Several hapless adventurers and an overtly talkative, wise-cracking cave become the playground for Double Fine Productions latest creativity, marking their digital debut on the Nintendo eShop.
This is an adventure that creator Ron Gilbert describes as being thirty years in the making, its completion making “a longtime pet project a reality.”
For the most part it proves a joyous and rewarding subterranean journey, brimming with the charismatic wit so commonly associated with Gilbert’s output.
Each character, of which range between the cowardly Knight through to a lonely Hillbilly, wishes to quest into the labyrinthine depths, where it is promised that those who surpass the challenges pitted against them may claim whatever they desire most.
What incites interest most is that each character has their own tale to tell, ominous cave paintings scattered throughout your journey presenting separate pieces of artwork that reveal dark secrets of their past. These in turn having lead them to seek the cave’s treasures in quelling their own ambitions.
Having chosen three out of the seven available characters – a throwback perhaps to Gilbert’s 1987 classic Maniac Mansion – you begin your expedition, your trio merrily bounding their way into the cave. Having briefly helped to restock the Gift Shop with three trinkets, serving as an introduction to the game’s puzzle-based structure, you begin the ‘Cave Tour’ which forms the crux of the experience.
Depending on whichever characters you’ve chosen, the game directs you to areas related to their narrative – be it a mummy’s tomb, nuclear missile launch facility, or an underground amusement park. It is narrative twists and not knowing what lies ahead that propel the player throughout the game, items along the way, such as Grog vending machines, humorously referencing Gilbert’s earlier works.
The puzzle-based nature of the game often sees you coordinate all three characters to manipulate levers, carts and machinery to overcome whatever challenges you face. Early examples, so as to avoid spoiling solutions to the game’s more taxing puzzles, see you luring a crystal coated beast with a Hot Dog so that you can grab it by the tail with a machine so that it’s therefore no longer blocking your way.
This is a game very much built on trial and error, your characters capable of dying through your mistakes but soon finding themselves respawning out of harms way. Puzzles immediately require you to think outside the realms of normality to achieve your objective, at times putting to use the unique skill granted to each character – the Time Traveler able to shift beyond bars or locked doors, the Knight able to grant himself temporary invulnerability, or the Adventurer able to grapple herself to otherwise inaccessible areas, for example.
Such thought-provoking gameplay seems to be becoming ever less present within the industry, and remains ultimately rewarding once you discover the solution to a puzzle you’ve seemingly been stuck on for hours.
Even beyond completion, you still have four characters that by this point you haven’t touched and through using will see you discover their other dark narratives. Yet with a few of the puzzles remaining constant, it may prove an annoyance to retrace certain sections of your Cave Tour.
If anything disappoints, it is Double Fine’s lack of effort in making inventive use of the Wii U GamePad, merely relegating it to simple character selection – something that can be performed far more quickly through using the D-pad. With Gilbert’s recent comments about developers needing to experiment more with the controller, there’s a decisive lack of consideration present here with even off-TV support absent.