I love Spelunky, It has been my go to roguelike for years now. I’ve played days worth of hours on the PSVita and every port it had. I’ve previously reviewed the Switch port of Spelunky 1 (over here) Spelunky 2 on the PS4 was a no-brainer for me and one release day I was happily dying and attempting to get through it over and over again. Despite not being very good, I’ve always had a blast playing it and the thing is Spelunky was always a game series that I’ve felt works best in a handheld form. There’s just something about the punishing failure in the games that lends itself to being less frustrating when it’s not on a big screen for others to see. Spelunky 2 has been out for a few months now on the Switch and I feel like given how much I’m still going back to it and slowly letting go of Hades (check out that review here) now’s a good a time as any to dig down into the caves.
At its core Spelunky 2 is still the same fast paced roguelike platformer as Spelunky 1, once you’ve blasted through the tutorial (and changed the controls back to the same as Spelunky 1 in the options) the loop of exploring to get down through the levels to progress is very much the same. There’s a lot more additions and subtle changes to the gameplay that make the experience a lot more enjoyable. Levels are randomly generated as before but the systems at play working out the paths you can take are are incredibly fair. You’ll never come across a level where you cannot progress without the items you have. That’s not to say sometimes the difficulty won’t spike hard from time to time but you’ll have every opportunity before a difficult boss level to build up your chances of survival. You may feel unfairly pinned by a trap but the payoff will likely be a rarer item spawning deeper down into the level.
As with Spelunky 1 you’ll eventually start to unlock shortcuts as you progress but this is the only help you’ll get with Spelunky 2 in the long run and they always come at a large price. There’s no new skills or unlocks that last outside each run except character changes which are purely cosmetic. The finality of the gameplay loop leads you to try different things to focus on per run. Sometimes you’ll want to just hop into a later stage over and over to get used to the monsters and traps, other times the pacing will be different and you’ll want to get as many items as possible, slowly grinding out the earlier levels for weapons, bombs and rope to give you the best chance of progression. What makes Spelunky 2 special is the way you’ll learn and adapt as you replay. It’s less important to focus on finding one specific way to defeat big bosses and monsters, simply finding work arounds and quirky gameplay tricks to progress. This loop of learning is where the fun is had and there’s plenty there.
Spelunky 2 looks amazing in handheld mode on the Switch. It’s the best version of the game to play by far and everything runs smoothly with snappy controls and a presentation that has such a recognisably unique style. Strangely in the dock Spelunky 2 is a little blurry when in motion but it’s only noticeable if you’ve played a large amount of the PS4 version. Most important to the Spelunky 2 gameplay is how everything still runs smoothly and the controls are super tight throughout. This means that failure is likely human error more than anything. Spelunky 2 includes animals to ride and once you’ve tamed them this adds some visual flare to levels but they do essentially fulfil the role of another type of tool and not a lot more. You still fit the 1 block height but you’ll quickly be sacrificing them for a chance at better tools. They provide a nice aesthetic that mostly work to soften the violence and death you’ll encounter throughout.
The levels of Spelunky 2 not only share some of the same monsters and items as Spelunky 1 some areas are the same theme and have similar layouts. There isn’t too much repetition though as you can chose which area to go at the end of some levels leading to a branching path. These will be one style you’re familiar with and one new. As you progress you can check your journal for a live update of which path you’ve taken and any significant steps along the way pop up to show the journey. You’ll still be stealing from shopkeepers and dealing the consequences when you do but now you’re a tap away from seeing how the ball kept rolling until you’re now in a much more difficult situation. The PC version of Spelunky 2 also has the option for cross-progression with the Switch so you can unlock characters and shortcuts and port them over, sadly this feature doesn’t work for the PS4 version but I know a lot of PC users enjoy playing the Switch and it’s enjoyable to replay.
One thing Spelunky 2 absolutely nails is the music and sound effects. Although it shares some of the previous games content, everything has been remade and given a polish and flourish and it doesn’t matter if it’s the 5th or 502th attempt at a run the music is pleasant and the sound effects pop. The new stages are hugely unique and stand out with the new setting and story making it a unique experience. The weapons sound superb and feel satisfying to use, the grunts and murmurs of the NPCs are charming and the explosions match the visuals brilliantly. Characters in Spelunky 2 feel unique despite being cosmetic and not just in looks but in sound and animation. Each rope is unique to the character and simple changes such as balancing near a ledge or dashing along help add another layer of charm. The arena mode is packed with little changes to make it more bombastic than before and you can add bots to help get some practice in before friends annihilate you.
Netcode is something that Spelunky 2 has always been fantastic for. From day 1 it was made with rollback netcode and this means the experience is snappy and doesn’t suffer from stutters or issues you typically experience with delay based online games (if you play a lot of fighting games you get a feel for this) You can pop onto a lobby and play with 3 other random people or friends and the gameplay is both significantly easier and insufferably difficult. If you’re working together you can resurrect each other and dead players can blow a gust of air to knock items and monsters around to help. They can also push players around and have a charged stun attack. You’ll find most people working together for a while but all it takes is one player to get annoyed and start sabotaging a run on purpose to cause the game to derail hard into spiky death. It’s worth checking out at least once because the experience is so unique but you’ll be swapping back onto offline mode in a heartbeat.
Spelunky 2 is incredible and packed with so much content you’re going to be playing it for months to see even close to half of it. There are online leaderboards for each type of run, daily challenges and new little quirks to find just from playing again and again. You’ll lose a run due to being killed from a pot breaking open to a spider and you know it was your own fault for not smashing it safely but your next run will be a cathartic spider hunt. There’s a strangely pleasurable almost nihilistic feel to some runs that can result in testing if you can get away with certain actions despite being deep into a run and almost everything in Spelunky 2 just results in more knowledge. Dig down into Spelunky 2 and you’ll be finding yourself up for a quick go only to realise you’ve lost another 30mins to a run. Then you’ll die and start the ‘quick go’ all over again. Dark Souls has nothing on this.
9/10 – You should try playing Spelunky to!