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‘The Cave’ for iOS game review

The Cave is a new puzzle game by the creator of the critically acclaimed Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island games. The game was first released on consoles and PC and was later ported over to iOS with optimizations for the touchscreen.

The Cave features seven different characters, each with a unique ability and you play with three at any time and solve puzzles using their individual skills, often used simultaneously. The premise is fun and the game is great on the console/PC. Let’s see how well that has translated over to the mobile platform.

Title
The Cave
Developer
SEGA
Platform
iOS
Release Date
October 03, 2013
Content Reating
9+
Size
1.13GB
Price
$4.99

Gameplay

As mentioned before, The Cave features seven different characters. There is the knight, hill billy, scientist, adventurer, monk, time traveller and the twins (yeah, the twins are counted as one). Each has a special ability, so for example, the knight can make himself invincible to attacks, the scientist can hack into systems, the adventurer can grapple onto hooks and make long jumps, etc.

At the beginning, the game makes you pick any three characters to enter the cave. Once you go in, you can’t change them and you are stuck with the ones you chose for the rest of the game.

The reason you need three characters is due to the way the puzzles are designed. Some of them require team work, so for example, in one puzzle you’d need one of the characters to hold a lever so the other can pass through the gate. In another, you have to use one character to distract an enemy while you use the other to steal an object.

Controlling three characters sounds like a chore but it isn’t, actually. You can tap at the designated icon for each character at the bottom left to switch between them and then control them. If you move far enough the others will automatically follow you without you having to go back and bring them ahead one by one.

As mentioned earlier, each character has a special ability, which comes in handy at specific instances. Having said that, because the game is designed to be played with all seven characters, the special abilities will only make things easier in some cases and not totally impossible if you don’t have that particular character. You’ll just have to find a different way of solving the puzzle then, which is the best part since there are often different ways to solve some of the puzzles.

Then there are some puzzles that are exclusive to the characters you choose. Like one mission where you have to pull a sword out of a stone, which only appears if you have chosen the knight as one of your three characters. Of course, the other two characters assist the knight in his quest but he’s the main character in this one.

The puzzles in The Cave are quite ingenious. Some can be solved by one character while others require a bit of teamwork. Right from the start the game makes this very clear so you know what you’re in for from the beginning. The puzzles are generally quite tricky and the solution is never really obvious. You also have to go back and forth a bit at times to recover an object that was elsewhere or take something you find here and go back to something you saw previously but couldn’t do anything about it back then because you didn’t have the right piece of the puzzle. The puzzles aren’t ruthlessly difficult but a careful observation of your surroundings and some good ol’ fashioned head scratching is required to get though.

One of the major changes made to the game in the transition to the small screen was a reworked control system. However, the developers have eschewed traditional joystick controls in favor of point and drag controls. To move your character, you either tap where want to move or drag your finger in the direction where you want him or her to move. To make a jump, you swipe your finger at an angle. While this may sound fine in theory, in practice it is horrendous. I understand that playing a game on a touchscreen is not easy and requires some amount of patience but this is purely frustrating and no amount of patience made the controls bearable. You will not jump where you want to. You will not go where you want to. Your characters will do nothing what you want them to do without repeated, pointless clicking and swiping and even then they’ll go somewhere else, fall and die. Thankfully, there is no penalty for dying in this game. If your character dies, he or she just reanimates somewhere close to where they died.

The controls very nearly break what is otherwise a very fun game. An option for on-screen joystick would be much preferable than the abomination that is currently in place.

Graphics and Sound

The controls were the first change made to the mobile version of the game and the graphics are the second. As you can guess, they are nowhere near as good as on the PC or console version. Whereas the proper versions have a darker, gloomier look with a nice atmosphere and the light sources have a nice glow to them that pierces through the darkness, the mobile version has a flat, bright look that barely makes it look like the insides of a cave.

Seen from a mobile game’s perspective, the visuals are not bad but if you’ve seen the PC or console version, you’d be disappointed. I understand you can’t have the same level of visuals on the mobile but I can show you many games that look a lot better on the mobile, so it’s not impossible. What will also disappoint you is the performance. I played the game on an iPad mini and there was a lot of stuttering going on and the general framerate wasn’t quite pleasing.

The sound, however, remains unchanged. The highlight here is obviously the narration. The characters you play with in the game don’t speak at all and only the few you meet in your adventures have a few dialogues. Most of the talking is done by the narrator, who also happens to be the cave. Yes, it’s a talking cave. The dialogue is humorous, although at times it seems like it’s trying too hard to be funny, but generally quite good and makes for an interesting companion while you play the game. It’s also reactive, so you’ll hear the narrator speak about the things you’re doing, so if you die, for example, you’ll hear him comment on that. It’s all nicely done and one of the best bits of the game.

Verdict

The Cave is a fun game on the PC and console thanks to the clever puzzles and the amusing narration. But not all of it has translated well to the small screen. While the puzzles and narration remain as good as ever, the controls are decidedly worse and the visuals are also not quite the same. The latter won’t be much of an issue to those who haven’t played the game before but the controls are very nearly a deal-breaker. I wouldn’t suggest you spend $4.99 just to get frustrated by them. Rather, play it on a PC or console with a proper controller as that’s where you’ll get the best experience.

Rating: 6/10
Pros: Clever puzzles that require use of one or more characters to solve, amusing narration style
Cons: Utterly frustrating controls, visuals a noticeable step down from console version, low framerate on certain devices

Download

The Cave was reviewed on an iPad mini.

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