It's becoming something of a given to see a game presented in side-on 2D on a Nintendo console and immediately assume it's a platformer. Perhaps it's something about the company's successes, traditions or strengths. Whatever it is, even the Wii U's received a relative surfeit of the things in its short life: New Super Mario Bros U, Trine 2, and now, seemingly, The Cave.
But spelunk your way a little deeper into this game and you'll discover something. You'll find that, even as you climb another rope or grapple over a spike pit, this doesn't feel like any other 2D platformer. The climbing and jumping doesn't matter, it's what's in between that counts.
Perhaps if we said that the game was made by Ron Gilbert (the man who made Monkey Island) at Double Fine (founded by a man who, er, also made Monkey Island) everything would be made clearer. This is a Guybrush in Mario's clothing, an adventure game disguised as a platformer.
The clues are there from the start: your initial choice of three characters out of seven available (the Knight, the Hillbilly, the Time Traveller, the Scientist, the Explorer, the Monk and a pair of Twins who perpetually hold hands) is a clear nod to a similar mechanic behind Gilbert's first point 'n' click success, Maniac Mansion. Each one has a special ability (see facing page) that opens an incongruous area of the Cave made specifically for them, as much a narrative mechanic as it is a way to get through the loading screen-free labyrinth through which you'll be travelling.
It's that focus on story that gives the game away too. From the moment you press Start, the game's narrator (the magic Cave itself) is telling you that this "isn't about you, it's about them" and that's abundantly clear before long. The Cave isn't just a hole in the ground, it's a shifting, magical reflection of the people who travel through it, each one searching for their deepest, darkest desire.
You'll find glowing hieroglyphs that unlock still images of your characters' backstories as you progress, the Cave will pipe up every time you complete a puzzle and the characters' tailor-made areas tell their stories through the puzzles themselves.
The Cave's greatest strength is taking the age-old adventure game standard of 'find item, combine with another item, get results' and theming it enough that you learn about your characters as much as you do the Cave itself.
The Monk enters a temple burrowed into a mountain to complete a series of tests to prove his Zen worthiness. The Scientist collects the launch keys for a nuclear rocket in a secret, Bond-like base, using a mixture of mentality and murder. Our favourite, the Time Traveller, uses a conveniently placed Time Machine to leverage cause-and-effect to her nefarious gain. Each holds a unique appeal and it helps that every one looks and sounds wonderful.
These aren't the hardest puzzles ever - the removal of the infinite inventories in favour of each character being able to hold only a single item simplifies things - but every character's story is enough to keep the interest going. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest.
Between the character-specific puzzle hubs are a number of interstitial areas, which seem to have received less care. On your first playthrough you won't mind the tedious minecart fetch quests and imprecise platforming. You will by your second. Seven characters means three trips to see every story, but these joining areas are identical in each one, so you don't get the thrill of puzzle-solving or pleasure in performing rote actions from the second time onwards.