For longtime fans, the big appeal will be the ability to see the environments and creatures beyond what they had imagined. Gnomes and pirates look normal enough, while the dragon and bear look quite nice. The environments are impressive, since it gives off a Myst-like vibe with its mix of different themes, including traditional caves, tombs, dig sites, and dried seabeds. The presence of trash cans, debris and even vending machines place the game in a modern enough timeline, and the whole thing looks like an inviting place to explore.

Another thing that longtime fans will enjoy is the fact that a good chunk of the text from the original game is still here, now in the form of narration. When entering a new area, looking around, or when an event happens, you'll get a narrator popping up to describe everything. Even though the descriptions rarely provide additional info, it is nice to see that they haven't been dropped in the transition from a text-only game to a more visually dependent one.”

The original title, 1976’s Colossal Cave Adventure, is already one of the most influential games ever, but Roberta and Ken interrupting 25 years of retirement to transform a text adventure into a brand-new experience is as inspiring as it is exciting. This new version of Colossal Cave is one of the most articulated text adventure games, a style it retains despite the new magical realism and storybook art style. A journey that takes place across the mysterious caverns buried beneath a seemingly isolated island, Colossal Cave remains powered by the text adventure playset tools and rules.

It’s impossible to separate the 47 years of distance between the two titles. Colossal Cave Adventure may as well be the bedrock in which the 2023 release is carved, but Colossal Cave is an exciting adventure waiting to be had by anyone okay with the dust and debris from all the game design excavations. You’re still solving text adventure problems but with intuitive controls, ambient music and sound effects, and a lantern of 3D graphics to light and guide your path.”

I felt a very limited appeal to Colossal Cave when I had the chance to play its initial PC release. I’m a story guy, for the record, and clicking around in a simulated cave to find trinkets on my monitor—while braving frequent possible deaths and a punitive scoring system—seemed like an experience I was happy to pass on, a game I’d rather just buy to support the legacy behind it than actually play. All that changed with the opportunity to play in VR, however, for in that medium comes the true immersion of exploration, the thrill of stepping onto dangerous ledges and crawling into dark recesses in order to map uncharted areas and find more treasures, the wonder of simply turning around and looking up after entering a new area to see what the cave roof looks like behind me—not with my mouse cursor and keyboard but with my actual human body. I’m an avid hiker and live near a well-known series of lava tube caves in Oregon that I have spent some time exploring; playing Colossal Cave in VR is the first time that interactive entertainment has been able to really tap into the thrill of that experience. Though the game itself is not an exceptional adventure, with its thin story and adherence to old conventions, it is a really exciting virtual reality experience that may for the first time truly convey the excitement and fun of caving the way that Will Crowther originally hoped.”

Gather around, children, for Old Man Gamer has a story to tell you. See, before all your fancy GPUs, voxels, and ray-tracing nonsense you young whippersnappers get all excited about nowadays, adventure games were all presented through text. Long blocks of text to describe rooms, medium sized blocks of text to describe monsters, and short blocks of text for dialog or reminders of what room you were in. One of the first and oldest of these adventures was Colossal Cave, where you had to roam around, find treasures, and try to earn a high score with the fewest number of moves. And now, that adventure has been brought to visual life by none other than Ken and Roberta Williams, founders of Sierra On-Line and creators of classic game series such as King’s Quest.

This iteration of Colossal Cave (and there have been a few over the years) is definitely more interpretive than previous versions, mainly because of the visual elements. At the same time, there’s a definite sense of retro styling to those visuals, something which is reminiscent of Myst and its contemporaries. While it’s all rendered in realtime, it has that slightly blocky aesthetic of the mid-90s in terms of environments, though the character models look somewhat more polished. Not a high level of detail, somewhat cartoonish, but they definitely fit the aesthetic.”

After a little adventure game item combining action, I have managed to eliminate a potential threat and stand in a big former temple filled with riches. I have already picked up a load of silver bars and want to also get a pile of jewelry. The problem is I need to make room in my very limited inventory for them and I don’t know what to drop. I finally decide to let go of the keys, mainly because I believe the grate they unlocked will remain open. I don’t know exactly what else I will need in the future to solve puzzles. With two valuables in my inventory, I decide to return to the surface and deposit them in my tiny cabin, before choosing to go deeper.

Once I deposit the treasure, I embark on the return trip to the underground. But this expedition is cut short by the appearance of two pretty annoyed dwarves, who decide to throw their knives at me. Dead spelunkers cannot carry treasure but at least I know where to find a lot of it for my next run. And I can count on my trusty map to get me close to valuables relatively fast.”

… So, does this mean that Colossal Cave is good? After all, a game is made by more than some decently logical puzzles and a flimsy pretext to explore a cave. In the end, the thing that really defines Colossal Cave is the sense of exploration that it evokes. One of the joys of the original title, which inspired so many people to go out and make their own interactive fiction adventure games, was the sense that you were really exploring a giant cave system, and you had no idea what you could find around each corner. <> That same sense is captured perfectly in Colossal Cave. As you descend into the cave for the first time, with your food, water, and lamp in hand, you have no way of knowing what to expect. Indeed, as you are, things seem rather mundane. Like a real natural cave system, it's easy to get lost and disoriented in the dark. The walls can blend together, and the twisting passages all look the same. However, as you spend time getting used to the layout, you reach further and further in, finding increasingly strange and wonderful things.”

Colossal Cave is a fascinating game, and this modern remake brings the wonder of a text adventure to life in full 3D. It’s streamlined with a few updates, while still keeping the spirit of the original. The game has more than a few issues, but is well worth playing for a magical adventure.

... a fascinating game, and this modern remake brings the wonder of a text adventure to life in full 3D.”

There’s no denying the love and passion that went into recreating Colossal Cave into a 3D experience. The fact that the Williams’ came out of retirement to undertake this project, just proves how special the game is. However, I can see it being divisive among gamers. Older players (like myself) and veterans of the early adventure game genre, will more than likely revel in its faithfulness to its source material. I was completely hooked by its mysteries, and have gone back several times to try to discover everything Colossal Cave has to offer. Younger players, on the other hand, might be put off by its lack of narrative, complex puzzles, and very minimal hand-holding. I hope I’m wrong, and that Roberta Williams gets the appreciation she deserves from a whole new generation.”

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