Caverns is less a video game than it is an interactive piece of art. Created as part of the Ludum Dare 15 competition in less than 10 hours, Caverns let's you manipulate the materials in a small environment to try and grow a variety of different creatures. It's kind of like trying to raise sea monkeys if you were the kind of kid that would poor dirt on things to see how they'd react.
Playing with Caverns is a fairly simple process, but getting results can prove difficult. The object of Caverns is to change the environment using seven different materials and see what creatures are born as a result. Choosing lava and placing it under a tar creature, for example, will turn it into a flying red monster. Suspending water in the air will create droplets that turn into water creatures when they land. Certain species can combine to form new ones, and other situations will lead to a new creature's demise. With 19 creatures in all you may find yourself fiddling for hours to unlock them. Even more challenging is to get them all cohabitating at the same time.
There's definitely something here for the patient gamer who doesn't mind taking a slow approach in an experimental world, but Caverns is a title that certainly won't be for everyone. If you're looking for a game with specific goals, clear objectives, and an overwhelming sense of reward, this just isn't going to be your cup of tea.
Slow doesn't even begin to describe our experience with Caverns. After a few minutes of frantically trying to change the environment and see what transpired, we actually found it more effective to make a few key changes and sit back to watch what happened. After awhile we were going minutes without touching the mouse. In fact I am continuing my quest to find more species in a separate browser window as I type this. Caverns requires very little attention to keep its species evolving. Depending on your situation this can be either a very good or bad thing.
The visuals in Caverns are fairly crude but serve the situation well. In a world where you have less than a day to develop a game from start to finish you're going to need to cut corners somewhere, and with Caverns that place seemed to be the art. Despite this, the blocky Atari-esque graphics help to keep things simple and showcase the gameplay itself. Since you'll be dealing with 7 different materials and 19 different species, using a contrasting color palette alongside the crude graphics is key in making the gameplay identifiable. When I see red material, I know it's lava. When I see a light brown, I know it's sand. You're never going to get lost in detailed graphics and miss the forest for the trees.
Caverns is definitely a fun experiment, but it's definitely hard to classify this as a game. The idea of fiddling around “just to see what happens” isn't going to appeal to everyone, but those looking to pass the time with their own interactive monster breeding aquarium will definitely enjoy the mellow “poke it with a stick and see what happens” experience that Caverns has to offer.