspect is phenomenal. There is even a multi-player mode which allows your friends to control the other two of the three players in your party to complete the puzzles.
The setup is a bit awkward though, and the omission of multi-screen play via the Gamepad on the Wii U version is baffling. Another issue with the game is the jump mechanic. Jumping feels floaty and unresponsive, and not the good kind of floating as with the Donkey Kong Country games. This is inherently problematic as jumping is something you will be doing almost constantly.
Besides this flaw the game controls fine, but this glaring issue mars an otherwise phenomenal game into something that’s just average. The graphics look much better in motion than in screenshots. Before the game’s release I was worried, but after going hands-on it becomes clear that The Cave is stylised to look almost as if it were molded from clay. While good-looking however, they don’t entirely push the boundaries of what has been seen on this generation of consoles, and consequently the frame-rate issues are simply unacceptable.
During scenes of relative insanity, as well as times when your characters progress to a new area, the framerate dips below 20fps. The Wii U version with its increased RAM and slightly more advanced processor escapes this problem, making it the definitive version. Still, despite the issues, the game is worth picking up whatever console you own. The Cave does a lot of things right, including its charming characters and mostly brilliant narrative. Ron Gilbert and Double Fine are taking steps to prove the relevancy of the Adventure genre, and this step was indeed in the right direction.