Spelunky 2 Review

October 14, 2020
REVIEWS
PS4
Also on: PC

Spelunky 2 is a 2-D emergent labyrinth simulator where your goal is to reach the bottom of different platforming arenas until you find a door to the next area. It’s a roguelite, and death is permanent for every run. You won’t retain any items, and there are no lasting upgrades to be had. There is a general order to the worlds you play through, which adds something of a structure to your run, but the game is intended to be an infinite platformer. The controls are brutally precise and responsive, which in practice can lead to just barely missing a jump or improperly spacing yourself for an enemy attack, and your survival is heavily reliant on your skill in navigating the game’s uncaring physics system. As the challenges are never ending, it’s a true marvel of game design. But is it any fun? Most of the time.

Minion, can you stop performing Hamlet and come up with some ideas?

Progression in the world of Spelunky 2 is hard to define. As you learn more about the different enemies and traps you’ll be facing, the knowledge will help you. At the end of the day, however, you may have ten unlucky, brutal runs in a row because you can’t wrap your head around enemy placement. I often felt like the game was trolling me, like I was trapped in one of those Kaizo Mario levels. There’d be times when I would have full health, and an enemy would hit me into another enemy, and I’d just bounce around until I died. Or an arrow would hit me off a ledge into an insta kill spike. And then the next run would start, I’d hit a vase, which would reveal a hidden, attacking, venomous snake that would hit me into the trajectory of another arrow-shooting trap. You’re only as good as the last place you died, and the game tells you each time you’ve reached a new farthest point down. After you defeat one of the game’s bosses, you have the option to make donations to an excavator, and if you give enough you’ll eventually be able to start a run further along in the game. 

As the game bears on, you’ll be rapidly rappelling down more and more complicated rooms with more devious traps and one-hit hill effects. The levels themselves can turn into their own Rube Goldberg devices and it’s kind of amazing how many trickle down results one action can have. For example, you may bash an enemy into a statue that triggers a pool of overflowing magma, which in turn activates roaming robot bombs, which set off activating bombs hidden in the walls, and on it goes. At its best, you’ll be dodging traps and explosions feeling like the world’s luckiest Indiana Jones. At worst, you’ll ruin a terrific run with something that was nearly impossible to avoid. As someone who games alone, for the most part, there definitely is a social aspect that I’m missing with all these convoluted, hilarious situations that end up killing me. I’m sure they’re a hit on Twitch and Youtube, but after a while, they can feel more random than humourous.

I have my hands full. Can you please help me — oh god, you're going to fall, aren't you?

In Spelunky 2, you start off each run with some all-important items: bombs and ropes. Bombs can be set off or thrown to create your own paths in the dirt and it’s awe-inspiring just how much of the game is destructible. Each level is littered with secret rooms, money, and paths. Some of these rooms have more shops, challenges and characters which help add to the feeling that truly anything can happen in a run. The ropes can be thrown above you so you can climb to a higher up area, or you can use them to avoid a long, painful fall down. Countless other items and secrets populate the game’s world. There are invincible ghosts that chase you, and a camera that can briefly halt them, as though you’re playing a Fatal Frame game. There are bouncy shoes, boomerangs, crossbows, and even hireable minions. Though the minions are useful for carrying items and attacking enemies, they are quite stupid and will jump to their death in a trap or into the vicinity of the toughest enemy in the room, only to be crushed. You can “tame” and ride turkeys, which you can use to attack enemies and do a double-jump, or murder for their succulent, health-filled meat. Preserving health is all important in Spelunky 2, which brings me to the mechanic of the pug. 

You have a pet pug that is stored somewhere in each level — sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain sight — and if you carry the pug to the level’s exit, you receive a little extra health. You can find it if you follow its barks. This introduces a huge amount of strategy to the game, as you can use the pug as a throwable weapon, or use it to block traps, but can’t overuse the dear pug for fear of it dying. The game is no-holds-barred when it comes to pug deaths, and it can be quite dreary to try to throw your pug across a pit only to see it violently impaled on spikes, or sinking in lava. The worst is when you don’t even realise it’s dead, and drop the pug near the exit waiting for it to happily saunter through only for it to land with a thud and you realise you’ve been carrying a furry corpse for the last thirty seconds. 

Don't just sit there...get up and try again!

You can also rob or attack most of the game’s NPCs, including the shopkeepers, who will come at you with everything they’ve got. If you do choose to rob the shopkeeper, he’ll attack you whenever you see him for the rest of your run. This could be frustrating. I could accidentally aggrieve a shopkeeper by setting off a bomb too close to his shop, or by defending myself from an enemy who'd followed me in or burrowed through the walls. 

There are a huge amount of these little risk-reward moments in Spelunky 2, where the boons can be game-changing, but any slight mistake or mistimed attack can lead to instant death. There are so many opportunities to try to get a little extra money, or see what’s in a secret room, hoping it contains a valuable item or riches. Many of the game’s traps are one-hit kills, and if you’re not closely scanning every direction around you for potential hazards you’ll die earlier than expected. It’s a game that admonishes you until you’re particular and careful. 

Here, boy! Come, boy! Here, boy!

Narratively, the game’s quite silly and wafer-thin. The plot is that the main Spelunker —  Ana — and her parents found a mysterious temple on the moon, and you and her companions are searching for them. There are a few adorable characters, each with their own little story details that you can view in your journal — which also tracks all of your discovered items and enemies — but they are quite shallow, if momentarily amusing. I think there could have been more to make me invest in these characters. Even in the game’s hub world where you can walk around and look at characters, there isn’t any incidental dialogue to be had. The music is varied and uses a diverse palette of instruments, but each area only uses one particular song, and that can get old. I would have liked an option to change the music, especially in the opening hours of the game when I was stuck on the first area. The graphics are cartoony and simple, but the effects are beautiful and the physics insanely polished. The character designs and artwork can, at times, feel dated like old internet cartoons. 

Ultimately, Spelunky 2 is a game for platforming fanatics. It reminded me of my time with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which was another frustrating, but fine-tuned game that I kept playing almost to spite the game. It’s a game that can feel stagnant, random, and insurmountable, only to break once you sink your teeth into it and find a real opening. Those moments are truly cathartic, and there is always more to do and see. You’ll die a lot, but if you keep climbing up from Spelunky 2’s depths of despair, you’ll be platforming forever. 

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Jon Peltz

I am just a guy from Miami who first got into gaming through PC Gamer demo discs. I adore adventure games, even though I am usually forced to use a guide when I get fed up pixel-hunting. My favourite games are Shadow of the Colossus and Grim Fandango. I have two cats: Nori and Pizza.