Ron Gilbert's The Cave offered a delightful gameplay experience at PAX Prime 2012, and we've got the video to prove it.
An anthropomorphized cave welcomes me as soon as I press the Start button. He senses my incredulity, and lightens the mood with a joke about how being a cave makes it hard to get ladies.
Within those first few seconds, The Cave greets me with precisely the kind of humor found in earlier collaborations between the game's creator, Ron Gilbert, and Tim Schafer, the head of Double Fine Productions, where Gilbert is developing the game. Decades ago, the duo worked together at LucasArts to create Maniac Mansion and the first Monkey Island games. To fans of those classic adventure games, The Cave will feel like home.
Introductions aside, I begin by choosing among seven possible characters, including a time traveler, hillbilly, monk, scientist, twins, knight, and an adventurer, each of whom has a backstory narrated by the titular Cave when selected.
Rather than settling for one protagonist, The Cave makes you choose three, and its design makes use of this mechanic, complicating the puzzles ahead your unlikely team must solve to explore its secrets.
I chose the hillbilly because he made me giggle, grabbed a crowbar sitting conspicuously at the right of the cave's entrance, and pried my way into the depths. I walked until I could walk no more, and then returned just outside of the cave where I summoned the knight to help because I liked the idea of a knight/hillbilly mashup. When the knight and the hillbilly could travel no further, I called in the time traveler because her futuristic neon blue getup looked awesome.
Over the next 15 minutes, I maneuvered my anachronistic threesome through the cave's side-scrolling depths, picking up random items along the way, assuming they'd be useful. Sure enough, the broken well I'd walked by early in my traversal got working with the crank I found later.
The gameplay was quick and smart, and managed never to feel complicated or overwrought, in large part because each character was hotkeyed to a direction on the D-pad on my controller. A few puzzle elements required me to keep one character at one of the explorable area in the cave, and by switching instantly to a teammate who could assist, the puzzles retained a sense of excitement and never lost their sense of flow.
On my brief travels through the cave, I met a sleepy dragon with a penchant for hot dogs, a grog vending machine that would make Guybrush Threepwood giddy, and a turned a gigantic claw crane game to my team's advantage. If my experience is representative of things to come, then The Cave's depths are going to be delightful.
The Cave is set to be published by Sega in 2013 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. You can check out my confused spelunking below.