Given how many ports of Spelunky I’ve played, you’d think I’d have reviewed it on the site already. I’m a big fan of the Spelunky (from the PS3/Vita onwards) and have sunk an ungodly number of hours into the game. Spelunky is the roguelike game that I really clicked with and I’ve written about it indirectly a few times (all about roguelike’s here and games that are worth playing on Vita) With the news that the PS4 ports of Spelunky 1 & 2 were coming to Switch I was more than a little hype. Starting every Nintendo indie direct on tenterhooks waiting eagerly for the release date. Booking the day off when it was finally announced and sitting with Switch the moment it was ready to download. Was it worth the wait for a game I’ve never quite finished? Let’s get the wall’s shifting and find out.
Why jump into Spelunky 1 before 2? While Spelunky 2 is an incredible game it’s also a lot bigger and more daunting to finish. Spelunky isn’t a small game by any means but with Spelunky 2 still fresh from last year it’s quite refreshing to go back. Both games have a clear tutorial area to start with and once you get the basic platforming mechanics down you’ll be diving into a procedurally generated dungeon of dangers. Dark Souls may have coined the “Prepare to Die” marketing line but Spelunky deserves it a lot more. You’ll be ended by a slip onto a spike, an arrow you didn’t react to fast enough or even a ghost from taking too long in a stage and being timed out. When you come across something that doesn’t want to kill you it’s a quick balance of probability; Will it be worth saving the damsel and dogs or sacrificing them for a chance at a rare item? Almost everything else wants to kill you regardless and you’ll be earning the survival one way or another.
Spelunky definitely has a learning curve that is not forgivable and unlike a more accessible roguelike such as Hades (read that review over here) you can’t really brute force it by repeating failed runs. There are shortcuts to unlock but as you get to grips you’ll find your much more likely to survive the more difficult later levels with the equipment gathered in the early ones. There are some incredibly obscure and punishing runs to potentially get through in Spelunky and the leaderboard of other players is a fascinating way to see how people get through the worlds. The daily challenge is a great way to see how many different ways there are to deal with the same encounter. You’re a click away from seeing how someone did it better than you.
It should be apparent by now but Spelunky looks fantastic on Switch. It sounds and runs brilliantly. Spelunky was always a looker on a big screen but it was always best when portable and the Switch is a fantastic sized screen for it. The menus are easy to read, the joycon controls allow for analogue stick and buttons meaning you can be as precise or floaty as needed. The best thing about Spelunky is that when (not if) you miss a jump or time a fall wrong you really can’t blame the controls, it’s almost entirely skill based. There will still be the occasional roll of the dice due to the procedural generation but it never closes off every door and simply dials the difficulty to make every run a challenge. You’ll always technically be able to finish a level, if you will or not is going to largely depend on how you approached it.
From being ground into fine paste to murdering a shop keeper and being maxed out on items, Spelunky is a joy to play from start to finish. The extra hidden areas, the unlockable characters, seeing all the various monsters and all the hazards on each route is fantastic fun. It’s not easy by any means, it’s taken me 4 ports to finally see the end credits but the fact I’ve willingly gone back to it over and over again really is testament to how enjoyable the gameplay is. Unlike the oppressively dark and crushing feeling of most roguelike games Spelunky is a charming experience. It will absolutely destroy you but it’ll do so in such a way that’ll have you laughing as you swear and rant before you dive right back in.
8/10 – Spelunking away the hours