Double Fine's latest game is about seven explorers journeying through, err, a sarcastic cave. You take the role of either an Adventurer, a Time Traveller; a Hillbilly; a Monk; The Twins; a Knight or a Scientist. It's a platform-adventure game where your goal is to enter and then exit the cave.
The true goal, however, is that each of the characters have come to the cave believing they will learn something of who or what they will become. What's odd about it is that to get the full story of this cave, you have to complete the game three times. The rule is: only three explorers at a time can enter. So far, so weird.
If you remember your high school philosophy you’ll recognise there are shades of Plato here. Though Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was not narrated by a rock edifice with a voice of such biting sarcasm that it makes Joan Rivers sound like Sister Wendy.
Here, only the cave talks. And that’s great because you don’t really want the characters to. You get enough from them by playing. The Allegory of the Cave is about knowledge and our route to understanding -which is what this game’s about, which makes it pretty intellectual in a video game world dominated by Call of Duty killstreaks.
Gameplay is mainly a blend of 2D-platforming and head-scratching as you come up with the solutions to the weird puzzles Ron Gilbert (he of Monkey Island fame and lead designer of The Cave) is famous for. Gameplay revolves around obstacles players must solve to advance further through the rockface.
One task involves you charging up some dead batteries using a puddle of electric eels so you can record a dragon’s roar with a tape recorder to scare away someone with a gun who is guarding the sausage machine that happens to be one solution to getting the dragon your tasked with moving out of the way. Yes, it’s quite a strange fish, this game.
The strangeness is what draws you in, like filings to a magnet. The Time Traveller can teleport through slotted walls; the Knight is invulnerable at the tap of a button; the Monk can telepathically lift up objects (including those sausages) and flick levers with his mind; the Adventurer can use her grappling hook to swing over gaps. It’s all standard adventure fare, but with odd Tim Burtonesque twists.
And it is dark. Not say, Amnesia dark, but the Scientist character can help launch a nuclear bomb and a futuristic time traveller can wipe out the entire bloodline of her annoying work colleague; not to mention the casual (and very enjoyable) story of The Twins which revolves entirely around … patricide.
Every character follows a similar journey of destruction and mayhem. However one of the major failings is that you cannot issue commands to the characters you are not, at that time, directly controlling. This means a lot of hopping between your characters, moving them to the correct place, and swapping back. It all starts to get dizzying and thumb-straining. You can play it co-operatively, of course, but it’s poor judgement by the developers not to have included some sort of 'wait here' or 'follow me' system.
But never mind all that. Steam informs me I've spent ten hours in this game. Ten hours with seven weirdos in a cave – and I count that as time well spent. Yes, the command system is a bit shoddy and Double Fine should sort out some sort of patch for that. But look past that and carry on trying to coax a monkey, with a bunch of bananas, into the guidance system of a nuclear missile and you’ll have a fine afternoon's gaming.
Price: £9.99, Steam
Format: Wii U, PC, XBOX 360, PS3, Sega, cert: 12 (all via digital download only)
Developer: Double Fine Productions