You may be forgiven for forming a mental connection between The Cave and Trine, but Double Fine’s take on the multi-character platformer is surprisingly original – and very enjoyable. Players take a maximum of three esoteric characters from a line-up of seven deep into the Earth to eventually explore the eponymous Cave (which is, er, also the narrator). Unlike Trine, it’s focussed on puzzle-solving rather than action, and both the charming design and incredible puzzle that made up the bulk of the demo I played left me very impressed.
Picture the situation: a massive fire-breathing monster is sleeping just across a pit of spikes. Above the pit of spikes is a crane, and on your side is a bell. I’m sure you’re formulating a good idea of what you have to do to continue, but pulling off that task is nowhere near as simple as it sounds, mostly because the bell alone doesn’t interest the creature enough. Here’s a hint to the complex final solution: it involves a bucket, a fuse box, and the juiciest hot dog I’ve ever seen – oh, and a vending machine with an appreciable throw-back to Monkey Island.
Double Fine have proven themselves as a studio pretty consistently over the past decade, so I have no doubts that the rest of the game will live up to the standard displayed in this demo; I’m itching to play the rest. I did find a few frustrations, though, primarily within the execution of the multi-character mechanic; covering large distances can be exhausting because you’ll often have to repeat the action with each character, as there’s no button to “call” them to your position, like in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.
The existing controls could also be refined. With the Xbox 360 controller, three directions on the D-Pad switches to a specific playable character when pressed. Unfortunately, despite the on-screen icons, I often found myself hitting the wrong button. While I’m sure I could get used to it with more time, I really question why the developer doesn’t simply use two buttons, one which cycles forwards through the characters, and one which cycles backwards – it frees up a spare button, potentially for my hypothetical call function, and you’d still never have to hit either button more than once.
I’ll concede that my confusion as to which button to press might have been brought about by the characters’ functional resemblance to one another in this demo; while the line-up of distinct characters with their own back-stories is a nice touch, I didn’t see any change in the gameplay based on which character I was using. That’s something I look forward to seeing in the final game; producer Ron Gilbert has already confirmed that this will be a more emphasised gameplay mechanic, and I hope to see that well realised. Aside from that, this could shape up to be another fantastic outing from Double Fine Productions.