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Colossal Cave

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Cygnus Entertainment
Release Date: Jan. 19, 2023


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PC Review - 'Colossal Cave'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 18, 2023 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

Immerse yourself in the world of Colossal Cave, explore its vast caverns and vistas, seek the diverse treasures within, and encounter both friends and foes in your quest.

Colossal Cave Adventure, also known as either ADVENT or Adventure, is considered by many to be the original adventure video game — at least for those who missed out on Wander, which was released two years prior. Released initially for mainframe computers in 1976, the text-based adventure game served as the blueprint for how future text-based games like Zork would go. It also served as the basic template for the actions that are still used in point-and-click adventures to this day. While the game was eventually ported to just about every personal computer at the time and eventually made its way online, no one has ever tried to upgrade it from its text-only format — until Ken and Roberta Williams with Colossal Cave.

As more of a homage to the original rather than a remake, Colossal Cave has no real story from the outset. You appear in front of a hillside cliff with a few pathways ahead of you. One of those paths has a stream that disappears behind a slit and leads to a dry waterbed with a metal grate. Once you learn how to open the grate, you'll be presented with an intricate system of caves. Beyond general exploration, your main goal is to discover and obtain the treasures that lie within.

The core gameplay is based on the 1977 version of the title, which saw Don Woods modify the William Crowther original to add more rooms and fantastical elements. The level layouts and events are essentially the same, as are the locations of just about every key item you'll need. The puzzles and their relative solutions are also the same, which means you'll encounter some conundrums with solutions that aren't immediately apparent, but neither are they obtuse for the sake of it. You can only hold up to seven objects at a time, so expect to juggle items often. The game creates object permanence, so items you drop are never lost, but it does require some backtracking if you suddenly need an item that you discarded a while back.

The transition from text-based adventure to a graphical one does mean that Colossal Cave has been modified and streamlined to fit in that new space. It now features a first-person viewpoint, so you have free movement around the environments but no ability to jump. All of the basic commands you would have typed out, like "Look" and "Use," are now converted to actions that you can cycle through. Your inventory is easily visible, and the game can be controlled either with a keyboard and mouse combo, mouse only, or controller. The game also lets you die in certain spots, and while you can get resurrected, death in adventure games is still rare. Finally, you can see a map of your surroundings and get hints when you're stumped by a puzzle, but those two things are completely optional.

For longtime fans, the big appeal will be the ability to see the environments and creatures beyond what they had imagined. Gnomes and pirates look normal enough, while the dragon and bear look quite nice. The environments are impressive, since it gives off a Myst-like vibe with its mix of different themes, including traditional caves, tombs, dig sites, and dried seabeds. The presence of trash cans, debris and even vending machines place the game in a modern enough timeline, and the whole thing looks like an inviting place to explore.

Another thing that longtime fans will enjoy is the fact that a good chunk of the text from the original game is still here, now in the form of narration. When entering a new area, looking around, or when an event happens, you'll get a narrator popping up to describe everything. Even though the descriptions rarely provide additional info, it is nice to see that they haven't been dropped in the transition from a text-only game to a more visually dependent one.

The game may be a remake of a title that is older than most players, but it remains as enjoyable now as it was during those initial years after its release. As mentioned earlier, the brain-teasing puzzles eventually make some sense, and you'll still get a feeling of discovery at finding the solution. The presence of death adds some stakes to the game. More importantly, the sense of wonder at general spelunking and finding new areas is still present, which was the original intent of the game all those years ago. The title has been called a classic, and with the remake being able to carry that over with the changes only affecting general look and basic gameplay for the modern era, it's easy to see why that label still applies today.

The game doesn't have the modern trappings of the genre like multiple endings, but it does retain the classic scoring system. Depending on where you end the game, what you discover, and how many hints you need, you'll get a final score along with a title for your play session. With the game based on the 1977 iteration, a maximum of 350 points can be gained, and unless you're using a revamped guide, reaching that goal will give you enough incentive to replay a few times.

There are a few things one should be aware of with the PC version. First, Colossal Cave doesn't have cloud saving, so you'll need to commit to one device if you don't want to start over. Buying the PC version contains no VR option. Despite several mentions of it in the in-game description, the only way to play the game in VR right now is to get the Meta Quest 2 version.

All that said, the presentation is mostly good. The audio is sparse as far as music goes, with snippets of tunes playing every so often, mostly when you enter a new area. The sound effects become your music for most of the journey, and it does a great job of amplifying the atmosphere. The narrator's voice is a welcome addition, as his calm demeanor accentuates the emotional moments, making those instances feel more important.

The graphics are where things aren't quite up to snuff. Part of this comes down to the character models that periodically appear. The models can range from decent to basic, with the lack of shadows and somewhat stiff movements making them feel like they don't necessarily fit in the game world. The environment looks quite nice, but you will see some fade-in occur where most of the environment gets dark. The game does run at quite a high frame rate with the most modest of specs, so even those with low-end components will be able to squeeze the most out of the title.

If you're playing on the Steam Deck, you'll find that the performance is mostly good. Without any options to modify, you'll get a straight 1280x720 picture that mostly runs at 60fps. Turn fast enough to catch something new, and you'll see the game hitch to load the new assets, dropping to 40fps and below briefly before going back to 60fps. It isn't the most optimal, especially if you like to turn fast with run locked in. The controls are fine, but you'll rely on the analog stick to navigate menus because the d-pad doesn't work, and the fluctuations mean that your battery life averages around four hours. Overall, it's a fine experience for the device, with a caveat or two.

Colossal Cave is a good adventure game that will appeal more to those with some nostalgia for classics and classic sensibilities. The limited inventory system and the slightly obtuse puzzles might not gel if you've only been exposed to modern adventure games. That said, the sense of exploration is still strong, and the point system gives the game some replayability, which is something rarely seen in the genre. The reimagining of the original game works well, and genre fans who are keen to see where it all began should pick this up.

Score: 8.0/10

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