Colossal Cave Key Art

Colossal Cave Review

Published: January 18, 2023 10:00 AM

By:

 

In most cases, you’d have to be mad to try and remake or reimagine a game that was so foundational it started a genre, especially if you’re not directly connected to the original. Unless, of course, the people in charge of said re-creation are incredibly foundational themselves. Ken and Roberta Williams are two names that will be known by anyone who played adventure games in the 80s and 90s. They founded Sierra On-line in the late 70s and spent the next few decades revolutionizing adventure games. Now, they’re returning after 17 years away from the industry to bring us their take on Colossal Cave Adventure in the form of Colossal Cave, a fully 3D adventure game. 

Colossal Cave - Story

Colossal Cave - Swiss Cheese Room
The narration not only keeps the tone light, but harkens back to the text adventure roots of the game. 

Just like the original text adventure it's based on, Colossal Cave isn't particularly heavy on the story. You're some random shlub (probably yourself) who happens to be near a legendary cave system. Rumors abound that it's filled with treasure and adventure, so you've decided to go along and check it out for yourself. You've bought nothing with you, but luckily a mysterious narrator offers to aid you, and you find a few helpful items at a nearby wheelhouse before you actually enter the cave itself. That's pretty much it in terms of narrative. 

Advertisement


Beyond some very optional text at the start of the game, there's not much narrative to be found. The emphasis is more on exploration and discovering all of the secrets, dangers, and treasures that are buried deep within the cave. You'll have to use your wits too, because along with treasures and dreadful enemies to contend with, you'll have to solve your fair share of puzzles and get past numerous traps if you want to succeed. That is, assuming that you don't keep dying by falling off of slightly high places, which is a shockingly realistic danger in the game. 

Colossal Cave - Old School Puzzles, But in The Right Way

Colossal Cave - Orient Room
You never quite know what sort of room you're going to come across next as you explore the winding caverns of the colossal cave. 

If anyone is familiar with the original game that inspired Colossal Cave, there are a few points they may want to know about. Firstly, yes, concessions for modern gaming have been made. From the outset, you're presented with a very old-school 'mouse-only' control scheme that is completely optional. You can still control the game with a regular controller or your standard WASD mouse + keyboard style. You also have the option of creating your own map or letting the game do it for you, which is sort of the best of both worlds. 

Advertisement

Similarly, there are a lot of puzzles that have the air of classic point-and-click titles about them, for better or for worse. However, the puzzles are a bit more logical than some adventure game puzzles ended up. There are no infamous goat puzzle moments in Colossal Cave, which mostly sticks to things that make sense, such as using an axe on an enemy or giving a plant that is screaming for water some water. There may be one prominent example of something not really making sense when you use a tiny bird to defeat a giant magical snake, but that is about as egregious as it ever got. 

Colossal Cave - Exploration and More

Colossal Cave - Fantastic Sights to Behold
There are some almost breathtaking moments as you unexpectedly come across an impressive scene. 

So, does this mean that Colossal Cave is good? After all, a game is made by more than some decently logical puzzles and a flimsy pretext to explore a cave. In the end, the thing that really defines Colossal Cave is the sense of exploration that it evokes. One of the joys of the original title, which inspired so many people to go out and make their own interactive fiction adventure games, was the sense that you were really exploring a giant cave system, and you had no idea what you could find around each corner. 

Advertisement

That same sense is captured perfectly in Colossal Cave. As you descend into the cave for the first time, with your food, water, and lamp in hand, you have no way of knowing what to expect. Indeed, as you are, things seem rather mundane. Like a real natural cave system, it's easy to get lost and disoriented in the dark. The walls can blend together, and the twisting passages all look the same. However, as you spend time getting used to the layout, you reach further and further in, finding increasingly strange and wonderful things. 

In a way, it feels strange to talk about the specific moments in the game that are appealing. Since the point of playing the game is to discover things, revealing them in a review feels wrong. So, be forewarned, and skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to go in blind to what you'll discover. The different encounters you can have as you explore the caves can range from tricky puzzles to ancient ruins to encounters with dragons and angry Dwarves. There are even a few moments that are just beautifully crated scenery to marvel at for a while. 

Colossal Cave - Graphics, Sound, and Atmosphere

Colossal Cave - Dancing Bears
Bear friend is also found in the cave, but only if you know how to win him over. 

Another important note in Colossal Cave is the fantastic use of sound to evoke atmosphere. Like any other aspect of the game, it's minimalistic. There are brief sound cues that play when you enter a room or discover something new for the first time, but most of the time, the only sounds you'll hear are atmospheric noises in the cave and the voice of the narrator explaining what you come across. It's great for giving you the feeling of really exploring a cave, albeit with some sort of British cave spirit whispering in your ear, with great use of spatial sound (headphones seriously recommended.) 

Speaking of the narrator, they're another great point. As you explore and interact with objects, a voice-over narrates everything that's going on. Not only does the voice-over sound fantastic, but it's also a great mood-setting device. It makes it feel like you're having a story read to you by a friendly random British person. You could almost play the game with your eyes closed, with the simple control scheme and the rich narration of the world you're exploring. In many ways, it would have been cool to see an option to enable a button that narrates the direction you're facing on the compass because it might have made it easier for partially-sighter and blind people to play the game too. 

Advertisement

Graphically, the game looks pretty decent, but don't expect insane fidelity. The style used here is much more akin to something from a picture book. There are many colorful locations, and the characters/monsters you come across all have a cartoony vibe, both in design and animation. Needless to say, it works for the tone set out by the narration and encounters you have as you're exploring. That said, one or two of the animations did seem a little janky, but it's unlikely to bother you unless you're incredibly picky. 

The Verdict

Colossal Cave - Game Over
Sometimes, it's worth it to task risks. Other times, it's stupid to sprint through that one awkward cavern because you're in a hurry and die as a human pancake. 

Overall, Colossal Cave is an astounding return for Ken and Roberta Williams. They and the team at Cygnus really managed to capture the feeling of playing the original Colossal Cave Adventure. Whether you make your own map or use the in-game one, you can truly spend hours getting lost in this deep, interconnected cave system, discovering new things around every corner. Combined with the fantastic atmosphere, immersive sound design, and optional VR support, don't be surprised if you end up spending a lot of time on this one. 


TechRaptor reviewed Colossal Cave on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developers. 

Review Summary

Review Summary

8.0
Colossal Cave managed to capture the true essence that made the original game so captivating and engaging. The fantastic use of immersive sound makes you feel like you're really on a humorous cave-spelunking adventure.

Pros

  • Great atmosphere and immersive sound
  • Captures a sense of exploration and adventure perfectly
  • Genuinely fun to discover what's hiding around every corner

Cons

  • Animation can be a little janky
  • Point-and-click style logic puzzles could be off-putting for some.
Will wearing an Odd Future shirt.
Author: | Staff Writer
I'm Will and I'm a UK-based writer who went to film school before realizing writing was more fun than film-making. I've written for a number of gaming sites over the past few years of my writing… Read More