It all starts off with the choice of three characters from a group of seven, each of whom has their own mini back-story, with The Twins that want to play outside, The Monk that hopes to find his master, The Scientist who is on the cusp of a great discovery. The voiceover used in The Cave for the actual cave that the chosen team enters (yes, a cave that talks!), is extremely deep and mysterious, bringing dark humour to the table as well, and goes to show how a strong voice talent can sometimes be just as important as the soundtrack included (which itself is full of foreboding and spectacular throughout, building a magnificent ambience).
The Cave plays out in platform style, rather than point-and-click as some may have imagined when it was first revealed by Double Fine, in collaboration with Ron Gilbert. With three characters (well, technically four if the evil-looking twins are included) the aim is to carefully guide all safely through the bowels of the cave, deep into the darkness, using each individual's special skill to overcome hurdles, make appropriate use of objects lying around and, ultimately, solve puzzles. To begin with it may seem pointless having to switch between three folk repeatedly - despite it being a mere tap of the directional pad to do so - but very early on it becomes highly apparent that the development team has indeed crafted a slew of conundrums that can only be passed by means of using more than one character concurrently (switch pressing and lever throwing being basic examples, counterbalancing being a more complicated one further in). Many older gamers will instantly be reminded of Lost Vikings on the Super Nintendo, mainly because it was a brilliant example of how to splice platform and puzzle antics.
Despite its initial vim and vigour, luring players in with superb presentation and an intriguing premise, The Cave is not without its flaws, unfortunately. For instance, each character's special ability is not explained from the off and, thus, trial-and-error will have to be used throughout to figure how best to use certain skills to easier pass specific sections (unless specifically going into the help menu and check the 'How to Play' part, of course - but hey, who checks manuals nowadays, right?). The more concerning drawback, however, is that there is far too much traipsing around. Whilst there is a 'quick kill' button combination put in place to help speed up the process of returning to some earlier areas (with deaths causing an instant re-spawn at oft-random locations, making for some confusion at times), far too often players will spend a considerable amount of time and effort slowly positioning the three characters around to crack a puzzle, only to then have to one-by-one get them back to another location to drop off an item, and then for the game to require all three to be painfully dragged back to yet another distant area to collect something, before once more rinsing and repeating the same process until moving onto the next piece of excellence.
Yes, excellence; it is a crying shame that such a smart-looking platform-puzzle-adventure, with heaps of atmosphere and heaps of potential, is bogged down by tiresome puzzle solving, and whilst the platform elements are undeniably tight in terms of jumping and general control (a saving grace, definitely), the whole procedure of slowly manoeuvring everyone around, backwards and forwards, becomes exceedingly laborious and spoils what is otherwise a very fine game indeed. Grabbing one or two friends to play co-operatively eases the pain, but most will likely play this solo, and therefore, boredom and frustration will both kick in sooner rather than later.
What The Cave really probably needed was proper optimisation for the Wii U to make use of the GamePad in a better way than the cursory tapping of a character to switch to them, which proves more awkward than the default D-pad button presses, in all honesty. Being able to make use of Off-TV play, with easy touch screen controls for character switching and gathering all three to the same place quickly and simply, would have been the ideal. Perhaps in The Cave 2, with any luck!