Colossal Cave review – let’s (not) get back to the 70s

Colossal Cave review – let’s (not) get back to the 70s

Colossal Cave Adventure (also known simply as “Adventure”) is one of the pillars on which the entire genre of adventure games was built upon. Despite looking like a simple text adventure today, it pioneered concepts which would later become an integral part of the vocabulary of the genre. Now, former Sierra Entertainment veterans Ken and Roberta Williams are looking to bring to modern audiences the original Colossal Cave experience to full 3D. Is that a fair proposition or we shouldn’t cave in? Let’s find out in our Colossal Cave review.

A second attempt

While Colossal Cave has been brought to life once before, with Adventure on the Atari 2600, the Williams decided to pay homage to their roots and translate the text experience to graphics. So, if you are expecting actual improvements on the original game or simply a more involving story, then you will find none of that here. The objective is still to pick up treasure and bring it to the start, in order to achieve a high score. Colossal Cave is quite simply a 3D upgrade of the original text adventure, with a few added bells and whistles, but mostly faithful to the original.

And there comes the first problem. The short text descriptions of the original were quite effective to capture the imagination of gamers (if there was such a thing!) in 1977, but the graphics in 2023 Colossal Cave will fail to capture anyone. They just look like a drab unimaginative game from 2007, failing miserably in recreating the wonders of exploring the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which originally inspired Adventure. I am not trying to fault Cygnus Entertainment for the lack of AAA graphics, but if the objective was to justify the jump from text to graphics, then I am afraid they failed.

Random puzzles and deaths

The puzzles are kept mostly the same as the original game, which is both a good thing – as they can be at least pretty straightforward – and a bad thing, as the design failed to keep into consideration that this is now fully 3D. Hence, we are not dealing anymore with a simple “you are in a cave, you see a pickaxe” situation. The cave is filled with all kinds of useless objects and trinkets that you can’t pick up or interact with, which ends up being timewasters in the best-case scenario and terrible red herrings in the worse.

Inventory management, for the most part, works fine (even though using the Xyzzy cheat word like an object had me slightly scratching my head) and finding a bottle and a lamp before heading into the caves, gives you at least an initial direction. But then, you’re on your own and confusion will set in fast, especially when random things start happening all around. In the Hall of the Mountain King, there are snakes barring all five doors, but one will mysteriously disappear if you go back and forth a few times. Is that the solution to the puzzle? Is that actually a puzzle?

Before getting to the hall you will be attacked by a dwarf who, sometimes, will randomly just kill you through no fault of your own. Again, while I’m guessing that would be a typical 1977 experience, it is one that would be difficult to swallow for modern players. Being cynical of the game’s overall stability, unfortunately, comes to me naturally since – despite being patched several times while reviewing it – it still crashed on me twice.

Useless hints all around

Still, the player can choose to cancel the maps and go back to the start to try again, since some of the obstacles and room directions are randomized each time. This does provide some slight replayability, along with frustrations at random events and deaths. The one quality of life improvement, the automap feature, is at a least a nice touch to avoid getting lost. The hints, for the most part, were proven to be completely useless, as the three times I asked for them, the narrator simply told me “you could interact with this item and solve the puzzle… but not yet”. Thanks for nothing, I guess.

Speaking of the narrator, he does a pretty good job of getting you into the mood for some cave exploration, providing interesting descriptions of your surroundings (which sound, for the most part, much better than what you’re seeing). The music, for some reason, randomly just comes and goes in spurts, like you’re listening to a broken radio. Animations for the dwarves are also quite stilted and, usually, will freeze you right in your track. For some reason.

Cygnus entertainment, unfortunately, missed the mark in bringing to life the original vision of Will Crowther and Don Woods. This new Colossal Cave might be more attractive for modern audiences, but it’s missing all the mystery and sense of wonder of the original text adventure. Like tie-in movies and series have shown time and time again, sometimes it’s just better not to know what lies outside of the book or, in this case, monitor.

Our Colossal Cave review was made possible with a key provided by the publisher. Colossal Cave is available on Steam, Epic Games, Nintendo Switch, PS5 and Xbox X|S.

Colossal Cave: With outdated and unimaginative graphics, random bugs which affect the puzzles and design issues, this upgrade of a 47 year old game leaves a lot to be desired. Damiano

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