Last week, despite saying that The Minish Cap has some of my favorite dungeons of the series, I said that Deepwood Shrine was a bit of an underwhelming first dungeon during my review. So, is the Cave of Flames the same way? No, definitely not. While the Cave of Flames is located at the end of the obnoxious Mt. Crenel climb — in my opinion a truly frustrating part of the game — the dungeon itself, set within a human mine, is pretty cool.
Like with Deepwood Shrine, I think the lore is pretty neat here. I like it because it’s so simple: The dungeon is a mine. Having a mine as a dungeon hadn’t been done before this game came out, and it was a good reversal of Deepwood Shrine in my view. Deepwood Shrine was the first of the game’s two entirely Minish-sized dungeons, but the Cave of Flames and the rest of the dungeons in the game are human-sized, and having characters blatantly tell you it’s a human mine just brings it together nicely. It would have felt more jarring if this were a generic temple or cave, but taking the time to say it’s a mine justifies what initially will feel like a change since the only precedent-setter for dungeons thus far in the game was tiny. There’s a reason this dungeon is normal-sized, and that’s good for the first big dungeon of the game.
The theme doesn’t extend much beyond the mine aspect, but the colorful sprites of the game make it look cool, and each room is different. The “Flames” part of the name comes into play in the deeper parts of the dungeon, which are full of lava and a mist or heatwave effect, so the dungeon fits its simple themes rather well. The dungeon is also infested with traps, making it feel hazardous. This brings the mine theme together even farther; mines are perilous even when occupied, but are far worse when abandoned. The actual flames in the Cave of Flames are only found in the lower levels, but the upper ones still carry this theme of hazard, with many blade traps of various kinds. The dungeon’s music fits this all quite well. It sounds tense and perilous, fitting both the trap-filled mine and especially the lava-filled caverns, extending those fire-filled areas’ feel to the rest of the dungeon to further justify its name. It still sounds adventurous with the part at 19 seconds. It’s a great sound for the dungeon even if it’s pretty simple.
Gameplay-wise the dungeon is also really well put-together. As I said, the dungeon is trap-filled, and that becomes one of its most defining features. Traps and environmental hazards are actually very common all throughout The Minish Cap, but the Cave of Flames was the first dungeon to use that gameplay concept and it becomes one of the dungeon’s more defining features. Primarily the Cave of Flames focuses on depleting your hearts. There are many enemy types, some of which can be tricky to fight, and there are many traps to navigate. Getting through the dungeon is primarily a feat of survival, and as a result it sort of feels like one of the classic dungeons from the 8-bit days.
The puzzle element is very minimal in the Cave of Flames. You will not spend much time trying to figure out puzzles of any kind. The majority of the dungeon is about surviving against the many hazards; dodging and avoiding traps and enemies. The parts of the dungeon that are not about that are usually about navigation. Still befitting a mine, the dungeon can somewhat easily turn you around if you’re not paying attention. In fact, the path through the dungeon is linear, but there are many points where the path forward may become unclear, either because you’re blatantly looped around where you started and may forget where the next locked door is, or due to the mine carts. The mine carts are simplified versions of the carts featured in the Oracle games (clearly Capcom has a thing for mine carts). In those games they moved slowly and let you fire out of them to flip switches, but in this game they move at high speeds and are simply transportation from one part of the dungeon to another. The doors separating the tracks between rooms can only be entered via mine cart, so trying to find your way through the areas between mine cart destinations or figuring out where to go once you’ve used them can be a bit confusing. Still, these navigational challenges are by far easier to deal with than the hazards, and navigating the dungeon is pretty relaxing to offset the panic those hazards can produce.
The Cane of Pacci is a neat dungeon item with an interesting mechanic. Though I think it is perhaps a bit under-utilized. Finding new ways of navigating rooms and hazards with the Cane of Pacci is quite fun and has cool gameplay moments, but none of them are especially creative. I feel like something as original as the barrel room in Deepwood Shrine could have been used here once or twice to make the item feel really satisfying. Perhaps flipping something large to advance, or portions of something large to solve a puzzle?
The miniboss is a neat encounter against eight Spiny Chuchus, whereas the boss battle is awesome. The fight against Gleerok is, in my eyes, where the game really starts to shine from the combat side. This fight is challenging and has multiple factors to keep track of. Gleerok, as befitting the rest of the dungeon, can drain your hearts quickly. It blasts fire and leaves burning flames where its attacks connect. If the blasts themselves hit you, Link will run around the room and potentially incur more damage if the player isn’t careful. And after taking damage, Gleerok really unloads the fire blasts, covering the limited walking space with flames. Its weakness is simple to figure out, but hitting it takes some skill and it’s just an all-around cool fight. Its challenge avoids being overwhelming since the boss provides you with infinite hearts if you just dowse the flames it leaves with your sword.
The difficulty of the Cave of Flames makes a surprising and potentially frustrating leap after the laid-back Deepwood Shrine, but in truth it doesn’t ramp things up unreasonably from the difficulty of Mt. Crenel before it, and so I think any unfair spike in difficulty should be blamed on Mt. Crenel and not the Cave of Flames. The Cave of Flames itself only challenges your health, and not your mind. Perhaps the dungeon would have been better if a second, optional bottle were available before entering the dungeon, allowing the player to prepare themselves with healing items before tackling the dungeon if they needed it. I also wish the Cane of Pacci was used for bigger things. Regardless, the Cave of Flames is a simple but cool dungeon with quite a bit of challenge and an awesome boss battle. It’s the point where I think the game picks up; the early areas and first dungeon are easy and simple, and Mt. Crenel is annoying to tackle due to difficulty and strange layout. But for the most part, the Cave of Flames’ layout is simple enough that its challenge feels approachable. I enjoy this dungeon quite a bit, and I look forward to the battle against Gleerok every time.
What do you think of the Cave of Flames? Overly hard? Just the right amount of challenge? How do you feel it compares to Deepwood Shrine and Mt. Crenel? How about the Cane of Pacci and Gleerok? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I review the Fortress of Winds!