You are now reading a review of Colossal Cave made by somebody who has chosen not to play the game to completion for reasons that will shortly become evident. As your eyes move along the screen, they come across new sentences, a telltale sign that you are, in fact, reading.
Having played the original Colossal Cave, you have some idea of what the game is all about. You know that you explore a large cave found nearby your starting location. You know that you’ll collect treasures, examine and pick up various strange objects, and use those objects to get past some of the obstacles you encounter, including a dragon…because…who doesn’t like dragons?
You wonder if Colossal Cave is any good, as the game begins you notice that the game has limited locomotion options. One is called Classic Locomotion and lets you move around the environment using the thumbstick. Although there is an option to switch between snap and smooth turning, there is no option to have the motion follow your head. You find this somewhat annoying, so you try the other option. The other option is called Comfort Locomotion. The menu screens tell you that this is the favored control method of the remake’s lead designer. You try it. It’s odd and unwieldy, it maps all motion controls to the left controller and all inventory controls to the right controller. You advance by holding down the trigger button, as though it’s some kind of gas pedal, and you reverse by holding down the grip button.
You try it for a while, but hate it.
You revert to the so-called Classic Locomotion, despite its lack of head-follow options.
You find yourself in front of a cabin in the woods, you approach it and try to open the door with your in-game hand.
You can’t do that.
Your in-game hands function merely as cursor pointers, making you feel as though you’re stuck in some kind of point-and-click adventure game made in the mid-1980s. You wonder why a 2023 VR port of a text-based adventure game originally made in 1976 is using a control system traditionally used by DOS-based PC games made in the 1980s.
Your hand, now merely a pointer for an eye-shaped cursor, points at the door’s handle. You click on the use button, mapped to your trigger button, and Colossal Cave’s narrator confirms what you can already see; that the door is closed.
You cycle between the trigger button functionality by using the grip button, and it now turns your cursor into a hand, signifying that you can now take or use things with your cursor.
You click the hand-shaped cursor on the door handle, and it opens.
You wonder why you could not simply have grabbed the door handle and pushed it open yourself. Why am I pointing at things to use them, you wonder to yourself, but soldier on.
Inside, you find a few objects, although you can clearly see what they are, you can still click your eye cursor on each to have the game tell you what they are. It seems redundant and useless.
You pick up some food, not by using your hands, but by pointing your hand-shaped cursor at the food and clicking the trigger button. It goes into your inventory.
Wanting to eat the food you just picked up, you open up your inventory screen, find your food, and click your cursor on the food, virtually picking it up. You then click on the ‘eat’ button above your inventory, and thus, eat the food.
You wonder if just grabbing the food and putting it in your mouth would have been easier, and perhaps more immersive.
You soldier on.
Finally, after picking up a couple of more items, you leave the cabin. To the left, you notice a path. You follow the path, thanking the lords above that Colossal Cave at least allows you to change your movement speed.
You see an owl in a tree. On the ground below, you find a metal grating. You remember that you cannot just pull on it because your hands aren’t really hands, merely cursor pointers. You examine it instead, and the game dutifully tells you that it’s locked.
You remember you have keys.
You pull up your inventory with a controller button, then you select the keys by pointing at them and clicking the trigger button, then you point the keys at the use button, and then finally you point them at the metal grating. It unlocks. You descend the stairs and make your way into a cave.
As Colossal Cave progresses, you wonder why a text-based adventure game released in 1976 has been ported to a Virtual Reality platform in 2023 with the click-and-point mechanics of games made in the 1980s.
You wonder why you can’t use your hands as hands.
You wonder if these design decisions are an attempt to remain faithful to the original Colossal Cave, but quickly remember that the original game was not, in fact, a point-and-click game, but a text-based game.
For a moment, you think it might have been better if this game started you off in a computer lab, where you could sit down on an old PDP-10 computer and just play the original text-based game. Surely, that would have been more in keeping with the spirit of the original if that had been the intent.
Then you think that would make for a terrible VR experience, although it might have worked well as an intro to a far better game than the one you’re now playing.
You explore the caves for a while. Knowing that others will ask you what you’ve experienced in the cave, you begin taking notes.
There is no combat in Colossal Cave, at least not in the way that most gamers would define it, you can ‘use’ objects on things or characters, like a bird that you trap in a cage, and then unleash to have it attack a cobra, for instance.
There is some diversity in the environments found inside the cave; the ruins of an ancient temple, an area in which there’s some construction going on, an area with glowing plant life, etc. Many of these have many exits, and many of those just go around in circles.
Colossal Cave, you take note to inform them does have puzzles, mainly about figuring out which object to use in what situation, but most of the puzzles are, to use a kind word, ‘quirky’. Others would simply call them irrational, or, to use another generous word, ‘whimsical’.
As Colossal Cave continues, you realize it’s all about exploring, finding objects and treasures, using the right objects at the right time, and finding your way around the world.
You Shall Not Pass
After wandering around in the caves for a while, you put down your Meta Quest 2 Virtual Reality Headset and do other things which are far more enjoyable than playing Colossal Cave.
You come back to it the next day, hoping your second session will be more fun now that you’re inside the cave system, you find out that although the game offers nine save slots, it does not feature auto-save, and you realize this must be another ill-conceived way to remain hypothetically faithful to the fictional point-and-click game that the original never was.
Curses, I say! Curses!
You remember that this game, priced at $39.99, costs as much as Resident Evil 4, and shudder as you imagine the disappointment it will deliver to anybody who buys it and misses the refund window.
You conclude that the game is nostalgia-bait for older VR players who will recognize the name of a game known mostly for being there first, and that this version delivers neither the text-based authenticity of the original nor the fun that you can enjoy for games costing half as much from the Meta Store.