Spelunky ate my life. The cult platformer, created by mastermind Derek Yu, was based on spelunking; hence the title. Spelunking is the act of delving deeper and deeper into caves. Bereft of a reason to do this in real life, I dove headfirst into Spelunky at the behest of various friends in the gaming industry.
Chefs have restaurants they all surreptitiously recommend based on how in the know they are; game devs have games they treat with similar reverence. And Spelunky, my friends, was one of those.
I sunk hundreds of hours on it. And now, the sequel is here.
Spelunky 2 Review
Spelunky 2 might look like a cutesy cartoonish platformer, replete with cuddly monsters and cutesy death animations. It is, in reality, as diabolically hard as the first, in which you played an Indiana-Jones-esque explorer attempting to fight his way through a series of caves, under the eye of an old god who wouldn’t let him die.
Did this get him down? Hell no. His journal entries, which expand every time he encountered (or was killed by) something in the murky depths, told the story of someone using the whole thing as a learning experience. This meant that while Spelunkly was turgidly difficult, it was always joyous. Spelunky 2 doubles down on this formula.
You play as the daughter of the two lead adventurers from the first game. Yes, you’re Ana Spelunky, and as the journal explains this time around, your parents followed a lead and headed to the Moon to investigate. So you, Ana, hop into a spaceship and are soon drawn into a new network of caves. You’re there to find your parents, true. But you’re accompanied by a roster of unlockable characters, some new, some old.
The formula of Spelunky 2 is the same as the first, but everything is tighter. Cleaner. You’re still going to die more than you do in any Souls game, which might throw newcomers off, but the best thing about Spelunky 2? Each run is different. The procedural generation of the maps isn’t tokenistic, it’s dynamic, intuitive, and feels like a living thing.
It’s also a plot device: “the walls are shifting” is an actual line delivered in the story, explaining how the caves are reconfiguring themselves constantly, guided by a malevolent entity to try and throw you off. You might find yourself entering and having a pretty simple run to the exit. Or, you might wander in to find yourself surrounded by traps and, frankly, screwed. But you can always prevail, provided you have the reflexes, the guts, and the will.
There are some neat new tricks, but nothing that alters (or messes with) the sublime balance of the first game. Each map is dotted with caves which allow you to pass “behind” and into sub-areas, ala Mario’s sewers. There are animals which can function as mounts, all with various skills. There’s also a litany of cool new items available at shops, although if you’re inclined, you can still try and rob said purveyors, sending them into their trademark shotgun-toting frenzies. There are also intriguing little twists on the classic formula, which I shan’t spoil, that keep Spelunky 2 fresh all the way through.
…Which is wishful thinking. In the interest of total candour, it’s taken me twelve hours to reach the third “level”, and finally unlock a shortcut. Spelunky 2 is proof that you can love something you’re demonstrably objectively, unwaveringly mediocre at. I’m not great at Spelunky 2, because Spelunky 2 demands that I pay constant attention if I don’t want to get impaled, crushed, eaten or set on fire. Most platformers have filler; they let you cruise around, see the sights.
Every second in the bowels of the Moon in Spelunky 2 have you balanced on the edge of a razor. Every moment could be your last. And yet, after each death, you can return to your base camp, a hub where characters you’ve unlocked wander about happily. You can talk with them, and visit various branching rooms. See? There are good people upstairs, waiting for you between each sojourn into utter madness and death. There’s momentary respite between bouts of chaos.
And that’s Spelunky 2 in a nutshell. It’s hell, but it’s there for you when you need a moment.
Spelunky 2 was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the developer.