I won’t lie, this past week I’ve been a little obsessed. Sometimes when a new game comes along that really piques my curiosity, I get like that (kinda what defines us as gamers). My recent obsession: The Cave.
The Cave was released on January 23rd, 2013 as the recent offering from Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Double Fine Productions and is fantastic. Presented in a 2D/3D platformer, the graphics are beautiful, the iconic Schafer & Gilbert branded humor throughout the game mixes puns and bad jokes as only the duo can, and the game drops significant doses of nostalgia throughout. In a surprise twist on the adventure genre, though, the game can be fully completed in about 3 hours.
The format goes a little like this: You choose 3 different characters at the start of the game and then lead them through 7 different puzzles. Every playthrough has 4 puzzles that are the same: The Introduction, the Miner, the Zoo, and the Island. On top of that, each character from the Knight to the Twins to the Time Traveler has their own individual puzzle. The purpose of each puzzle is to tell the story of how each character acquires their greatest desire and how acquiring these desires changes you. So underneath all the funny one-liners and puns are the very morbid acts you have these far-from-lovable characters commit to acquire these desires.
Launching nuclear missiles. Burning down a carnival. Poisoning your parents. Committing Stone-Age murder. Good times.
At the nominal price of $15, and a completion time of 3 hours, this game is a straight up appetizer. A delicious appetizer, but an appetizer nonetheless for the yet-to-be-officially-announced Double Fine Adventure. Having successfully completed it’s KickStarter last March, and seeing how the unofficial initial timeline was estimated at October of 2012, The Cave has only whetted my appetite for the final product. The vaulted herald of the return of the adventure genre.
I do worry, though. On my multi-playthroughs of The Cave (3 times as of this writing), the difficulty level didn’t even register on my scale. I’m not meaning this as a brag, but a true concern. If the modern version of adventure games is a game that is so easy that it’s filled with only elementary-level puzzles, maybe the adventure genre is gone for a reason. A difficulty of “Hard” is only at the will of the player to not scour the internet for a walk-through, which appear barely minutes after a game’s release. And what true value does a point-and-click adventure game have aside from it’s difficulty of puzzles? The draw of cheating is very strong if the puzzles end up being too devious. However, deviousness is a part of why I buy these games in the first place. Without the difficulty, is it even a game?
I don’t envy Gilbert, Shafer, and the entire crew at Double Fine one bit. Walking the line between what is too easy and what is so difficult that it’ll immediately send people scouring the internet for a solution is very tricky. But if there is a team that can accomplish it, it is them.
And If I may impart some advice as the casual adult gamer I am: err on the side of devious. Like The Secret World does with it’s investigative missions, expect a percentage of people to look up the puzzle answers, but know that a decent percentage of players aren’t ponying up money and expecting a walk in the park. We’re paying for a challenge. Maybe not Gabriel Knight 3 “impersonate a man without a mustache by adhering cat fur with maple syrup to your face” type challenge, but please amp it up a little more than this.
Please take your time on the Double Fine Adventure, guys and gals. Polish is good. But realize that The Cave has us now salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the main course.