(Wii U eShop)

The Cave (Wii U eShop)

Game Review

The Cave Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

It sure is dark in here...

We've been anticipating The Cave here at Nintendo Life Towers ever since it was announced. After all, it's a collaboration between two genuine legends of the industry. Firstly there's Ron Gilbert, whose work includes classics such as Maniac Mansion, the first two Secret of Monkey Island games, and 2010's repetitive but hilarious DeathSpank. Then there's Tim Schafer, the mind behind Grim Fandango, Psychonauts and Costume Quest, among many other great games, serving as creative director.

That's a pretty meaty sampling of titles that are often held up as the very best the graphical adventure game genre has to offer, and having both Gilbert and Schafer under the same roof for Double Fine's The Cave is an adventure junky's dream come true. Unfortunately the final product does fall a bit short of the sum of its parts, but that's not to say it's a bad game; it's simply a flawed experience.

The game is indeed the story of a cave — or, rather, The Cave — which serves the triple purpose of being our plot device, our setting and our narrator. Talk about efficiency. When the game begins there are seven characters (technically eight, but the twins play as a single character) gathered around a campfire outside of The Cave. Each has come for his or her own private reason, and they each seek something very different, but if any of them are to find what they're looking for they will need to work together.

It's here that the lifeblood of Maniac Mansion seeps into the game, and that's a good thing. Gilbert's early adventure masterpiece saw the player selecting three characters to guide through the humorously gory and surprisingly dark depths of the Edison mansion, uncovering mysteries and solving tricky inventory puzzles along the way. That's essentially the same approach taken with The Cave: the first three characters you guide into the mouth of our sentient — and cruel — cave constitute your team. Each of them have different abilities that can be used to circumvent trickier solutions, but it's possible to complete the game with any combination of characters.

For instance, the adventurer can make use of hooks scattered throughout The Cave to find shortcuts, the scientist can hack terminals to open new passageways, and the hillbilly can hold his breath long enough to explore more deeply underwater. But it's not just special abilities that these characters bring with them — they each have their own flavour of psychological baggage as well, and The Cave itself is determined to tap into each of them individually, providing every character with an exclusive area: their own personal Twilight Zone.

Unsurprisingly, the writing is where The Cave really shines. Gilbert hasn't lost his ability to turn everything into a joke so perfect you can't believe nobody's told it before, but oftentimes the humour here is subtle, or even cruel. It's more Grim Fandango than DeathSpank in that regard, and we're not complaining. The Cave is a dark (dark, dark) game, and that's part of its appeal. As you guide these characters through the twists and turns of their tormented histories, it's impossible not to reflect upon the choices they make. You're put through the ethical paces right along with them.

Overall, this sounds great. However, we've only actually discussed the concept of the game; the actual execution is a lot more problematic.

Nearly every puzzle is solved with inventory items, yet there is no inventory screen. Instead, each of your three characters can hold a single item at a time. That would make it difficult enough to get through the game even if you knew exactly how to solve everything the first time, but more than likely you'll need to experiment. That means you'll be moving each character all around the map, picking up an item, running to the obstacle you're attempting to overcome, then dropping the item and running elsewhere to find something different. Trial and error is nothing new when it comes to adventure games, but such copious and unavoidable backtracking certainly is.

You also can't tell other characters to follow you, which means that when you need all three characters in the same room to throw switches, you have to guide each of them individually and tediously to the same place. There's really no excuse for not including the ability to move as a group.

The Cave has been described as a "puzzle platformer", and that's a fair description, but the platforming elements are usually just ways to pad out the game and make the backtracking even more tedious. You'll be shimmying up the same ropes and climbing down the same ladders so many times as you shuttle items around the map that it gets quite dull and frustrating quickly. What's more, there's no death in The Cave — the game gets some admittedly great comic mileage out of this conceit — so failing at a platforming challenge is meaningless; you simply respawn a short distance away, which makes you wonder why they bothered to include death pits at all.

