CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's probably a good chance you have never heard of game designer Ron Gilbert or spent a single minute playing "Monkey Island" or "Maniac Mansion." After all, Gilbert's beloved adventure games were released more than two decades ago -- long before many of today's gamers ever picked up a controller or clicked a mouse.
That should not, however, deter you from checking out "The Cave," Gilbert's latest effort and his first project since joining Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions.
While it incorporates elements of platforming and puzzle solving, "The Cave" remains true to its adventure roots. Your journey into "The Cave" - both figuratively and literally -- begins by assembling a team of three explorers from a colorful group of seven, an idea borrowed from "Maniac Mansion." Your choices include a hillbilly, a scientist, a time traveler, a monk, a knight, an adventurer and a pair of evil twins - each with their own unique backstory (revealed through a series of comic book-style panels) and twisted motivation for entering the cave. A wonderfully dark sense of humor permeates throughout the experience, culminating with the conclusion to each character's tale. The narration provided by the cave - yes, the cave is a sentient being - led to some of the funniest lines.
Each character has a special skill that you'll need to use in order to navigate the many pitfalls that await within the mysterious caves depths, like using the adventurer's whip to cross wide gaps or the scientist's hacking ability to access computer terminals. During each playthrough of "The Cave," you'll experience levels catered to the three characters you choose, plus three segments that introduce some of the cave's unique occupants like a hunter in search of an elusive monster that calls the cave home. This adds to the game's replayability as you'll need to make three trips into the cave in order to see each character's story, but it also leads to playing the same levels multiple times.
Exploring the cave requires plenty of jumping, climbing and swimming. While the controls are reasonably responsive, it doesn't take long to realize "The Cave" wasn't built to be a platformer. Jumping can be especially frustrating and cost me the lives of several explorers. Thankfully the generous respawn system doesn't penalize you for your mistakes. And considering each level requires plenty of backtracking in order to acquire the tools needed to solve its puzzles, that's a big relief. The puzzles in "The Cave" are quite clever and solving them left me with a proper sense of accomplishment. The answers were always right in front of me, but recognizing them wasn't always easy.
Whether you experience "The Cave" alone or with friends (up to three can play locally on the same screen, each controlling a character), this delightful adventure game delivers plenty of fun. It's a great introduction to Gilbert's one-of-a-kind style and sense of humor, and fans of his early work will no doubt enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U ($15)
Rating: T for teen
Reach Jeff Rider at 304-348-5122 or jri...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/gazette_gamer.