Game Picks: 'The Cave'

CorrespondentJanuary 31, 2013 

Sometimes you just need to concentrate on taking in a gaming experience rather than conquering it.

“The Cave” (X360; $15.00; Rated T) is a short game, but a lovely one nearly buried under the weight of expectations. The minds behind it – Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer – also worked together on the classic LucasArts adventure “The Secret of Monkey Island,” a game that transformed PC adventure gaming for years to come.

“The Cave” won’t transform gaming as we know it, but it is an absorbing, clever game that offers the sort of subtle humor and absurd-yet-logical puzzling (along with just a pinch of nostalgia) that the pair is known for.

That said, it’s over quickly. If you play games to beat them, you’ll be done with “The Cave” in five hours or so and onto the next thing. That’s not a terrible total for a $15 downloadable game, but it’s still quick.

Although winning the game might be the motivation, it’s not the point of playing.

For example, the cave of the title is not just a place, it’s also the narrator. Listening to the patter of the cave as the player moves through the game is roughly similar to listening to Rucks in 2011’s excellent “Bastion.” The running commentary is entertaining enough to encourage the player to try things for the sake of seeing what sort of reaction the cave will offer. Perhaps less surprising is that the cave is a beautiful place, worth taking a good long look.

To explore that cave, however, the player is forced to pick three of seven characters. Parts of the game will change based on which characters you pick, and certain bits in the common areas will be easier with certain characters. Most of the game’s puzzles center on forcing the three characters to work together, and most of the puzzles will offer a few moments of utter cluelessness before the “eureka moment” kicks in. Examining a puzzle and thinking through it, rather than trying to use every item on every object, is the most satisfying way to progress, even if it’s not always the quickest.

Still, it is this forced teamwork that also provides the biggest strike against the game. Because you need three characters to solve these puzzles, you also need three characters to traverse the jumps and ledges of the cave. Having to traverse some of the more tedious stretches three separate times can be annoying, to put it mildly. The last thing you feel like doing after solving a particularly difficult puzzle is the busywork of moving to the next one three times just so everyone can get there.

Also slightly forced is the game’s story, which essentially boils down to seven short fables where bits of the middles intersect. While getting the details of the various stories is done well as you find the various “cave carvings” throughout the game, there are only so many ways one game can say “you can’t always get what you want.”

So it’s not perfect. Still, take some time to absorb the details, and you’ll see the polish coming out of every nook and cranny. The farther you dive into “The Cave,” the quicker the time will fly by.

New this week: Not much! “Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear” (Xbox 360, PS3) offers a budget-priced military-themed shooting gallery that’ll be perfect if “Call of Duty” is just too cerebral. The portable edition of “Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault” (PSVita) finally gives Vita owners the light-hearted platforming high jinks you were hoping for way back in November.

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