Colossal Cave Review – A Not So Colossal Success

This is eXputer's Colossal Cave Review.

The ’70s and ’80s are frequently referred to as a bygone golden era, with many people looking at it with rose-tinted glasses. And a number of fields of technology, including game development, have progressed much since then, incorporating many new mechanics and discarding even more. Therefore, it is quite risky to revisit a game from that time, and even riskier to remake it for modern audiences. And that is something we will discuss heavily in our Colossal Cave Review

This is a remake of a 1976 text adventure game of the same name. The title might sound new to players of the modern age, but for someone who was a youth in the ’70s, this name represents a hallmark title that had a major impact on modern games. The remake introduces a new 3D world with free movement, but many other design choices stay faithful to the original title.

This, however, is its greatest downfall. Because while fans of the original might love this remake, it will fail to attract modern audiences to this once-beloved game, decreasing its relevance. So let’s discuss this further in our review.

Story And Setting

Colossal Cave Review Starting Shed
Starting Shed.

The game revolves around exploring a large network of caves which, as the title implies, are known as Colossal Caves filled with treasures beyond one’s wildest imagination. But accompanying these treasures are droughts and dangers haunting the player at every step, ranging from dragons to dwarves. You start the game in front of a small shed that serves as a storage house for the treasures you gather during your venture into the Colossal Caves. This small shed keeps your treasures permanently safe and cannot become the target of any theft. Your goal in this game is simply to find and gather treasures which allows you to rack up adventure points. These adventure points are a sort of progress tracker and can rack up to a maximum of 350.

The original Colossal Cave game was filled with interesting areas to explore, not knowing what, you’ll find at the next passageway. Its greatest strength is that it tapped into the player’s imagination, urging one to dive back into the caves and explore them further.  You could only give commands to your playable character by typing them out and the game would answer accordingly. For example, pick up this key or not, take a left turn or a right turn, etc.

The original title did describe some of the environments to the players, but most of the world you were exploring was a complete mystery. Its interpretation was left to its player base, which usually played in groups and pieced together what little info they could gather from the white text on the black screen about the world.

This reimagined version of the classic title tries to do just that but ultimately fails over the outdated design choices made here and fails to realize the scope of the original title. What was once left to the player’s imagination is now materialized in a lackluster manner. Not once was I left in awe over the places we visit while playing the game for our Colossal Cave Review.

Gameplay

Gameplay
Gameplay.

The gameplay is minimalistic: you move using WASD keys and interact with items at the press of a button; after all, it is targeted as an exploration game. You can pick up multiple items and treasures as you progress through the cave but, due to tight inventory space, sometimes some items need to be dropped to make room for other essential items which might have immediate uses, such as solving a puzzle. You can always come to pick up your dropped items later on if you remember the location where you have dropped them off. The map can help you keep track of locations as it draws all the locations you have visited.

There is no hand-holding present here with no quest markers,  checkpoints, or objectives. And neither is there any info on the treasures you are supposed to collect. You are just thrown into the world and left to fend for yourself and look for riches in the caves to your heart’s desire. I really like this aspect of the game because this actually gives the feeling that the developers trust the player enough to let them explore and discover the world that they poured their souls into. This maintains the element of surprise and the mystery enveloping the atmosphere as one cannot expect what is waiting for them as they head into the caverns, permeating a feeling of eagerness and enthusiastic anticipation.

However, sometimes this freedom is taken too far such as in the case of the puzzles which are littered throughout the caves. While some of them are pretty straightforward, many of the puzzles present here can be borderline unfair at times, as many of these require solutions that the game provides no context towards. Now I understand, these puzzles are a relic of their time, and many old-school video game fans will actually prefer these, but in my opinion, some context needs to be given for the solution to a puzzle. Many a time I had to seek help from other sources and when I read about its solution, I wondered how one would even reach this except by stumbling upon it accidentally. 

Speaking of random, the game carries over some RNG mechanics from the original which further hurt the overall experience. A prime example of this is the antagonistic dwarves who’ll jump out of nowhere at random spots behind you and hit you with a throwing knife. They have a high percentage of missing, but if they do hit, you instantly die and start at the entrance of the cave, losing a lot of your progress, including some of your adventure points. You can, of course, click on your own weapon from the inventory to kill them but only after they have completed their knife-throwing attack, but what’s the point of that if you are already dead? Another example is that some passageways randomly lead you to the same room you start from, further souring the experience. 

One major improvement over the original is the in-game map that draws itself you explore through the cave, as mentioned previously in our Colossal Cave Review. The original had you look at a really complicated geometry of the map from the manual and try to figure out where you were, or keep track of your movements on a piece of paper. That’s pretty much the only improvement worth mentioning in this Colossal Cave Review. Most of the gameplay mechanics are unpolished and feel clunky. Even exploring the cave at the slow pace of your character can feel cumbersome at times, as the environments of the game have lost their magic and soul due to their poor translation from the text of the original title.

Visuals And Performance

 Visuals
Visuals.

Despite being a remake, the graphics still look pretty dated. You could say that the developers “sought” to preserve the retro style of the game, but you would only be lying to yourself. The game looks as if it was developed in the early 2010s. Everything, from the textures to the lighting effects and even the character designs, is dated by modern standards. 

Some of the environments are also not well translated from the original. The original made good use of descriptive vocabulary to uplift some of these areas. For example, the room of the giant was described to have an endless roof, out of sight of the observer. But the remake fails to capture these areas, as what we do get is limited in scope and extremely disappointing.

The game did not run into any major performance hiccups or graphical glitches during my playthrough on a GTX 1060 6 GB graphics card with a Core i7 6700 microprocessor.

Verdict

Colossal Cave Verdict
Verdict.

We won’t end our Colossal Cave Review on a high note. If you are old enough to have experienced the classic title, you would surely love this game and will be blown away by how far technology has gotten. The original Colossal Cave truly was a major milestone in gaming, being one of the first pioneers of text adventure games. But it is well-suited for the past. Its mechanics are too rudimentary and outdated for modern standards, which is also true for the remake, making the experience frustrating. An example is the over-reliance on randomly generated events which take away the player’s control of their gameplay and leave them at the mercy of a roll of dice.

The rekindling of a really old game like this requires a major overhaul of its mechanics which needs to be executed carefully so as not to alienate too much from the source material. Colossal Cave sticks to outdated mechanics and even fails to capture what made the original game so compelling.

Still, I would say if someone is looking to experience a ’70s-style game with minor modern adjustments, this game is for you, but for others, there are far better remakes of other classics out there that are more deserving of your precious time and attention.

This has been our Colossal Cave Review. While you’re here, consider checking out some of our other articles.

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Colossal Cave Review
Overall
2
  • Story And Setting
  • Gameplay
  • Visuals And Performance

Verdict

The rekindling of a really old game like this requires a major overhaul of its mechanics which needs to be executed carefully so as not to alienate too much from the source material. Colossal Cave sticks to outdated mechanics and even fails to capture what made the original game so compelling.

Pros

  • No handholding
  • The Nostalgia

Cons

  • Clunky and Slow Gameplay
  • Outdated mechanics
  • Outdated Visuals
  • Some Frustrating and Borderline Unfair Puzzles
  • Questionable RNG Mechanics

Asad Ahmed


Having a knack for gaming and writing, Asad has annexed these two media to bring you the latest video game content. RTS is where his gaming journey started, but RPGs are where he fell in love with it. Skyrim is his all-time favorite game.

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