As in any adventure game, the puzzle solutions are often sorely confusing, but this wouldn't be a problem if not for the backtracking. In the classic days of graphical adventures it might have seemed tedious to try out every item in your inventory on an obstacle in the hopes that something would eventually work. Here it's even worse, as you need to bring every one of those items individually to the obstacle, and that's nothing but padding.

The Cave shouldn't need padding. With each character facing exclusive rooms, puzzles and solutions, it already requires at least three playthroughs to even experience all of the puzzles, let alone to find alternate solutions and hidden cave paintings that further reveal the backstory of each character. It's already equipped to be a lengthy enough experience on its own, so the backtracking and item juggling really just makes additional playthroughs sound like less enticing a prospect. It's a case of The Cave stepping on its own intentions, and we're very sorry for that, because it's otherwise a quite effective experience.

At least the game looks great, with environments reflecting the tormented psyche of each character and being given just enough of a twist to make everything seem either threatening or foreboding. The music is also a perfect fit, with tracks tailored to each individual set piece. The voice acting, while there's comparatively little of it, is also top-notch. In terms of presentation, the game gets absolutely everything right, and it's safe to say that there's no other experience quite like it in the eShop yet, nor is there likely to be.

But The Cave trips over its own good intentions. It may want to create for these characters a vision of their own most dreaded eternal torments, but with the amount of backtracking, trial and error, item juggling and character shuttling it includes, it almost feels like it intends to punish gamers as well. And that's a level of meta-awareness we're not as comfortable with.


Ultimately, The Cave represents a flawed attempt at a brilliant concept. The backtracking and item juggling can make the game's more esoteric puzzle solutions a chore to figure out, but the foreboding atmosphere, layered backstories and branching paths are all solid marks in its favour. The visuals and soundtrack are also great, as is the writing — but presentation isn't everything, and we wish it was actually more fun to play.

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User Comments (82)



Void said:

Inb4, I was interested in this, but I might take a pass now.



rayword45 said:

I need to see some more reviews fast. Had such high hopes.

Exactly how much of your time spent in the game was backtracking? Is it as bad as it sounds (which it sounds like practically 90 percent)



Burny said:

I tried the demo on the eShop. As it contains only one major puzzle, it's too short to find out, if the backtracking will get in the way later.

What's immediately noticeable however, is the low (imo unacceptable) framerate and the lack of off screen play. I'm surprised neither is mentioned in the review.



ShadJV said:

Now I'm torn. I thought it looked fun but I'm worried that I might regret the purchase. The US doesn't even have a demo so I can't try it first either...



Metal_Slugger said:

I may pass I didn't really like Trine 2 another puzzle platformer it looked great but was boring to me.




I really liked the demo and plan on buying this asap. Love the review but I honestly don't mind the backtracking. The game plays well, lots of good ideas and for me that makes up for some of the more tedious parts. I'm curious to see how the co-op works, thought there may have been mention of it in the review.



bboy2970 said:

I disagree strongly. I would rate this a very high 8 or even a 9. The puzzles to me are top-notch and while backtracking can be annoying, it is very far from a deal-breaker. So so glad I took a chance on this game!



AyeHaley said:

There is no Off-TV play, a huge miss!
There is no way it wouldn't work..

Btw, I get the feeling from this review that those issues like backtracking are a deal-breaker. But after playing it myself I don't find it so bad... I do hope enough people make the developers take notice they have to include an option to be able to move all 3 characters when playing alone.



Moonhillwat said:

A strongly disagree with this game's rating. It needs to be an 8 at the very least. Great game!



Lalivero said:

I'll probably still pick it up and judge it for myself since I was waiting a while for it.



lovejit said:

I just brought this game. If you've played trine 2 then this is more of a puzzle then action... The puzzle are challenging and it's worth a purchase.
This review isn't that game, I would give this game a 8 or 9.



DrKarl said:

I disagree as well after my completion of my first run of three characters.

Regarding this:
"In the classic days of graphical adventures it might have seemed tedious to try out every item in your inventory on an obstacle in the hopes that something would eventually work. Here it's even worse, as you need to bring every one of those items individually to the obstacle, and that's nothing but padding."

