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Games Of January 2013: The Cave

This adventure game encourages replay, but we think one subterranean journey is enough. Here’s how we’d get the most of out of that first trip.

By John Teti • February 13, 2013

Drew Toal slips into the second Digest chair today to talk about The Cave, Rob Gilbert’s latest explore-y, puzzle-y, witty adventure. There’s an important caveat that comes up toward the end of our discussion, which is that The Cave may very well be more fun if you play with a couple of friends rather than alone. Our junior staffers (2013’s upgraded version of last year’s interns) spent an afternoon playing the game, and there was much laughing coming from the Official Gameological Game Room.

A caveat to the caveat, however: Those guys only played for a couple of hours, to capture footage, and they were starting to lose interest toward the end. That might mirror my experience that The Cave’s appeal ebbed as I kept coming back to it. Or it might not. In any case, Drew and I wrap up today’s Digest segment with our “dream team” of playable characters in The Cave. You have seven characters to choose from, and you have to pick three. Knowing what we know now, we tell you which three we’d choose.

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  • Drew Toal

    Pulling my ear instead of my moustache. Just start smoking again already, idiot.

    • a_scintillating_comment

       Ok, is ‘Stakalee’ a play on ‘Stagger Lee’? Forgive if I’m dumb.

      Don’t feel bad Drew; you’re more than a mustache

      • djsubversive

        It is. Don’t mention Billy Lyons or that five-dollar hat. He hates being reminded of that incident.

        Don’t feel dumb. I had the same revelation not too long ago.

      • HobbesMkii

         It’s less a play on the name than an alternate version:

      • stakkalee

        Yup, @HobbesMkii:disqus is right – my ‘nym is an alternate version of Stagger Lee.  And @Captain_Internet:disqus is right, too, that Nick Cave’s version is the best; the song is the reason I chose this nym.  But don’t listen to any of @djsubversive:disqus ’s stories – he’s just mad I shot him with that .45 that time.

        • djsubversive

          You SHOT me! How am I supposed to feel about it, jerk?

          (I found this interesting essay on the blues and Stagger Lee, with lyrics from a bunch of different blues songs telling the tale: )

        • a_scintillating_comment

          Awesome. As long as we’re on the same page about Nick Cave’s stagger lee. speaking of which the new album is great.

      • Effigy_Power

        And if you were just a mustache, at least it’s a handsome one that melts ladies’ hearts at range.

    • Citric

      Get a pipe. Even if you don’t smoke anything, you can hold it and gesture in a professor-ly manner.

      • PaganPoet

        Extra points if the pipe makes bubbles.

    • DrunkPhilatelist

       I thought you were just saying hello to Carol Burnett.

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      Mr Toal, you disappoint me.

      • Drew Toal

        Guilty as charged. I’ll have to save it for Digest Casual Friday.

        • PaganPoet

          Semi-related note, I actually loved your polka dot tie. Very Minnie Mouse (and I mean that as sincerely complimentary as possible).

      • Effigy_Power

        I’ll draw him with an Enya shirt anyways.

  • Kilzor

    SPOILER ALERT (?): I did enjoy the bit of hallway taken directly from the very end of Monkey Island 2, complete with Grog vending machine.  It makes me feel I didn’t waste all those years collecting those super specific memories for nothing, and I appreciate that (certain parts of SW:TOR trigger that same response)(Thanks, Bioware!).

  • a_scintillating_comment


    Grow it back.

    • DrunkPhilatelist

       Sometimes, if you love something, you have to set it free.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        To be free, one must give up a little part of oneself…

        • DrunkPhilatelist

          True enough. But why does it always have to be the best part?

      • Effigy_Power

        Now I have the mental image of Drew’s mustache flying free as a bird.

  • Citric

    You don’t like cherries? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???

    (Eagerly awaiting cherry season, will make cherry tarts this weekend, even enjoyed Eagle Eye Cherry)

    • George_Liquor

      Buck Cherry did it to him.

    • Girard

      Cherries are basically the devil’s testicles. They are unfit for human consumption, and may, in fact, poison the soul.

      Luckily, mother nature has provided us with a protective mechanism: making cherries taste awful, and artificial cherry flavor taste egregiously bad.

