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The Cave review: Intricate, rewarding puzzler, let down by repetition

Monkey Island maestro's latest is a flawed gem

Mysterious things, caves: deep, dark, dangerous structures filled with unknown entities. Horrors? Treasures? Traps? No wonder there's a subculture devoted to underground exploration: there's nothing quite as thrilling as venturing into the Earth's gut, seeing sights no other human has seen before. But The Cave's cave is more special than most.

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See, The Cave's cave is capable of whisking people away to fantastical realms where their wildest dreams can come true, explaining why seven excited spelunkers are huddled around a campfire by its entrance at the beginning of the game. The Adventurer, Monk, Twins, Scientist, Time Traveller, Knight, and Hillbilly are the explorers in question (to keep things simple we'll class the inseparable Twins as one character), and each is there to see if the cave can fulfil their most powerful, innermost desires.

The Knight seeks a sword of untold power and prestige; the Hillbilly is searching for his true love; and the Adventurer's on the trail of her lost companions and an unequalled ancient treasure. Then there's the Scientist, who's on the cusp of a great discovery for humankind; the Monk, who's after his master in order to reach enlightenment and, in turn, become the master; the Time Traveller, who's eager to right a wrong a million years in the making; and, finally, the Twins, who simply want to play.

There are no enemies inside the cave and death is of little consequence...

These seven are the backbone of a 2D adventure from Monkey Island maestro Ron Gilbert and fan-favourite studio Double Fine. There are no enemies inside the cave and death is of little consequence outside the Achievement list thanks to an instant respawn mechanic. Puzzles, puzzles, and more puzzles are lurking in the cave's intestines, along with a few jokes and comedic observations for good value.

In a clear nod to Gilbert's own Maniac Mansion, only three of the seven protagonists can venture inside the cave at any one time (either in single-player, to be switched between with the D-Pad, or in co-op). And though a strict one-item-per-character carrying limit knocks any thoughts of inventory management on the head, every character does boast a unique power meaning your rabble's journey into the depths will be tailored specifically for that chosen trio.

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STALAGMITE AND MAGIC

At first these abilities manifest themselves in the forms of small deviations to puzzle solutions. To pass through the cave's first locked gate you have to pull and hold two levers at once, leaving the third character free to pass beneath the now-raised gate and activate the permanent unlocking mechanism. Bring the Twins along, however, and their unique skill lets them create ghostly body doubles: one to keep one lever depressed, the other to skip through the gate. Alternatively, with the Time Traveller in your party you'll be able to use her short-range teleportation skill to zap straight through the gate, bypassing the levers altogether.

Unfortunately these types of variations are relatively minor. To ensure every trio can complete every puzzle, skill-based solutions all tend to be tweaks on the same core actions. To reach the bottom of a pit, one character might hop along rocky outcrops while the Knight can just jump off a ledge and activate his invincibility skill to float safely downwards. They're technically different paths, but as the difference amounts to shaving off a matter of seconds from the basic solution we wouldn't exactly label The Cave's puzzles as having multiple, distinct solutions.

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