It is only when one is most desperate that these tactics are required to solve a segment in many adventure games. In my experience, employing that tactic has never been a satisfying way to solve a puzzle. Though it may have been more necessary to resort to it back in the Infocom/Sierra era, I feel that it has been rarely needed in this era.

I enjoy the adventure genre of games in an "online" and "offline" way. If I am not making headway in a puzzle or am otherwise stuck, I will often shut down the game and do something else. However, I will still be turning over the puzzle in my mind and thinking about it, playing the game out in my mind from time to time. Item by item, clue by clue, looking for the "bigger picture" or logical connections needed to solve it. In this way I savor the challenges that the puzzles provide, and feel satisfied when the thought about "guess" proves successful.

Does the author of this review not enjoy the logical thinking needed to solve these puzzles? Why does he feel the need resort to a "brute force" method of problem solving instead of sitting back and THINKING?



benportugal said:

You can add me to the "strongly disagree" list. I'd urge people not to skip the game based on this review.

If you want to see REALLY bad backtracking, then look at Paper Mario Sticker Star. The Cave is nowhere near as bad as that. It's also quirky and funny with a real Monkey Island vibe.



EaZy_T said:

I'm with the others that would rate this an 8.
I haven't experienced framerate issues in gameplay, just an occasional stutter on saves. As for backtracking, what about games like Zelda etc. that are almost wholly backtracing at times?

It's does need a setting for gamepad only though.



Philip_J_Reed said:

Does the author of this review not enjoy the logical thinking needed to solve these puzzles? Why does he feel the need resort to a "brute force" method of problem solving instead of sitting back and THINKING?

I'll definitely take a moment to address this, because I hoped the review made clear that the issue isn't that I don't like solving puzzles of this kind. I'm actually a huge fan of both Gilbert's and Shafer's games, and nearly everything Sierra was putting out in its prime. Believe me, that's not the problem. The issue we have with the game is its particular approach to problem solving.

I don't feel the need to resort to brute force, as you put it...but sometimes your rationalizing and lateral thinking can only get you so far. If you can make it through a game like this without experimenting then that's great, and my hat comes off to you, but I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of players — myself included — will have to experiment at some point in order to figure out what's supposed to happen next.

There's nothing wrong with that and there's no need to insinuate anything because of it. Sometimes it's clear how to advance (the Strong Man puzzle in the carnival) and other times it's less clear (pulling Excalibur). Nobody's playing the game incorrectly because they need to experiment...our issue is that the game makes that experimentation tedious.

When I cite the blind inventory puzzles of old I'm not saying that that was an ideal way of playing the games...but like it or not it was part of the experience, and that remains true today for anyone who doesn't immediately see how the solution is meant to play out. (Or in the case of The Cave, knows what they need to do, but doesn't immediately see the precise steps in the precise order that the game needs in order to let you advance.)

Part of the experience for you may be sitting back and meditating and returning with everything sorted out. Again, if that works, that's fantastic. But for lots of folks part of the experience is the fun of experimentation...in fact the best adventure games rewarded this endlessly...and The Cave hinders that fun by turning it into a series of tedious, circular treks to grab items and see what works.

I'm deliberately not spoiling puzzle solutions so forgive my lack of specific examples, but I will say that more than once I was confronted with a situation that clearly required a particular item. So I'd go off to find that item, locate it, bring it all the way back to the obstacle that needed it, and then find out that I couldn't use it yet. So I'd leave the item there, go off to see what else was required of me, and find out that I needed the item I left behind somewhere else first. So I'd go back and get it, bring it to the second obstacle, use it, then bring it all the way back to the first. That's not adventure...that's nannying! And it's not much fun.

We like The Cave. We think it did a lot of things wonderfully, and the concept is excellent. But it comes down to whether or not the constant meandering, backtracking and item juggling bothers you. If it doesn't, that's great, and we're very happy you're enjoying the game. But it bothers us, and we calls em like we sees em.




I think this game deserves a little more than a 6, i just made it into the cave and think its a great game for only 15.00.



benportugal said:

Still seems a bit harsh to give it a 6.

"constant meandering, backtracking and item juggling" was taken to an artform in Paper Mario Sticker Star and it got an 8. And cost four times more than this.