      • The_Misanthrope

         Another voice is heard from the anti-cherry lobby!  Will this turn into Gameological’s most thorny issue?  Stay tuned to find out!

        I am pro-cherry, though not fiercely so.  There are many fruits that I would place above it.  Though I can’t deny the appeal of a slice of cherry pie a la mode.

      •,96925/ Merve

        You don’t like cherries? Woah there Hitler

        • Jackbert322

          You like cherries?
          johnny boy

        • djsubversive


        • Fixda Fernback

          Guaranteed to make me laugh every time.

    • beema

      Cherries are the worst

  • Girard

    Not only are the character’s special abilities really only put to any use in their own levels, but the one time I used a character’s ability to find an alternate solution to the level, it kind of broke the game.

    [spoiler, sorta] In the Knight’s world, rather than get the key for the dragon’s cage, I was able to use the Time Traveller to just phase through it and pick up the item that was behind the dragon. However, once I left the dragon and headed up to the princess, a scripted sequence happened in which I was informed that I had left the dragon gate, which I had never opened, ajar, and that the dragon had gotten out. It was kind of glaring and disappointing how rigid the game was, and how it totally just ignored what I had done.

    The whole thing feels like it’s making design mistakes that Ron had already managed to resolve pretty ably 25 years ago in Maniac Mansion, a game where multiple characters’ different abilities do afford different inventive solutions, do organically access different parts of the game world, do make replays fun rather than repetitive, and do afford access to different win-states/endings that aren’t contingent on a totally bullshit 11th-hour false binary moral choice thing.

    • Girard

      Ladder pro-tips (only discovered on second play-through):

      -tapping jump on a ladder/rope makes you fall down the rope in safe, non-deadly increments. WAY faster than climbing down.

      -Holding up and pressing jump makes you jump up ladders more quickly than climbing (does not work on ropes).

      • Chris Ingersoll

        Also: you can take advantage of the Knight’s invulnerability to fall as far as you want. Only works with him, obviously/sadly.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      I find the different ending thing quite nice here because it’s kind of foreshadowed in the monk chapter and there’s no explicit “make choice now” prompt. “Did the player remember this Buddhist trial we made up and did they act accordingly when the time came?” is a pretty offbeat check to determine the ending. I can appreciate that.

      • Girard

        Yeah, the monk was in my first playthrough, so I happened upon that synergy, too. However:

        -Those who didn’t play that optional bit wouldn’t have any reason to think to do that.

        -As a corollary to that, if the whole “Object of greatest desire” thing was such a central conceit that the endgame and ending pivoted upon it, maybe they should have mentioned it more than once, in an optional part of the game.

        -The whole “object of greatest desire” thing feels kind of phony and tacked on, when the characters already have little narratives and desires in their levels/backstories that are at best peripherally related to the objects. Why does handing his teddy bear back in at the very end clear the Hillbilly’s karmic baggage, and not, say, opting not to burn down the carnival again?

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          That’s all true, it’s just that I actually like that he hid the hint to the good endings where players might not even see it. If Ron wants the key to forgiveness or whatever to be found on the way of the monk (and on his way only) and he has to break some “everything must be equally viable” notions of game balance to get there, that’s cool. And I think it’s pretty organic. It rewards attention and thinking without a big “Choice is happening!” prompt or “Do a puzzle now!” roadblock.

      • Crusty Old Dean

        There’s a “good” ending? iiiinteresting, I’ll have to play it at least once more now…

    • John Teti

      The same thing happened to me on the knight’s level. It was very weird and disappointing.

  • The_Misanthrope

    To those that have played it:  If the game had just had three characters, would you have enjoyed the game more?  Would you consider it worthwhile, both gameplay-wise and value-wise? 

    You don’t have to see all the endings right away, you know.  We live in the internet age, so just play through once with the characters you want to play, then watch the rest of it on Youtube LP’s.  Or just play though once and save the rest of the content for some far-off rainy day when enough time has passed that it feels fresh.

    • Girard

      The replay thing is kind of the least of its problems, really. Even in a single playthrough, there’s a lot of unnecessary backtracking, the characters aren’t differentiated in a meaningful way (gameplay-wise or narrative/dialogue/content-wise), and the gameplay is aggressively linear – without the narrative tradeoff that made linear graphic adventure games in the past work.

