The Cave highlights an old problem with a lot of ranking systems for mobile games. Since iOS is a platform that encourages different kinds of games from all over to be adapted for its format, you can run the gamut from indie experimental, all the way to top notch titles from grade A developers. Because of that, there ends up being plenty of situations where a clever, minimal puzzle game might deserve an 8.5/10, while an iOS adaptation of a much bigger, more advanced game ends up with a lower score.
Does that mean the puzzle game is better? Perhaps. But it also seems unfair to judge the two by the same criteria, given that there are plenty of really good games that might not get the best mobile ports. After spending some time with Ron Gilbert's The Cave, it's safe to say that old problem has come up again.
For those who don't already know about Gilbert, he is one of the main forces behind a treasure trove of seminal adventure games for LucasArts, including The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. In early 2013, he finished work on The Cave, releasing it for the PC after spending time working on it while at Double Fine.
Those who keep up with all Gilbert-related activities likely know that The Cave received mostly favorable reviews from the small community of adventure game enthusiasts. And while it didn't end up as a game-changing title from one of the legends of the industry (those hopes are now pinned on Tim Schafer's mega-project Broken Age), it did manage a fresh take on old concepts, while also packaging together tons of the classic, old-school charm and wit that rings true to many old LucasArts games. Where The Cave largely succeeded on PC, it also manages to do on iOS, albeit with a few predictable exceptions.
But what is The Cave, exactly? Well, in addition to being the setting for this adventure, it's also kind of the main character. Right from the title screen, we're treated to a full personality on display, complete with wise-cracks and opaque wisdom. This is an interesting move, considering that there are seven characters to play: The Knight, The Hillbilly, The Time-Traveler, The Scientist, The Adventurer, The Twins and The Monk.
Each of these characters has their own distinct look and powers and it's impressive that each of them feels as unique and formed as they are, especially considering that they don't have voices. Given how strong the dialogue is elsewhere, it actually comes off as a little disappointing that more wasn't recorded for them. At the very least, some idle chatter/banter could have solidified them even further as characters, while still keeping them a bit mysterious at the same time.
Unlike many of Gilbert's previous games, this is not a straight-up adventure title. Instead of pointing and clicking, gamers venturing into the dark unknown must rely on their platforming skills to see them through the cheeky puzzles that await them in the murky depths of The Cave. While this shift to 2D action worked for the PC version, it's not surprisingly the source of the biggest weakness for the iOS port. Without mincing too many words, the controls for The Cave are downright awful.
They weren't a strong suit of the original release, so I guess it shouldn't come as much surprise that they got even worse for the mobile version. But still. Given how much you have to rely on spelunking around, this can lead to some definite frustration. That's not to say it's unplayable. After a bit, I was able to get used to the looseness of the touchscreen interface and learn how to better guide my characters without having it seem like I was controlling a bunch of rag dolls that were being electrocuted.
However, for anyone that's been waiting to play this game on iOS, don't hesitate to sign up. In my mind, games like this are perfect for something like the iPad. Despite how bad the controls are, the experience of this game really isn't about the tightness of the collision detection programming, or pulling off big runs of pinpoint platforming feats. Instead, it's about the wonderful dark humor and lush art direction, all of which look and feel great in this port.
Priced at only five bucks, Gilbert's latest effort is undoubtedly a gem. But much like something valuable you'd unearth while digging around in an actual cave, it's got some schmutz on it that needs to be polished off.