Spelunky 2 Review — A More Refined Classic
Spelunky 2 takes the ridiculously polished foundation from the first game and blows it out with new content, mystifying secrets, and big-time cave mole jerks.
Here’s the deal, dear reader; I can save you some time with this Spelunky 2 review. Sure, below you’ll find what is undoubtedly insightful and hilarious commentary on why this game is so great. However, I understand we live in a busy world. Maybe you just don’t have time for my shenanigans. So, there’s really only a few questions you need to ask yourself before you pick up Spelunky 2.
Do you like the original game? Does the idea of discovering tons of new secrets as you explore another excellent world Derek Yu and his team have dreamed up? Well, then you’ll probably get on with Spelunky 2. It is a lot more of the same stuff players love about the original while adding some fun new mechanics and systems.
That said, there’s still quite a bit to talk about. After all, I can’t very well give a game a 9.5/10 and just leave it at two paragraphs. My editors would kill me. Let’s talk about what makes this game so good even though I’m terrible at it.
First, I think it’s important to set up what Spelunky 2 is. I can’t just say it’s a roguelike and be done with it. That doesn’t give you nearly enough context. See, what separates this game from something like Hades is that you fully restart each run exactly like you’re starting over from the beginning. Sure, there are a few shortcuts you can unlock, but doing that mostly handcuffs your ability to get the items you need to beat the last boss.
So, while everyone will eventually beat Hades because their version of Zagreus continues to receive passive buffs after each run, that doesn’t happen in Spelunky 2. You don’t suddenly have 12 bombs or the ability to jump further. Your first run and your winning run are exactly the same. The only thing that changes is your skill and knowledge.
That right there is what I love so much about Spelunky. Yes, it’s a difficult game. At least for most of the world. Sure, the only reason I’ve technically beaten the game (more on this later) is one run from the Spelunky gods. However, the process of learning how Spelunky works and then putting that knowledge to the test continues to be one of my favorite things in video games.
If you’ve never played Spelunky before, the set up couldn’t be simpler. It’s a procedurally-generated platformer where combat is just as important as jumping. You have a few tools at your disposal. There’s your trusty whip that will slap aside most baddies. Plus, you can get bombs to blow holes through the environment to open up new routes. And, when you really get stuck, your climbing rope can get you out a hole in a pinch.
In action, each level sort of plays like a puzzle-platformer. You have to find the best route through each level while looking out for opportunities to pick up items. And there are a ton of them. Some you’ll find in helpful crates, others you’ll have to buy from a shop, and some you can earn by besting monsters.
Most of them are useful, but it’s not immediately obvious how. That’s where building your knowledge base becomes so important. You have to know exactly what each item, enemy, and trap do so that you can make the best choice in a given situation. It’s a continually running math equation in your head that can only be solved when you’ve put in enough study hours before the big test.
Look, I’m a nerd. I like school. Spelunky 2 is like going back to college except this time instead of learning about math and grammar, I’m learning about mole rats and arrow traps. And, just like in the real world, the physics and systems you slowly master in Spelunky 2 are the same for everybody, which mixes together for a beautifully chaotic bouquet of intoxicating gameplay.
This is a brutally hard platformer, but the game is just as hard on the enemies and NPCs as it is on you. All of the game’s many ways to kill you will also murder everyone else. So, if a bat flies into the path of an arrow trap, that boy dead. If a turkey runs into lava, she gone. Derek Yu has made it absolutely clear that he does not care about the well-being of literally anyone in this world.
And it’s glorious. If you’re anything like me, most of your runs end in a fireworks show of bad decisions and even worse execution. But you never feel cheated out of your win. The systems of Spelunky 2 are so tight that even things that first seem random are completely controllable. Thus, you can always point to what you did to screw up. The game is never the one at fault.
I know this comparison is incredibly tired at this point, but in a lot of ways, Spelunky 2 reminds me of Dark Souls in this way. Both games are so tightly constructed that you never feel cheated. Just inadequate.
When you finally do meet up with that final boss and claim your throne as the best Spelunky 2 player to ever live, you quickly realize that you’ve only just begun. The final boss of the main game isn’t really the final boss. This game is more jam-packed with secrets than the McDonalds’ secret menu. And, just like the McLeprechaun Shake, you probably won’t find it without a little help from the internet.
So, while I’ve technically beaten Spelunky 2, I still have a long ways to go. There’s this massive drill I keep seeing that I have no idea what it does. I’m still not sure if those ghost urns do anything other than bringing the ghost into a level earlier. And I can’t wait to see what other mishaps I can get up to. The constant learning Spelunky 2 forces you to do if you want to see everything the game has to offer is astounding.
However, it’s not all rosy. The game shipped with multiplayer disabled on PC because it’s been so borked on PS4. Now, I likely would have never used multiplayer much anyways, but it does suck for the people who want it. Hopefully, when it releases, they’ll have properly worked out the kinks.
That said, I don’t really think it impacts the product too much. Hoping into either co-op or PvP could be fun, but not having it doesn’t make the base game any worse. And that single-player experience is nearly flawless.
Like I said at the top, if you liked the first Spelunky, you’re going to love Spelunky 2. It’s the same game with tons of new content. There are new weapons to master and enemies to overcome. There are branching levels that keep things fresh. And, of course, there are so many new secrets to uncover.
Truly, this is the The Godfather Part II of roguelikes. A sequel that builds on its foundation in every way and serves to push the genre one step further. I still would probably choose to play Hades over Spelunky 2, but it’s a real Sophie’s choice for me. Either way, I know I’m going to have a fantastic afternoon playing an excellent video game. Now, if only someone would leave me a cannoli.