A text-based adventure classic comes into the new millennium with a fully 3D, first-person, exploration-heavy adventure from Cygnus Entertainment.
Do you remember the original Colossal Cave? If you don’t, you’re definitely excused since it was a very early PC title, first hitting in… 1976. Yes. That’s correct, Colossal Cave came out in 1976 (maybe ’77 if you wanna look at it a specific way).
According to the game’s wiki too, it’s got a really interesting history. The original title was based on an actual cavern, that being “Mammoth Cave” in Kentucky, and original developer William Crowther’s adventures therein. The new remake doesn’t make mention of those origins however, and likely doesn’t feature too much of the real thing’s construction either.
Colossal Cave’s underground is very much a ‘fantasy’ one, albeit with some odd modern items mixed in. That mainly shakes out to mean that dwarves, dragons, and plenty of treasure is all located in its massive, interconnected series of rooms and passages.
But while the game presents a mainly relaxing gaming session for players, it’s tough not to think that so much more could have been done.
The hall of the mountain king
The premise for Colossal Cave, and there both is and isn’t one, is that you play as a treasure hunter. Yeah, that’s vague, and honestly the overarching narrative does border on nonexistent. But it’s still pretty plain that your character is out for a little fortune and glory (and points).
When the adventure starts, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful forested setting, complete with a remote cabin and a rocky entrance to the below ground cave. The cabin is more or less your home base, and where you’ll find your treasures as you collect them.
Then there’s the ‘points’ system. I would have much rather seen the game eschew that altogether honestly, and solely be propelled by a deeper story. But aside from what I would have preferred, points are the real tally on how well (or lousy) you do in Colossal Cave.
Well, maybe not solely, since you can die in Colossal Cave. And although it’s not all that common to do so, you’ll be penalized for it with a loss of points. So if you find yourself getting impaled by a dwarf, it’s going to set you back.
Making your way…
Much like the setup, the control scheme in Colossal Cave is a simple and straightforward affair. Or more accuratley, both control schemes, as you have a pair of choices as to how you tackle the game’s caverns.
For starters, you can play it as more or less a classic dungeon crawler. You know the ones, where you click to move forward by one ’tile’, etc. On the flip side, and I greatly preferred this, you can move and interact like CC was a first-person… explorer, complete with mouse-look and free movement.
While moving has several options though, inventory really doesn’t. You’ll spend a lot of time managing that, since you’ll often have to decide if you want to carry more booty or puzzle-solving items. Kind of a big tradeoff there, as there’s a fair shake of both in Colossal Cave.
Likewise, using items requires a trip to the inventory screen, where you’ll click to use stuff in the game’s world.
Solid as a rock
As for the presentation, it’s pretty darn good. Colossal Cave is a heck of a lot better looking than I thought it would be. And while the game doesn’t really have an over the top visual punch like today’s triple-A games, it’s got it where it counts.
The setting itself is very well done, with some really cool looking chambers that feel dark, dank, and at times extremely forbidding. Those locales are well varied too, so you won’t get stuck in a constant ‘dark cave’ setting.
But while the setting is great, Colossal Cave also has got some character designs that are pretty generic. They do the job, but are about as far from ground-breaking as you can get.
Yeah that’s a dragon alright, and there’s a… cave-pirate… but there’s nothing overly special about them, and their designs won’t exactly burn into your memory. Also suspect is the animation in certain instances, like when dwarves attack you by just kind of ‘poofing’ out of nowhere.
There’s no jumping out from behind a stone, or bursting through the ground or anything like that. And then when they’re vanquished, they just sorta fall on their butts and go ‘poof’ again. I’m not expecting blood and gore, but I feel like some additional animations could have helped greatly there.
Again though, the game’s not bad looking, and I don’t want to give that impression. I guess overall, excepting the narrator (who’s terrific), I felt like the A/V package could have been improved.
If you like classic PC adventure titles or dungeon-crawls, or are a fan of the original, then you stand a chance of digging Colossal Cave. If you’re looking for something that will enthrall you though, pulling you into its world, then you might not want to drop into this one.
A copy of Colossal Cave was provided to BG by Cygnus Entertainment for this review
Release date: January 19th, 2023
Platform: PC (reviewed), Switch, PSVR2, Meta Quest 2, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Publisher: Cygnus Entertainment
Developer: Cygnus Entertainment
MSRP: $24.99 USD
Premise - 50%
Gameplay - 72%
Presentation - 75%
There's a decent amount of stuff to like about Colossal Cave. It's attractive, has solid controls, and is incredibly laid-back in its puzzle-solving and exploration. If that's your bag, then you might have a great time with it. But if you're looking for anything more from it, or you loved the original, then you might be disappointed.