This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Productions' puzzle-adventure game The Cave, which reviewers describe as "entertaining, surprising, and inventive." The Cave currently earns a score of 70 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Games Radar's Lorenzo Veloria gives The Cave 4 out of 5 stars. "Seven adventurers seek answers to their life's questions inside of a mysterious talking cave in Double Fine's The Cave, an adventure game from the mind of Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island)," he explains.
"The dark delve speeds up the standard point-and-click adventure and mixes in fast-paced platforming, leading to challenging puzzles and hilarious moments for a remarkably replayable adventure game that you won't want to miss."
As in Gilbert's Maniac Mansion, character choice is an important part of gameplay. "The story of The Cave completely depends on the who you select for your three-person party," Veloria notes. "You'll choose from a roster of characters like a love-struck Hillbilly, a pair of creepy Twins, a medieval Knight, and a futuristic Time Traveler, each one offering a unique and entertaining story as you progress through the titular cave."
Veloria continues: "The characters all have a unique ability, enabling them to solve special puzzles to gain access to their own themed locations. The Hillbilly, for instance, can hold his breath indefinitely, allowing you to reach a carnival-themed level -- one that's specific to him, and continues his personal story. This adds considerable incentive to replay the game after it's completed, as you'll need to go through it a few times to see all of the locations and to discover the whole story."
"The Cave is an extremely entertaining, surprising, and inventive adventure all the way through," Veloria praises. "The characters' surprising stories make you want to uncover the dark history of each one, and the challenging puzzles are rewarding to conquer. Ron Gilbert and the team at Double Fine have created a truly memorable adventure title that will keep you engaged until all of the fascinating characters' stories have been told."
Mark Walton at GameSpot scores The Cave at 7 out of 10, calling it "a fun yet flawed adventure that challenges the mind, explores the human psyche, and raises a few laughs too."
Walton finds the characters to be particularly memorable. "On the surface, the characters of The Cave are your typical videogame heroes," he writes. "The adventurer seeks treasure, the scientist seeks knowledge, and the knight must prove his bravery to win a fair maiden's hand.
"But as the story unfolds, it's clear that there's more to these characters than meets the eye. Each of them holds a disturbing secret, and it's only in the darkness of The Cave -- a sarcastic, cynical entity unto its own -- that their true nature is revealed. The fact that these dark story elements are ably mixed with witty narration is a testament to the great writing on show here."
The gameplay is occasionally frustrating, however. "There are also many moments when you need to have all your characters together to solve a puzzle," Walton recalls. "And when they're spread out across a huge expanse of cave, it's a laborious process to bring them all together again. There's an element of Metroid-like exploration at play, which -- given some of the discoverable story elements and objects scattered throughout The Cave's tunnels -- is deftly encouraged. But when you have to repeat the process three times with each character, that exploration soon begins to grate."
"The Cave's puzzles are challenging, its story is well constructed and narrated, and its cartoon-like visuals and sprawling, morphing tunnels are pleasant to look at," Walton praises. "Its mashup of elements from platformers and point-and-clicks fare less well, but if you can overlook those small flaws The Cave is a dark, yet humorous adventure that ably exercises the grey matter."
Giant Bomb's Alex Navarro rates The Cave at 3 out of 5 stars. "At its best, Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Productions' The Cave is an intriguing oddity," he begins. "It's the closest thing I've seen to a straight-up morality play in a video game, a sort of cautionary tale of greed, lust, hatred, and whatever other deadly sins you can dream up, told through the mechanics of a classic side-scrolling adventure."
Navarro continues: "There are more than a handful of moments in The Cave where the mechanics, the odd storytelling structure, and the game's visual style all cohere into something a little bit wonderful. Unfortunately, it's the other portions of the game you'll be spending more time with, and they're a bit less entertaining."
Navarro finds that many of the game's puzzle sections are well-executed. "Many of these puzzles are clever, challenging little buggers, but not unpleasantly so," he writes. "Only the time traveler section really goes off the deep end, whereas the other levels often just require some solid critical thinking and understanding that every object and highlighted area is usually there for a reason."
"The unfortunate side-effect of The Cave's level designs, however, is that they're often incapable of keeping up with the player's brain," Navarro continues. "Too many of The Cave's puzzles are solved by repeated backtracking. Which isn't to say that the environments are too huge to quickly run through again and again, but that makes it no less tedious. Especially after you've had your 'aha!' moment, and find yourself having to run back and forth several times, including sections where you have to get all three of your characters into just the right place, before you can actually proceed."
"On my initial play-throughs, I enjoyed large swaths of what The Cave had to offer," Navarro concludes. "It's a sharp-looking game, the voice acting is largely on-point and funny (if occasionally obnoxiously repetitive), and there are at least a few solid hours worth of puzzle-solving to be had here. It's just that those hours don't really add up to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, ultimately relegating The Cave to an interesting curiosity that sadly doesn't have much sticking power."