Whenever I hear a piece of work pitched with the words "from the mind of," I shudder. That means I'm either going to like it, hate it, or hate the people who like it.
Unless, of course, the game is "from the mind of" Ron Gilbert, who has a habit of making games a lot of people like, such as Maniac Mansion and a pair of the Monkey Island titles. At E3, where we were bombarded with intense stories of death, redemption, revengeancing, surviving and warfighting, Gilbert's latest effort involves a talking cave and seven goofball adventurers trying to explore it.
The Cave is a side-scrolling puzzle adventure that shares some of the same design DNA of other side-scrolling thinkfests like Limbo, but without the sense of doom. Gilbert's "Cave" instead leans toward cartoonish but smart fun, with a premise that nearly everyone can relate to: the search for meaning. What makes the actual cave special — aside from the fact it talks and narrates the quest — is that people have been traveling to it for thousands of years hoping to find their ultimate desire, whether it's a mystic object or living out some kind of dream life.
The seven characters who head to the cave are a monk searching for enlightenment and his lost master, an adventurer out for ancient treasure and her missing friends, a gangly armed hillbilly in search of true love, a scientist on the verge of a earth-shattering discovery, a pair of creepy twins searching for their parents (they function as one unit), a knight who wants a sword of ultimate power, and a time traveler looking to "right a wrong that's been a million years in the making." Instead of taking one person through the Cave, the player takes three, and it's on the player to coordinate the trio of adventurers to overcome any puzzles or obstacles in their way.
We're told that any trio will be able to find the solution through the cave, as each adventurer has special abilities. For instance, the hillbilly can hold his breath indefinitely, and the knight has a "guardian angel" that protects him from fire and falling to his death. The puzzles range from simply pulling levers at the right time to opening doors to finding a way to distract a fire-breathing dragon (the magical Cave is very large … there's a whole castle with people to go with this dragon) to grab a certain item its guarding.
The Cave wouldn't be a Double Fine production without cheerful humor. The demo we witnessed saw a trio of travelers distract the dragon, grab an item but leave the dragon gate open, despite a massive sign reminding people to shut the gate behind them. As the knight made his way to the princess at the top of a castle tower (he needed the princess' amulet), we could hear sounds of crashing chaos, with the dragon roaring about and people cursing whoever left the door open. When the knight finally reaches the top and opens the door to the princess' chambers, he finds the dragon, who poked its head into the window and is in the middle of snacking on the princess (her legs are sticking out of the mouth). After the dragon gulps down the princess, it burps out the amulet, covered in blood. The knight then picks up the item marked "bloody amulet." I never said the humor was entirely PG.
Side-scrollers have enjoyed a sort of respectful renaissance as puzzle-action games, and The Cave showed some promise in adding another brand of fun to the genre. Players will get to see for themselves when the game is released in 2013.
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