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Cally's Caves 3 (PC) artwork

Cally's Caves 3 (PC) review

"A plain, old-fashioned good time marked by oodles of jumping and shooting."

As far as I can tell, Cally's Caves 3 is the first and only title in the series to receive a PC port. The previous two titles are both available to play on iOS, and even this newest title seems to have been developed with that platform in mind. Someone on the development team must have have thought it would work just fine on a larger screen, though, and that someone was absolutely right.

Cally's Caves 3 doesn't have or require a deep story, which means you can play it even if you know as little going in as I did (which was that it's a fast-paced platformer with a lot of shooting). You are the eponymous Cally, an elementary-age girl who bears a striking resemblance to Penny from the old "Inspector Gadget" cartoons. You have just watched an evil scientist named Herbert abduct your parents and take them to his secret lair. Now, you'll blast and hop your way through a variety of worlds to rescue the parental unit and save the day.

Cally's Caves 3 (PC) image

The roster of other characters you meet along the way is limited but makes up for it with personality. It most memorably includes a friendly baby bear named Bera. You actually control her during some levels of the main campaign, and in a special mode that's over too soon for my liking. Herbert also has a son named Rupert who will help you on your journey by selling you merchandise at hefty prices, when you stumble across one of his shops. Then there's a traveling bard named Lloyd who basically functions as the in-game tutorial. He pops up whenever something might require an explanation, which isn't actually all that often. There's also an evil alien brain named Melvin who reminds me of Krang from the old "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoon.

The game world is accessible from a main map that you can bring up at any time, and from there is divided into themed hubs. As you progress through a given stage, you trigger checkpoints, and from then on you can easily return to any area you previously cleared simply by making a choice from the map. This allows you to handily revisit older zones once you gather new equipment, which is a cool mechanic despite being underutilized. I'm not sure I agree with the game's developers when they say that feature means it is "Metroidvania-style," but I suppose that's a matter of opinion. I just don't feel there's sufficient incentive to return to previous areas, and you won't open up interlinked new areas when you do. Still, the ability to backtrack does no harm, and is generally rather enjoyable (plus it's a great way to raise money).

What mostly makes Cally's Caves 3 work so well, though, is its selection of weapons. As you explore, you'll find various collectibles such as records and diary pages, but the real treat is when you spy a glowing shaft of light. At its base rests a new piece of equipment, such as a laser gun or a shotgun, or a flamethrower or something far more novel. Each weapon can be leveled up several times, which typically grants it new attributes besides just improved damage or larger projectiles. My personal favorite gun, for instance, gains the ability to fire explosive homing shots.

Cally's Caves 3 (PC) image

Switching between weapons gets to be a bit of a chore as the campaign wears on, though. You press a single button to cycle through, and it's easy to cycle past the one you meant to grab because you're in a hurry, which then means another trip through the whole list. That's an unwelcome delay when you're scrambling to find the desired gear, or if you're negotiating a series of chambers that requires you to switch back and forth between two weapons. The game supports controllers such as the Xbox 360 gamepad, which is what I used, and there are shoulder buttons that could have been used to reduce this inconvenience considerably. It feels to me like an artifact of the early mobile design.

Thankfully, the game controls smoothly in every other respect. Cally moves around quickly, but her speed isn't excessive and she's able to make precise jumps (or double and triple jumps) without fuss. Some indie platformers feature controls that to me feel slippy, but the plucky heroine in this case moves just where I would expect her to when directed by the d-pad, which I appreciated. Her roll move, once you learn it, is rather stiff. However, it's not needed in moments of any real tension, and in fact barely must be used at all, so that's easily forgiven.

I also appreciated the visual design, which resembles a simple cartoon. The color palette is bright and cheerful, even when you're playing as a bear and skewering people with your claws (blood is limited to a few droplets, in case any concerned parents wonder). Most of what's on display here feels reminiscent of a 16-bit platformer, but without flicker or slowdown that I could see. Even when I filled the screen with all sorts of projectiles after claiming one of the weapons that sends out globs of slime, I didn't see any slowdown. Ledges in the foreground are clearly drawn, and backgrounds are sometimes surprisingly detailed without typically becoming distracting.

Cally's Caves 3 (PC) image

There are a few rough edges, though. I don't like that when I get near a door, Cally passes automatically through it without me even having to touch it. In the first area, this is especially awkward, as she drops onto her home's roof if you pass back through that first door. Enemies would sometimes knock me back through a door, as well, though that didn't happen often once I caught onto their devious schemes. The pause menu is slow to respond, in my experience, and I already talked about the weapon selection issue. When I launch the game, it opens in GameMaker: Studio. That's a testament to the game's indie roots, I suppose, and excuses its extremely minor flaws.

When I started playing Cally's Caves 3, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I worried at first that I might have tackled an unfinished project, but within a few minutes, I was having a blast and those early impressions left my mind until it was time to write this review. The simple fact is that I spent around 8 hours with this one, and only very rarely did I have anything other than a great time. If you're looking for an enjoyable platformer experience to supplement (or serve as an alternative to) the more serious stuff crowding the marketplace, the latest top 10 lists and the most thoughtful think pieces, I suggest starting right here.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 06, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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