E3 2012: The Cave Preview

While getting my tour of the SEGA booth, I was asked if I wanted to make an appointment to see a game called The Cave. I had never heard of the game, and my attempts to figure it out based on the logo were in vain. I knew it was appointment only, and that was all. Feeling adventurous, I accepted his offer without inquiring further. If it’s worth shutting a door for, it may be worth going in totally cold. At the appointment, a line of text in the trailer caught me up on what I had missed – “The Cave: An Adventure Game by Ron Gilbert and Double Fine.” Oh. Suddenly, I was very excited.

Before reaching a character select screen, we were introduced to the primary voice of the game – the voice of the cave itself. The smooth talking cavern serves as a narrator for the stories of the characters within The Cave, leading me draw comparisons to Supergiant Games’ initial release, Bastion. One might think an alluring voice is unfitting for a dark, scary settling like a cave, but how else is it supposed to combat loneliness?

The Cave is home to a varied cast of characters destined for adventure. A hillbilly, a time traveler, and even a pair of evil twins make up part of the 7-character roster, but only 3 characters can be taken through the cave at once. The puzzles we saw in the demo focused on switching between the 3 characters similar to Frozenbyte’s platformer, Trine. Unlike Trine, The Cave seemed focused on pure puzzle solving instead of enemies or boss fights. There was no combat in the demo we saw.

For our tour of The Cave, we were shown the hillbilly, the scientist, and the knight. The first puzzle required the player to dispose of a dragon blocking the characters’ path. He has a nasty habit of turning them into a pile of ash whenever they approached. I will avoid giving away solutions to the puzzles we saw because I believe part of the fun of adventure games is discovery, but I will say that it involved a hot dog coming out of a vending machine. Why would that be in an ancient, mystical cave? I think the only answer is a simple “why not?”

The second half of our demo saw the Knight trying to court a princess he found deep in the cave. He is seeking the amulet she holds, and he develops a foolproof plan to woo her with a piece of valuable treasure. Once she is smitten with the knight, she’ll surely hand the amulet over to him. Whether the princess is that material of a girl, we’re not sure. The knight is probably too dimwitted to realize if she is not.

Unfortunately for the knight, the treasure is guarded by another dragon. Apparently the cave has a thing for dragons, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. For this puzzle, we are introduced to the knight’s special ability, guardian angel. This skill allows the knight to fall long distances and generally be invincible for a short period of time. Using this, the knight is able to distract the dragon long enough for another character to swipe the gold it protects. Each character has a unique ability just like the knight, and I imagine the skills will be most useful during character themed areas of the cave.

Despite the heritage of adventure games, The Cave doesn’t feature a robust inventory system. Each character can hold only one item at a time; that’s it. There’s no digging through menus to find which item you need to use in a specific moment. The item selection should be relatively obvious, although how to use it may be elusive.

The Cave appears to have everything I love about adventure games wrapped in a fun, accessible package. Character stories, tricky puzzles, and a strong sense of humor make it one of my favorite games at E3 2012 and easily my biggest surprise. Story and comedy in games has been a strong pillar for Double Fine and Ron Gilbert, so I have faith they will deliver when The Cave releases early 2013.