      Though, to extend your hypothetical, if the game were designed with only three characters, a la Lost Vikings, the puzzles could have been designed more deliberately around their special skills, and the characters’ abilities would be more meaningful. They also, in that case, could have had the characters interact more and actually have some personality. So, in that case, yeah, only having three characters might have made me enjoy it more.

  • Morgan Filbert

    Anyone else find the way that John said “They’re just sort of…MEAT… at that point,” slightly intimidating? Head to the 4 minute mark to see what I mean.

  • Crusty Old Dean

    So apparently I enjoyed this game more than most. I found it very charming and didn’t mind the linearity. My only complaint is probably that moving around was a bit slow, the characters could have survived higher falls I think just to speed things up a bit…

    Not sure when I’ll play it again (and I’ll probably never play it a third time for just the last character) but I look forward to exploring more of the cave.

    •,96925/ Merve

      No, I quite liked it too. I mean, I had all the same complaints as everyone else, but they didn’t bother me as much. I thought most of the puzzles were clever, and I also liked the game’s art style. Overall, I enjoyed the game, but I don’t have the urge to replay it immediately. Maybe in a couple of years.

      One problem I did have with the game, though, is its script. It seems as if the writers wanted every joke to have a clear punchline, so after a string of funny lines, there’s often a totally unnecessary line that explains the joke or serves as a punchline for a completely different joke. The script would be a lot funnier without lines like that. Sometimes, less is more.

  • Richard

    The only games of Gilbert’s I’ve played are the two DeathSpank games (which I liked well enough, but I thought the first was funnier) and Day of the Tentacle, which I *loved* back in the day. (Yes, I know, I need to play the Monkey Island games if I can get ahold of them…) Assuming anyone here has played those, how would The Cave stack up to DS and DotT?

    • Girard

      Gilbert didn’t do much beyond initial planning on DoTT – it’s more Tim Schafer’s and Dave Grossman’s baby. Gilbert was a main designer on the game that preceded it, Maniac Mansion, though.

      Anyway, how does it stack up to DotT? The characters are more vaguely drawn and there’s much less humor, partially owing to the characters’ perpetual silence. Goals are more abstract and less clear, though the platform Gameplay makes up for that a bit (even when there’s not a clear narrative aim for a section, platform gameplay always implies the aim of “get to the next level”). Style-wise, what humor that is there is of a similarly light tone, and visually the game’s cartoon style is kind of similar. It doesn’t compare favorably to DotT, but DotT is one of the best computer games ever made, so it may not be a fair comparison.

      Compared to Maniac Mansion, it surprisingly makes a lot of mistakes that the earlier game handled more ably – re: multiple characters with different abilities, puzzle design, etc. Obviously the graphics are more sophisticated, and the art direction is better (I’d say, at least). The puzzles are generally more user-friendly (apart from one irritatingly unfair one in the Time Traveller level that is hampered by a fundamental UI/design issue), and there’s not getting stuck or perma-death.

    • lokimotive

      I’ve played a little bit of the first DeathSpank, but didn’t really enjoy it enough to continue. I found the humor slightly grating, and I suck at that kind of combat so I died. A lot. Day of the Tentacle is wonderful and devious and fantastic.

      The Cave is much smaller than the previous examples. It’s adventure game light, really. I was rather disappointed with it and… wait… something’s just come up… Brutal Legend for the PC?!

      • Girard


  • Basement Boy

    I’ve had a love/hate thing with the game… LOVE the art style and quirky humor… HATE the constant re-tracing your steps tho, and some of the “solutions” are rather oblique. Also, have suffered a few random glitches; in the Time Traveler’s tale, she couldn’t move a must-be-moved rock… on the 4th retry it worked normally.

  • Eben Foster

    John Teti looks more or less exactly how someone called “John Teti” should look.

