None of the puzzles offer the thrill of a eureka moment in the way that a good puzzle-platformer would. The solution is either immediately obvious, or simple enough that you’re more likely to feel dumb for getting stuck than proud for solving it. The best puzzles lie with the Time Traveller, who uses a time machine to switch back and forth between the Jurassic period, the present day and the far future. Yes, it’s like Day Of The Tentacle: drag a boulder out of position in the past, and it will remain in its new position in the future, your character’s skeleton still gripping onto it tightly.
That doesn’t mean it’s not satisfying to progress with the other characters, but the rewards lie almost solely with the world design. Solving a puzzle normally means being able to access a new area, and each environment is lush, detailed and different from anything that came before. The Twins’ house is Tim Burton-esque, all creepy attics, crooked stairs and poisonous green liquids. The Scientist puzzles her way through a military research facility that looks like something out of The Incredibles, with excellent music to match. The Adventurer’s adventure, meanwhile, takes her inside a trap-filled Egyptian tomb.
The environments also often contain the best gags, in objects buried in the rock, or signposts and Post-Its stuck to the walls. If you’re among those who hold the original Monkey Island up as the funniest game ever written, though, you might be disappointed. The Cave narrates your journey with knowing sarcasm, but never says anything worth laughing at. You’ll encounter other characters on your journey, each colourful eccentrics, but the dialogue never raises more than a smirk.
Your first playthrough will likely take around four hours to complete, but the idea of having seven characters is that you’ll revisit The Cave in order to see everyone’s journey. Once you know the solutions and have seen the sight gags, however, it’s much quicker to play through the shared areas, such as that aforementioned deserted island. But this also means half of your second session will be spent in a fugue state, trudging across levels to perform trivial tasks.
A third playthrough is necessary if you want to see the seventh character’s segment, but that means taking two previously completed characters with you. It’s unlikely you’ll find it worthwhile, unless you have a couple of co-op partners to journey with. It’s local multiplayer only, but the drudgery lifts as soon as you have an extra pair of hands to fetch an item for you.
Approached as the latest work from one of the industry’s favoured fathers, The Cave could seem like a tourist trap, packed with old ideas to lure in passers-by. Taken for what it is – a simple, characterful adventure game from an independent developer – it offers just enough to be worth the price of admission.