SparkOfSpirit said:

It's a Double Fine game, they ALWAYS have game-play quirks and feel undercooked.

I might get this if it goes on sale.



Philip_J_Reed said:

No problem Dr Karl! And folks remember... I didn't review Paper Mario so I can't really address that.



rayword45 said:

@Philip_J_Reed Did you play it? And if so, what was your opinion? I know it has a lot of haters, and this review alone (along with some of the comments) makes it sound like you'd despise the game.



the_shpydar said:

Knowing that i tend to share Phil's gaming tastes and sensibilities (or however you want to describe it), i'll probably end up passing on this one.

That said, i'll check out the demo (XBLA), but the negatives addressed in the review are the kinds of things that, for me, will likely sap any enjoyment out of the game, and just encourage me to go back and play my beloved King's Quest games again.



Scollurio said:

Fun, sounds like the cave would really annoy me yet I found nothing wrong with sticker star and fully enjoyed it!



Nukarmer said:

not a single word about the coop? how does it fare if compared to x360? obviously the 2nd/3rd player would have to use a Wiimote? or a couple of Wii U Pro Controllers? come on, inform us, please!



WiiLovePeace said:

I'll probably pick it up sometime down the track if it gets a price drop but more importantly, if it gets updated to work with off-TV play. Good review.



LavaTwilight said:

This game looks brilliant and two of my favourite games of all time are Maniac Mansion and the original Monkey Island trilogy (wasn't a fan of 4 and haven't played 5). Still, I'm very hesitant to purchase this game. Will be playing the demo later but I'm reckoning I'll be waiting for a sale or for me to feel the impulse to buy anything before I lay down my cash on this!



Trikeboy said:

As a veteran of the Dizzy franchise, this sounds similar to how puzzles worked in those games. If you are a Dizzy fan, would this game be right up your alley?



cornishlee said:

Hmm... I was waiting for the NL review after reading a couple of others and it seems you rate it about the same for the same reasons. Still, I downloaded the demo yesterday so I guess I'll see if that encourages me to go further.



RetrogamerFan said:

Looking forward to trying this one out. Played through the first two Monkey Island Games and a number of other Lucasfilm adventures on the Commodore Amiga so i don't mind if some of the gameplay mechanics sound a bit old-school. I'm sure Miivese will be helpful to avoid some of the frustration if i get stuck - I assume Miiverse wasn't an option for the reviewers given how quickly reviews have been posted on some sites, including this one.



duskao said:

wow, this is one of the first times i disagree with a review on here. this game has a very classic feeling of a puzzle adventure game. there has always been a bit of back tracking in adventure games. the lack of invintory actually simplifies the experience a bit or you might be trying to solve a puzzle without thought systematically going through each item you have collected to the point of tedium.
each area is only so large as to not get lost so making the back and forth possible, and also enables limited back tracking just within each area. also for each new area you will find items in that area meant for that area so each is viable in the most case so you arent trekking an item from the beginning to the end, thats why no invintory is needed. most of the puzzles in this are quite logical if broken into their own separate parts, more so then hoards of pc adventure games.
as was said the graphics, music, voice acting and story are superb. the story is dark yet very humorous. i encountered a couple points of framerate stuttering when going into different areas likely due to the saving mechanism, during gameplay it was very smooth and fluid.

i would give this an 8/10 as its very polished enjoyable to play. the puzzles are hard enough you wont just glide through the game but not too easy that you get a feeling of satisfaction when completing them. the length of the game is my biggest gripe, plus 7 characters is odd for this as that means you will have to play through two characters storys twice to finish all the stories. 6 or 9 would have made more sense.

btw i really enjoy this site, keep up the good work guys.



SetupDisk said:

I'd give this an 8/10 after one playthrough. But the backtracking and item juggling don't bother me at all and remind me of older games. The only real problem I had with it was the horrible frame rate when making a transition between areas. That is probably patchable though.



Kirk said:

Yeah, having watched about an hour or so of the game, this score seems about right.



rjejr said:

Played the demo last night (PS3 but I'm guessing it's the same demo) and I completely agree with the review, though I'm coming at it from a very different place.