    • beema

      john titties

  • Andy Fernandez

    Any new game that doesn’t overthrow the US Govn’t and create an Adventure Game Kingdom (with meek, but surprisingly effectual, puppet monarch) leaves me disappointed, so The Cave really is no exception. But obviously I’m capable of patiently managing my disappointment. Sometime after the Great Cataclysm of ’98/’99, adventure games have not only diminished in esteem, but their esteem for me has lowered (which is even more sad). I’ve slogged through supposed saviors like Syberia, the Longest Journey & Runaway (all locked room puzzles, the lot of ‘em! They stick you in a room w/limited hotspotty items, lock the door behind you & ask you to get out using only what’s available in the room itself); & now The Cave.
    I was charmed, it was funny. It was bright & colorful. There’s a Grog vending machine. But old adventure games made you reassess what you thought you knew about the environment & inventory (you’d revisit areas! Every mundane task is a three-pronged affair! You’d use the same item again for a different, yet deceptively similar purpose! You’d mix that item with another one! In a strange end-game twist, you’d recreate an earlier solution on a more intimate [yet somehow grander] scale! All the items fit in your pockets!). The Cave does try to do that, but through characterization (which is… odd. Not bad, but odd). However, you are still in a limited enclosed space. It doesn’t matter which thought you have first (where am I gonna find a key to fit this weird lock? where am I gonna find a lock to fit this weird key?), looking at everything solves it basically. All that’s left to do is drop my lucky postcard & floaty hop back and forth doing the mundane bullshit.

    It’s like renting out a karaoke room for 3 hours, then realizing there’s only 7 songs. I came here to sing songs that make me relive high school & drink shoju… and I’m all outta shoju. Also, you’re out of songs.

    But yes, the Time Traveller lets you do some Day of the Tentacle-esque timey-wimey stuff.

  • Lord Autumn-Bottom

    I really enjoyed The Cave.  Was relieved, after having seen all the middling reviews.  But I must admit that, if not for having been so interested in the nifty metaphysical aspect of the Cave, and if not for the humor, and if not for Chuck the Plant and Chuck the Flame, I probably wouldn’t have dug it all that much.  You’re right that they didn’t do enough with the characters’ individual talents.

    · I loved the Time-Traveler’s stage; brought me back to Day Of The Tentacle (though I did get really annoyingly stuck on it due to a dumb technicality about rolling that rock out of the way).  Her ability to hover over water was also a very pleasant perk to having her in the party.
    · I loved the Monk’s stage, as well, because it was gorgeous and its puzzles were pretty different from a lot of the others in the game.
    · Same goes for the Hillbilly’s stage (minus the “gorgeous” part).  Gotta say, though, that I was pretty confused at how all the barkers and such were cutouts instead of “actual people.”
    · The Knight’s stage was the funniest of all, but not particularly interesting in terms of puzzles, and kinda weird since the most efficient way to do it was to use a character other than the Knight to do most of the work.  But the Knight also made the long ladders more tolerable, since you could just jump straight down and use his invincibility to avoid dying, so he was a good one to have in your party.  Plus he was adorable.
    · The Twins’ stage was perhaps the second funniest, and they’re also adorable of course, so that was a good time.
    · The Scientist’s stage was a little dull, aside from the “navigation system” (which brought me back to another old adventure game, of course).
    · And the Adventurer’s was my least favorite, although her fellow archaeologist’s fate was pretty hilarious.

    The parts with the hunter and the hermit were also really good, in terms of both puzzles and humor.  But the miner’s part was horrendously tedious — traversing the same fucking long-ass ladders and ropes three times for the dynamite, urgh!  And the mine car/elevator puzzle, too.  Groan.  A great way to reduce the tedium of the game would’ve been to include a little toggle command that would let you gather your whole party and move them together.  Really seems like an obvious idea, too, so I was very disappointed that that wasn’t in there.

    And I played it four or five times, by the way.  Yeah, I do achievements.  Never knew it had multiplayer, though; that could be fun.  And reduce the tedium greatly.

    Sorry for the long comment.  I had a lot of thoughts, and as I already alluded to, I am a completionist.

  • remus76

    It would have been a much better game if they allowed you to play through all the stages consecutively without having to replay the whole thing. I’ve completed it 3 times so I’ve played all the levels and they’re great but the repetition was tedious. 

  • Drew Toal

    I don’t usually. I think this is the first Digest that I’m in that I’ve watched in its entirety. Cringing the whole time, obviously. Teti’s studfiend charisma overwhelms all.