Collosal Cave / Willie Crowther (1972)

Level 9's Verdict: Yeah. Crowther, maybe if you put some skin in this game it would have sold better when we ripped it off re-released it and we'd still be around.

Roberta Williams' Verdict: I think it's pretty famous by now that I owe everything to this Crowther guy.

My Verdict: It's still enjoyable.... with the right mindset.


Game Information

Game Type: Mainframe, really, although ports exist for Hugo, Inform and TADS.

Author Info: Willie Crowther started the genre of Adventure games. He is also an accomplished caver.

Other Games By This Author: None known

Download Link:


The Review...


It was probably just a matter of time before one of the boys at RFTK decided to play only the game that started the entire genre. Where would we be without Collosal Cave? Well, I can't speak for Bryan and Ben, but I'd probably be married, have at least one kid and be making anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 more per year. So the contingency of Zero Population Growthers that have recently been spamming our message bases can thank Mr. Crowther for the fact that I have not reproduced.

The adventure game is the genre that legitimized the use of a computer for gaming. If you really doubt that, feel free to submit a "comment" through the "submission" box at the end of this review, I end up posting those pretty quickly. These days, when the best you can hope for in a commercial adventure is maybe a scene where you can get the answers by some other -- any other -- method other than by directly tapping an RJ-45 cable from your medulla into the author's, well, I'd be tempted to say that Real-Time Strategy or First-Person shooter legitimizes the PC.  (UPDATE: Bryan has just informed me of something called a "walkthrough" available on this "internet" and can be used to help solve puzzles. Will investigate! ) But you can play those games on a console. You can't, however, play a good adventure game on one.

And so here we have Collosal Cave. It's been ported to nearly every interactive fiction system available, except for Adventure Master and Adrift. Well, and maybe AGI; but who's going to check that one. But Inform, TADS, AGT and Hugo, anyway. The game itself speaks to a simpler time and there are some severe problems with it. There is no real order to any of the locations, exits are almost intentionally undescribed, the game has sparse descriptions and the coding of stated objects within room descriptions seems to be whimiscally random. But few IF wares feature this thing's "gaminess." By that I mean -- you know, going into Collosal Cave, that this is not going to be an excersize in dramatic storytelling. It's a pure game. You're out to explore the caves, get some treasure, get some points. Not read about the author's experiences spellunking or conversing with dwarves. (Yes, this game, much like one of my own, has a problem with short people. Only in Collosal Cave's time there was no such thing as political correctness, so Crowther gets away with calling them dwarves. He plays the stereotype quite well, because the "little people" are all well-bearded, mean-spirited and extremely cruel, much like ones that keep disrupting the bowling lanes each Friday night here in Longmont. Plus, they eat coal. Although I have never seen them with axes, so I guess Crowther just used a bit of artistic license with that.)

But really, Collosal Cave is IF at its simplistic best. One of the niches IF falls into is in its ability to be played under gaming-unfriendly conditions. On a plane, on a bus, in a train, while getting head. You've got that Palm Pilot handy, or maybe a laptop, and you want a diversion. As great as some text adventures are, you just can't really digest them under some of those circumstances. Collosal Cave is the kind of game you don't have to pay an enormous amount of attention to in order to enjoy. There aren't a million objects floating about, all with their cleverly worded descriptions. The black rod with a star on it looks "just as you'd expect," for instance. So within the confines a user needing a short, gratifying game, Collosal Cave excels. There's enough meat to provide enjoyable content, without so much of the filler that modern games have.

So while it's still fun, after all these years, it's certainly not perfect. The puzzles lack a certain flair, a certain drama. In Zork I, for instance, you are actually engaing in some pretty cool events. Walking among the undead, for instance, ranks up there with "blowing up the Death Star" as one of gaming's high moments. In Collosal Cave, your experiences are more... mundane. And it's for that reason that I suspect the Zork Trilogy is still quite revered, where Collosal Cave remains one of those IF oddities. It's too bad, though, because 'Cave is still pretty solid solely on its own merits and offers much more fun than many games in the 80s that came after it.


Simple Rating:  8.2 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 5 / 10

Writing: 5 / 10

Playability: 8 / 10

Puzzle Quality: 4 / 10

Parser Responsiveness: 2 / 10


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