First video I saw - "hey look, it's LBP". I'm petty sure I've played these exact levels in LBP. Not the main game, but the often more fun and adventurous created levels. And that's my problem with this game. It looks and plays just like LBP, but you are constantly running back and forth rather than just moving forward. This also looks and plays like Trine 1 and 2, but again in those games you are always moving forward. I'm also currently playing Kyntt Underground which has a huge amount of backtracking, but it seems to make more sense. And I'm not sure how Paper Mario: Sticker Star got in the conversation but the backtracking in that game makes sense b/c you are always fighting more and getting more stars so you are doing something while you are backtracking. There's no comparison between the 2 really.

The Cave is just too slow with too little reward that even if I got it free I probably wouldn't play it for long. It's backtracking for backtracking sake, no risk, no reward.



PinkSpider said:

Really enjoyed the demo, @rjejr not sure how u could agree with the review from playing a probably in development demo but there it is.
Im gonna get it but wait to see if it gets a sale price as most of these indie games have been given reduced prices so far.



Dogpigfish said:

Can someone re-review this game with an idea about how it looks and plays on the wii u? Maybe tell us about what features it supports and so forth, after all this site is nintendolife. I don't go to this site for the ps3 review. I'm frankly confused.



TrickySx4 said:

This game is really great. I find it bullcrap that it gets negative on a review for not having off-screen play. That should not factor into the game experience AT ALL. The jumping mechanic is slightly off , but otherwise it's a great experience. Intelligently written and executed. Backtracking doesn't bother me. I grew up in the era of PC point and click adventures and backtracking was always something you had to do. Don't be lazy people. Try the game!



Philip_J_Reed said:

Can someone re-review this game with an idea about how it looks and plays on the wii u?

We discussed how it looks and plays on the WiiU. Not sure where the PS3 concern comes in...I don't even own one.

I find it bullcrap that it gets negative on a review for not having off-screen play. That should not factor into the game experience AT ALL.

Citation please. That wasn't a factor and wasn't mentioned as a negative.



TrickySx4 said:

@ Philip_J_Reed
Not specifically talking about this review. Other reviews, and gamers have been complaining about it.



DerpSandwich said:

I might pick it up if it ever goes down to $10. That $15 price point really just does not sit well with me.



daznsaz said:

6 out of 10 thank god some people ask on miiverse about games.its a top game, getting sick of people saying games are crap.then loads of people are like oh im not getting it then.its like ign saying zombiu was crap when in actual fact its bloody brilliant



Dogpigfish said:

Let me clarify, what does the Wii U version have to offer that the other systems don't? I know Nintendo wants third party adoption and that's all fine and dandy, but I'm not sure as a consumer I want to support development that doesn't leverage what this system has to offer. Is this a straight port?



moomoo said:

Good review. Maybe I'll try it out when I don't have much to play.

@daznsaz Last time I checked, 6 out of 10 isn't a bad score. It's an OK gaming experience. It's a game that can be quite enjoyable, but has some hefty faults.



Plutonian said:

The problem is that a lot of gamers write off a game that is rated as high as 7, so getting a 6 is basically the kiss of death. That being said, after playing this game I believe the game should be rated an 8. It's a very enjoyable game and in my opinion does not contain a single hefty fault. The only slightly annoying issue I have is there is no off-tv. For me, the lack of a follow command, the backtracking and lack of an inventory barely register as problems.



Sean_Aaron said:

I quite enjoyed the demo and I'm sure this will be fun to play with my daughter (I'm sure she'll enjoy the darkness as well since she's into a "baby goth" phase at the moment). I liked it better than Trine 2 in terms of play though the latter is more graphically brilliant.

The backtracking comment seems fair as well, though the brief demo didn't bother me much in that regard.



jdarrell said:

An 8 is "if you like the genre this is a sound buy for you." I think the review gives a good opinion about why --for example a sequel-- could be a better game for fans of the genre.



Philip_J_Reed said:

Let me clarify, what does the Wii U version have to offer that the other systems don't?

