No “Best games of all time” discussion should be held without the console HD remake of Spelunky. With a game that well regarded, you have to wonder if it’s worth even trying to improve. Can Spelunky 2 somehow top Spelunky? The answer, though still early, seems to be yes.
I’ve sunk many hours into the first game totalling well over 1000 attempts across PS4, Vita, and PC. I even got pretty good at it, ranking atop the daily challenge leaderboard a handful of times. Spelunky 2 immediately put me in my place, clawing and scraping to survive even the first quartet of levels.
Imagine going back to your favorite game, movie, or book, and being able to experience it for the first time. That’s basically what I’m living right now.
While the mechanics of Spelunky 2 feel familiar, I’m not racing through the mines like nothing can slow me down. The new enemies and traps force me to carefully plot my moves before inevitably slipping up and seeing myself back at the beginning.
Not to spoil anything here, but I’ve stumbled into some of the unlockable levels of the first game cleverly implemented into Spelunky 2. They are done in a way I wouldn’t have expected, sort of embedded rather than being separated. This ups the ante, forcing me to move quicker and take additional risks, or face running into the ghosts that appear after a few minutes. I believe there’s more to find in these hidden nooks and will expand the possibilities of what secrets will eventually be uncovered by the community.
There are small things that I enjoy less in the sequel. Primarily the music, which appears to stay the same for each biome rather than each level. This is already feeling repetitive, but should bother me less when I’m consistently moving on to the second section and beyond.
A returning gameplay element of Spelunky 2 involves rescuing an NPC in every level to gain one health point. Unfortunately this time around there is only a selection of three different animals, which undeniably lowers the stakes involved. I imagine this is to get as far away from the ridiculous misogyny accusations some lobbed at the first game, which originally had you rescuing a female. This was “rectified” by giving players the option to choose a female, male, or dog. Spelunky 2 strips away the human element, but rescuing a human means more than rescuing a hamster, always.
Minor gripes aside, the important aspects that make Spelunky what it is are present: Tight controls and fast consequences. Every time I die it is obvious what I did wrong, and the game’s decisive punishment of my actions is the best way to learn what not to do. There is no hand holding here, except a very short basic movement tutorial. The baseline difficulty of Spelunky 2 is high. It is unapologetic. It is relentless. It will turn off a lot of new players, but it’s exceeding my hopes for the game every step of the way.