E3 2012: The Cave Preview – Spelunking for Dreams
Written Wednesday, June 13, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
People have been coming to the cave for hundreds of thousands of years, according to VP of Ron Gilbert (that's what it says on his business card), Ron Gilbert, who's teamed up with Double Fine and his old Monkey Island buddy Tim Schafer to make his adventuring pet project The Cave a reality. An idea that Gilbert's been mulling over for a considerable period of time – 25 years in fact - The Cave is an adventure game that charts the journey of seven different characters. Each member of this motley crew is visiting the cave to learn something unique to them, which means there's seven story strands to follow and consequently masses of replay value.
There's the Monk looking for his missing master, the Adventurer exploring for ancient treasure, the Time Traveller seeking to right a terrible wrong and ghoulish twins trying to find their missing parents. But for our demo, we get to meet the Hillbilly as he looks for love, the Knight who's on a quest for a legendary sword and the Scientist on a mission of discovery. You'll pick three of The Cave's seven characters as you embark upon their collective quests, using each of their individual abilities to solve puzzles that as you'd expect from a Ron Gilbert adventure game, require some smart lateral thinking and nous.
Playing as three characters at once means utilising plenty of character switching, which in our demo makes use of the Hillbilly's adept swimming, the Knight's guardian angel ability and the Scientist's technological know-how to solve a variety of cleverly constructed conundrums. With a pleasing, smile-inducing, bold and colourful cartoon style, The Cave has the signature quirk and charm of a vintage adventure game with some stylised side-scrolling platform-jumping, and some oversized items to pick up and interact with. One such example is multi-part puzzling at its most basic, filling a bucket with water to power a hotdog vending machine, which in turn dispenses a plump wiener that'll come in useful later.
Switching between all three characters, there's a lever-pulling door puzzle to solve before progressing, taking us through into a new area blocked by a spike pit and a monster guardian with fatal ice breath. Dying isn't a punishment in The Cave however, so when the Hillbilly wanders directly into the monster's den only to be killed by that lethal icy breath, he simply respawns slightly further back in the vicinity of the puzzle and his fellow adventurers. This encourages experimentation without having to worry about enduring a loading screen or a plod back to a checkpoint should you happen to fall afoul of a beast or trap. There are no loading screens in The Cave; it's all seamlessly constructed.
The sultry-voiced cave itself (yes, it's a talking cave) is full of hazards and wonders, and it's able to resurrect any of the exploring unlikely heroes, so it's after some dabbling with different approaches that we're shown exactly how to make it past the creature blocking the way ahead. Throwing the hot dog into the spike pit and skewering it there is the first step, before switching to the Scientist who's climbed her way to a console of 'levers and such' above. Moving her into position, all that's required is a quick switch to the Hillbilly or Knight to ring the monster's dinner bell, at which point it leaps on the tasty snack, prompting a switch back to the Scientist who pulls the lever, activating a grabbing claw that lifts the monster out of the way. Problem solved.
Skipping ahead, we pick up with the Knight having to seduce a princess in order to obtain her precious amulet. Each character has their very own themed locations and narrative threads to follow, taking the adventure beyond the cave's subterranean tunnels, rivers and lakes, revealing other fantastical sights like a medieval castle, an underground amusement park, a laboratory with a funky laser device and even a not-so-fantastical fully-armed, ready to launch nuclear missile. And as ever, with any knight's tale, the Knight's story not only involves a princess to woo, but also a fire-breathing dragon to slay.
With a feeding bowl filled to the brim with chunks of other fallen knights bearing the name 'Stud', this is clearly a formidable scaly beast, and as the Hillbilly enters its lair pushing the dragon's bowl towards it, he ends up being duly frazzled. While the Scientist finds her way through an ascent to locate a tunnel around the back of the dragon, using an oversized key to unlock the back gate, she attempts to steal the dragon's gold to help the Knight acquire the princess's amulet. She too gets fried, leaving the next plan of action down to the Knight.
Using his guardian angel talent, he can stand in front of the dragon and let the flames wash over him without coming to harm (he can also use guardian angel to drop great distances without dying) creating a distraction for the Scientist to quickly nab the gold. The trouble is, the Scientist fails to heed the advice written next to the gate and leaves it wide open. Returning to the castle, while the dragon can be heard escaping and going on a rampage through the kingdom, we make our way to the princess's bedroom only to find the dragon has eaten her. Luckily, he snorts out the amulet and the Knight is able to continue his quest.
With Ron Gilbert's fingerprints all over it, The Cave is easily one of the best digital titles we saw during E3 alongside the likes of Quantum Conundrum, packed with deliciously dark and quirky humour, as well as a hefty dollop of endearing charm and funny characters. Add drop-in/drop-out local co-op for up to three players to the equation, and The Cave is shaping up to be an XBLA title that'll be utterly essential and certainly worth delving into to explore the subterranean wonders within.
The Cave will be plumbing new depths on the Xbox Live Arcade in early 2013.