Nothing, sadly. At least not as far as I can tell. I looked into reviews for other versions to see if any of the things I was experiencing was exclusive, but it doesn't seem like that's the case. You can tap the gamepad to select a character rather than using the D-pad, but that's the only thing that I'm aware of, and while it's not bad it's certainly no handier than the D-pad was / is.



jayblue said:

ive only played the demo but a six is one guys score play the demo then decide your self i liked it will be buying soon.



Fafulec said:

6 is too low in my opinion, this is one of few games I actually liked for tasty graphics design, character animation and humor. Trine graphics was really too "rainbow unicorn" to me.This is different game, more like old games and I guess because of that many of current players is not liking for not having endless bazinga (with big explosions/blood splashes) through waves of enemies with nice "+XP" numbers after each. No instant progress. No instant win every 10 seconds. Actually it requires to go back and forth and therefore see SAME content! Ouch! So gross! My precious time! And I have 100 more games from Steam promotion waiting!
Anyway, it will have likers like ZombiU I guess. Framerate issues.. not noticed until I have read this, but I am not very picky regarding this.
Offscreen play - this thing they could really implement, on Miiverse this is the number one issue. And sorry for my English, not my first language.



SetupDisk said:


One playthrough was 4 and half hours. I did miss some of the cave drawings however. The character levels are the largest so I am guessing to find everything might take around 10 hours.



CoffeeWithGames said:

@SetupDisk Very interesting. Shorter than Trine 2, and priced lower than Trine 2. As long as games in development for 2-ish years though, and cost $60 retail. Makes me think it's not a bad deal.

Thanks for the feedback on your time with it!



Henmii said:

Oh man, only a 6? That's quite dissapointing! But I might still try it out someday (maybe)!



Matti said:

The demo had a horrible framerate plus there's no support for the gamepad-screen. Really lazy work from the developers. I'll just get the Steam-version instead when it goes on sale, if it's any better.



ZinogreMaster said:

I dont think that the score was actually representing what the game is like. I also think it deserved better than that. Maybe its just me.



iGeeked said:

i really need to know, the gamepad is mirror version of tv screen right? i want ot be able to play it while laying down or something.



Semulje said:

9/10. Fantastic game. I haven't been this hooked on an adventure game in 10 years. The backtracking never bothered me much.
Since I bought this game 3 days ago, I have completed the campaign 3 times to get all the different character puzzles. The humor and the atmosphere is top notch.
I want an expansion !!



RetrogamerFan said:

Haven't had too long on the game yet but loving every minute of what i played. So far i've finished the Gift Shop (intro), Prospector (minecarts), Adventurer, and The Twins' (Mwah ha ha!) sections. Monk, and whatever final level(s) still to do for my first playthrough...
OK, so the game is not perfect and some of the flaws pointed out in the review are valid, but im enjoying the game so much they haven't bothered me. Expecting to replay to get all painitings and play all characters sections. Then hoping for more games from Double Fine in the future.



Musashi said:

I have absolutely LOVED this game. This is one of the few times I strongly disagree with Nintendo Life's review. It's a BLAST to play, and the character-themed puzzles are fantastic. The humor & voice acting are spot on. It's also a game you def want to replay; I'm about to start on my 5th playthrough so I can get all the endings. 8.5/10 for me!



Musashi said:

@Semulje @SetupDisk I would absolutely pay for an expansion... more puzzles, new characters, alternate endings/cave paintings. I also think a sequel would be highly successful... but I don't want to get to ahead of myself. ;P



banacheck said:

I was going to get this for the Wii U as i played the demo on the PS3, but seeing as this game is free this week on PS+ i'll get it for my PS3. Nintendo should do something like the PS+ for the Wii U on the eShop.



Kirk said:

"but presentation isn't everything, and we wish it was actually more fun to play."


From the very first gameplay demos I saw of this game I could see it was one of those the games that looked cool and all but just wasn't going to be that much fun to actually play...unless you're really into this kind of gameplay design.



TsunamiSensei said:

6 is a decent score, and this looks like an experience I'd enjoy. I'll most likely get this once I'm done with Trine 2.

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