Spelunky 2 is out for PlayStation 4 and PC, and we couldn’t wait to try it out. Many hours and deaths later, here are our impressions.
Despite being a 2008 PC game originally, Spelunky is mostly dear to my heart because of the 2013 Vita version that was a port of the Xbox 360 version that came out a year earlier. To this date, the game still ranks among my personal favorites for the system and is often mentioned as one of the top 3 games for the Vita when you look at review aggregators as well. That’s a lot to live up to, and Mossmouth took its time when developing a sequel – luckily, that time paid off, even though it doesn’t mean that anything has radically changed in Spelunky 2.
When you’re looking for a sequel to take a game into exciting new directions then perhaps getting a refined version of a familiar experience can feel disappointing, but I had an absolute blast playing this and will continue doing so in the weeks and months to come.
Spelunky’s successful risk versus reward mechanics are still here, as is the abundance of challenge that goes hand in hand with a perfectly implemented learning curve that keeps you coming back – very much like the original Spelunky, which remains a benchmark for roguelike games even after all these years. Excellent controls helped it too, and those unsurprisingly return almost entirely unchanged for the sequel.
There’s a story that introduces the protagonist as the daughter of Spelunky 1’s hero, but it doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose expect for the fact that it gives you a reason to travel to the moon to go and find your parents who have gone missing. The game itself is almost exclusively gameplay-centered, and still required you to get to each level’s exit while grabbing as many treasure items as you can along the way. Oh, and try to not get killed by one of the many traps and enemies in each level as well.
Levels are randomly generated before each run, but you almost wouldn’t believe it because there seems to be such a method to the madness each time a level pops up. Failing means you learn more about traps and weapons and how they work, and you also learn more about an enemy’s behavior. On your next run, you’ll use this knowledge to approach these things differently, and quickly recognizing your avenues for opportunity in a level is a key to success – after all, if you wait too long a ghost appears that will hunt you down.
As you play, you organically learn to take out traps, to alter the terrain and to keep the appropriate distance from danger – and you feel awesome for outsmarting the game for a little bit. It’ll get you back soon enough, but there’s this pull from the game that’s hard to ignore where you keep thinking “I’ll get you next time!”. That’s part of the brilliance of Spelunky 2, where failure rarely results in lingering frustration but in a belief that you’ll be successful next time because of what you just learned in death.
One of the biggest changes in Spelunky 2 is the fact that the game is much less ‘linear’, although that feels like a strange term to use for a game with randomly generated levels. There are several game worlds/themes in the game though, and beating one gives you a choice between two others, where you often end up picking one that fits your current loadout the best, or you might choose to save one you’re more comfortable with for later. Having the choice is a great way to mix up the gameplay a bit, and makes getting through the game’s levels feel even less like a grind than they did before.
Levels contain plenty of secrets and collectibles to unlock and encourage you to come back for more, but you’ll also run into new gameplay dynamics, including the presence of lava that will spread if you happen to blow up the barrier that’s containing it. This could melt a bunch of enemies to your benefit, but it can also be a serious hindrance if it blocks you from getting where you need to go. Getting creative with this, even if it’s by chance (and these happy accidents will certainly happen in surprising ways), feels very satisfying.
Even without the branching paths and level choices, each run feels unique before you can craft your own path to the exit, choosing which parts of the level you’re going to explore for its rewards. Picking up special items (like super springy shoes or even a jetpack) also determines which routes are available to you. Sometimes, you’ll even get the tools to craft your own paths, which in turn yields new rewards because it gets you to new places in the level. Spelunky 2 also introduces mountable animals to help you get around, which always provide the added bonus of shielding you from damage for a little bit – but fail to tame them and they might throw you into a hole filled with lava instead.
And as the gameplay feels similar-yet-refined when compared to the 2012 original, so do the visuals. As a result this game looks somewhat “retro”, but little touches here and there keep it from feeling dated. There’s more detail in the backdrops, cute little animations, and a ton of expressive detail in the new (more cartoon-like) visual style for the characters. I still need to get used to the new soundtrack mostly because the first game’s tunes are so ingrained into my brain and that’s why part of me just wishes they had repurposed some of the old melodies for new compositions, but maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.
Spelunky 2 has reignited my love for the game, and I haven’t even jumped into the multiplayer portion of it all yet – looking forward to doing that locally as well as online, but first I’m going to go and unearth some more secrets.