Review: The Cube in the Cavern

Make a note: today, for the first time, I got through an entire game by Andrew Schultz, more or less on my own. I’ve played many of Andrew’s wordplay games, and I have always had a hard time getting on the same wavelength, but in this game, the logical seemed to flow naturally once I caught onto the general scheme.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

In the “about”, Andrew mentions that he had to abandon a word-based game idea in favor of developing this one, which is based more on spatial reasoning and color theory. I think Andrew and I align more on right brain issues than left.

The rest of the review won’t make much sense if you haven’t played through it, so if that’s the case, it would be best to stop here.

Yes, to get my mind around this I did need to make myself a 3D map.

I caught onto the idea of mapping elemental colors to intersecting vertices, although I wasn’t quite sure what to do with white, since it didn’t blend with anything (e.g., if there had been a pink face). But, absent any other useful thing to do, I put it where it seemed to make sense, and it all just worked.

I knew from the “verbs” command that I had to drop the rope somewhere, but I wasn’t sure how this related to following the rainbow progression. At first, I thought about just starting in the center and then going in and out of every radiating tunnel in the correct order. When that didn’t do the business, I started following tunnels around in rainbow order. To save time, instead of typing orthagonal directions, I just used the go to command to jump around from center to center. Just when I thought I had screwed up and put the game in an unwinnable state because it wasn’t possible to re-collect the rope and start over, I recalled the tie command and completed the loop, winning the game (to both my confusion and relief).

This game works as a cohesive whole. In some of Andrew’s past games, I have had the impression that the writing took back seat to the puzzles, but in this one, a few paragraphs layout the setting and the voice is consistent throughout the game. It is a short game, with two solid puzzles based off a well-implemented mechanic of three-dimensional navigation.

The author provides some very welcome shortcuts to make it reasonably easy to move around, and the overall complexity of the puzzles is reduced by limiting verb choice. Some standard verbs and their standard responses (jumping fruitlessly, for example) have not entirely been exorcised, but this doesn’t affect game play. There is no help/hint system, but the game responses provide some feedback and hinting.

I use my standard 10-point evaluation scheme for this and the rest of the games that I review. It’s an arbitrary metric, but one I’ve used fairly consistently: I have five categories, and rate each one to ten. I average them and then add up to another point for any “je ne sais quoi” that isn’t captured by the categories. This number isn’t necessarily the summary score that I will enter during voting. Sometimes after percolating a few days, I may adjust a score up or down (I’d probably mention that in the comments below each review). Additionally, I may need to perform some sort of normalization depending on how this year’s games seem to be distributed after I have played a decent number of them.

Story: 6. Better than average, but limited in scope.

Voice: 7. A consistent, humorous world view.

Play: 7. Relatively smooth. I thought I’d backed myself into an unwinnable state a few times, and I had to sit and stew for a bit at points, but I at least had the general idea of what to do most of the time. Keyboard shortcuts eliminated much of the typing drudgery.

Polish: 9. This work is very well proofed. No spelling or grammatical errors caught my eye.

Technical: 8. Andrew has implemented many technical niceties, which while not flashy make play smoother.

JNSQ: 0. I don’t take off points for JNSQ, I only add them, so a zero here is not meant as a criticism. Most games will get a zero.

Preliminary score: 7.4.

Transcript: cube_transcript

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