Sit down kiddos, let me tell you a little story. Come come, gather around. This here is the tale...of Cally’s Caves 3.
There was once a girl named Cally, who was an ordinary girl who lived an ordinary life. One day she found her parents kidnapped by Herbert, a mad scientist seeking revenge for a tragic past. Cally, deciding it was in her best interests to not have her parents in distress and doing what any respectable young woman would do in this situation, grabbed her semi-automatic pistol and medieval bastard sword and made chase, filling anything that got in her way full of lead before tearing it asunder. Don’t let her cute and endearing art style or her beautiful soundtrack fool you - Cally is out for blood.
On her journey to free her parents she encountered many horrible hazards, from knife wielding bandits (who literally brought knives to a gun-fight, I’d like to add) and giant eagles (which aren’t endangered yet, I don’t think).
As she ventured deeper and deeper she was aided by a number of her friends. There’s Melvin, Herbert’s son, who seems a shy, quiet type and has had it up to here with his father’s “being evil” ways. Lloyd, the hippy type - you know, the kind of guy with the tweed hat and bead necklace who offers sage advice at key moments of your journey but you’ve never seen him move and yet he always manages to be one step ahead of you all the time? Yeah, that guy. And there’s Bera, the cub of a mamma bear and secondary playable character that helps Cally on her journey.
Bera’s mother was a bear that Cally had...presumably encountered in previous games? Having not played any of the others in the series none of these characters felt familiar to me, and much of their personalities had to shine through based on what I assumed them to be like. The game certainly makes an attempt at familiarizing you with them though.
On that note, there are repeated mentions of past events which left me in the dark jumping in so late in the series. Herbert talks about “getting revenge” for “that day”, which was surprising since I can only assume whatever happened “that day” contributed to his ability to hover everywhere he goes. These misunderstandings can easily be excused as me having not played the rest of the series, but some catch-up would have been a nice addition.
The plot however, tends to fall by the wayside as Cally’s Caves 3 really excels through its gameplay. It’s an action/platformer shoot-em-up with RPG mechanics. As you explore the caves and kill more baddies, your weapons automatically upgrade to give your shooting more effect and allow your projectiles different abilities such as bullet spread or a larger blast radius.
Speaking of weapons, there’s a LOT in Cally’s Caves 3, with plenty of variety to boot. You have two main attacks: the sword which can be used to stun-lock enemies and deflect projectiles with proper timing and a gun whose firing pattern, damage and effects change depending on the weapon you have equipped. From spear cannons that allow you to create makeshift platforms and climb surfaces to blade guns that ricochet buzz-saws chaotically (and mesmerizingly) off of walls, Cally’s Caves 3 offers plenty of ways to go about defeating baddies.
All your weapons can be upgraded up at Melvin’s shop which you encounter repeatedly through your journey. Upgrades like health regeneration and nutritious consumables such as orange slices and ham sandwiches usually mean life or death after all, especially in a boss fight. There’s plenty incentive to explore all your options when it comes to weapons instead of sticking with what seems the most simple, and upgrade you’ll come across such as triple jumps and rolls allow for new ways to explore areas.
The game’s level design forces you to try a different approach with enemies too and use different weapons to advance easily, so killing them usually doesn’t feel like a chore. I did find myself falling back to one or two choice guns to plow through some of the easier encounters however, but usually I was using my whole arsenal at my disposal. There are still a few occasions I ran into where I just. Wanted. Something. To. Die. I had an enemy stun-locked with my sword as I pelted it with my dinky little pea shooter I found last level just to level it up, a process which chipped away at its health for ten seconds as I repeated the process for the next twenty I came across before my weapon became any good. It was encounters like that which just felt like a slow burn I didn't feel the want to deal with, so I resorted to just running through some enemies when I knew it wasn’t worth the time.
The level flow is also set up in a very unique way that gives it a certain level of challenge not seen very often in modern platformers: you don’t receive a checkpoint at the beginning of every level, only certain levels have checkpoints in them. This means that if you’re four levels into a stage and die without having reached a checkpoint, not only do you lose money but you also get thrown back those levels and have to play them again. But at least playing them again allows you to explore them for the ton of collectibles hidden within them if you’re an achievement junkie!
At first this struck me as odd and frustrating, but after I became more practiced (and stopped sucking eggs) did I realize this feature actually adds a lot to the game, making it more challenging and rewarding when you do progress. In fact, I’d almost liken it to the Dark Souls series, where temperance and taking things one step at a time are your greatest allies. One wrong move or arrogant leap of faith could set you back a decent amount and whether you enjoy discovering new stages or searching for collectables, progression always feels rewarding in some way.
I came across the occasional bug though, especially during boss fights. One of the bosses even carried poor Cally off screen and dropped her, forcing me to restart my game in what had to be the most devious assault by a boss I’ve ever experienced.
Even after you complete the game, which took me roughly 5 hours, there’s still more to play too. Bera’s Quest features a sidestory where you play through several new levels as Bera trying to find her mother once more, Melvin’s Zone wherein a number of bosses Cally faced in the core game come back as recurring enemies, and a survival mode where you must survive against hordes of creatures. Even the core game itself has a New Game + mode which features the main game but with new enemy types and placements scattered around!
Some of these modes are only accessible as in-app purchases on Android and iOS but can be purchased for $6.99. They are all included on the Steam version and the soundtrack comes bundled with the deluxe package. A soundtrack that is usually lighthearted, energetic and very beautifully composed I might add.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience with Cally’s Caves 3 save for a few moments and chances are very good that I’ll be revisiting it in the future to find everything I missed and continue leveling up all my weapons. If you have a phone or PC and are looking for a challenging and fun game to spend some time on, this one’s for you.