Plundering the depths of The Cave’s magical talking grotto is like taking a tour of Ron Gilbert’s brain. There’s the comedy monkey chasing a banana. There’s the hermit turned mad by years trapped alone on a deserted island. There’s a New Grog vending machine. It seems inevitable that, deep inside, there’s also an old-fashioned adventure game hiding within the modern, puzzle-platformer clothing.
Even The Cave’s core mechanic will be familiar to anyone who played Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion: it offers seven characters, from which you can select any three to take on a spelunking trip. Which three you select partly determines what you encounter on your journey.
At least there are no pirates among them. Players can choose from the Adventurer, the Scientist, the Monk, the Time Traveller, the Knight, the Twins and the Hillbilly. Select the latter and your adventure will include a visit to the carnival where the Hillbilly works, run by a staff of animatronic cutouts. Select the demonic-looking Twins and you’ll find their Victorian house, complete with mother, father and dog inside. These disparate places exist inside the Cave, as explained by the Cave itself, because they’re the source of whatever those characters most desire.
Those desires all turn out to be connected via their dark subject matter; what the Twins want most, for instance, is to murder their parents. Each story is a morality tale, starring characters with human flaws blindly pursuing missions towards some grim end. It’s perhaps no accident that there’s seven of them.
Navigating The Cave requires a combination of simple platforming and only slightly more complicated puzzle solving. At its most basic, a puzzle might involve you pulling a lever to open a gate with one character, then switching to another in order to run through the opening. From there, the challenges expand to include involve special abilities: the Hillbilly can hold his breath indefinitely, the Time Traveller can warp through walls, and the Scientist can hack computer terminals to unlock doors or control machinery. These powers are useful within each character’s own area, but for around half the game’s length you’ll be making your way through parts of the Cave that all the characters encounter. This means the design of challenges can’t rely on you having a particular power available, and so for stretches you’ll find yourself forgetting that the abilities even exist.
Instead, most of the game’s puzzles are solved like in any adventure game: by using or combining the items you find to modify them in some way in order to unlock the next room. You’ll use a bucket to collect some water, then use that to catch a lit stick of dynamite. The fuse is immediately extinguished, and can then the stick can be safely transported to the rocks blocking your path, before being reignited to clear them.