Smart games sometimes feel hard to come by. But when you do stumble on a smart game, it's easy to tell how much thought went into its design. Ron Gilbert's The Cave, an adventure/puzzle game made in collaboration with developers Double Fine, is a game that radiates with smart design.
And it's super cute, too.
The setting is a mysterious, talking cave. "That's me, the cave. Yes, I'm a talking cave. Don't laugh. It makes dating hell." Ah, a cave with a personality! For hundreds of thousands of years, people have been drawn to the cave in search of their individual desires.
But the cave is special. It changes dynamically, and it's lively. It's a talking cave, after all. Depending on who enters the cave, the adventurer will encounter a matching setpiece.
On this particular cave adventure, we find seven different adventurers. The monk is diving into the cave in search of his master, and enlightenment. The adventurer is hunting for treasure and her lost two companions. An affable hillbilly is in need of love. The nerdy scientist hopes to carry out a great discovery. Evil, yet adorable twins are searching for their parents. A brave knight is spelunking for a powerful sword. And, finally, a time traveler visits the cave to right a wrong a million years in the making.
Though these are their described intentions, creator Ron Gilbert tells me that you may find these characters' supposed intentions to only be partially true by the game's end.
The storyline you will experience on your first playthrough will depend on the three cave divers you choose to bring along. Our demo at E3 chose the hillbilly, scientist and knight. Not the team I would have picked, but I can see myself eventually playing out every story path anyway.
You'll have to play the game four times to experience every storyline. Why? Because each character can access a new section of the game based on his/her/their skills and specialty. Playing with the knight lets us survive long drops because of his guardian angel ability, but it also lets us explore the area of the cave that holds a castle with a snooty princess and a snoozing dragon.