‘Spelunky 2’ review: chaotic new elements and strange new worlds freshen up an all-time classic

Featuring the same masterful design and brand-new mysteries

Death doesn’t always have to be dead serious. While the media hones in on the dour tragedy of the event, Spelunky celebrates the cycle of death with an endless series of cheeky winks and a broad, graveside grin. Spelunky 2, the surprise sequel to the all-time classic roguelike, is largely similar to its predecessor. It’s a tight 2D platformer, with randomly constructed levels where you delve deep and slowly uncover both treasures and secrets. Also, this time, it’s set on the Moon.

Spelunky 2 is a difficult gauntlet. Like many games of old, it requires a ton of patience and plenty of practice. Progress is always made, but it’s internal and learned rather than gifted to you through level-ups or inherited skills. You begin your one hundredth run of Spelunky 2 the same way you begin your first – with nothing but your wits.

The hope is that after you’ve died enough times, you’ll begin to unravel a level’s intricacies and be more able to read its dangers. Have I mentioned that you die a lot? Spelunky is a grand exercise in playing dead. It’s never dreary, although it’s quite often heartbreaking. You don’t just die, you “pop your clogs” or meet a “sticky end”.

Spelunky 2
Spelunky 2. Credit: Ewan Wilson / Mossmouth

In Spelunky a “good death” is a humorous one. Often things will begin humbly before cascading out into a larger, all-encompassing disaster. A simple pot will give out a spider instead of gold, making you jump and knocking you back just enough to tip you over the edge and down into a pit of spikes. An innocent rock, which you‘ve attempted to hurl up in order to trigger an arrow trap, will bounce off the cavern wall and back down onto your own head. Then suddenly, somehow, there’ll be explosions and shotgun blasts and lava pouring over everything. Make the same mistake enough times though, and you’ll begin to process better habits: don’t break pots close to you! After throwing a rock, run away! Make sure you pay for the item before you pick it up and walk out of the shop…

In a run of Spelunky, you’ll start with just a handful of bombs – already, a recipe for disaster – some ropes to help you navigate the game’s jumbled caverns and your faithful whip. Like Mario, you can also bop enemies by jumping on their head. New elements are slowly added in as you progress, each more mysterious than the next. A strange golden idol which, once taken, will set off a deadly booby trap like in your classic Indiana Jones film, a shrine to the Goddess Kali and secret passageways – all new to the sequel, adding a whole new dimension for you to explore and get lost in! This is all just in the first area. Spelunky 2 unfolds gradually, each new level introducing more ferocious enemies, more perilous traps and more confusing things that’ll instantly murder you.

Each new element adds volatility to a delicate mix. There are now incredibly useful Turkeys that can be mounted, leting you float down lethal pits and even navigate jungle spikes without taking damage. But sometimes taming them will run you into trouble, and with them come Turkey Handlers, who like the original Shopkeepers, can easily be angered by a stray bomb or an unluckily positioned idol trap.

Despite all the introduced chaos, none of the new elements feel haphazardly thrown in. They subtly add to the original game without upsetting the balance, despite the fact they can sometimes be very loud and even explosive indeed. It feels as though the game’s principal designer, Derek Yu, has thought exceptionally hard for many months about each and every new component added (there’s a good chance this is the case, considering the years between the original game and the sequel).

Spelunky 2
Spelunky 2. Credit: Ewan Wilson / Mossmouth

Spelunky 2 is larger in scope than its predecessor. The game was always structured like a labyrinth, not just because of the twists and turns of its randomly generated levels, but the esoteric knowledge hidden within. There are many secret doors, as well as magical items and strange rituals that need to be performed in order to open them. Truth be told, I’ve yet to reach Spelunky 2’s true depths or heights. Taken as a whole, its tangled worlds are a tantalising, cosmic puzzle. There’s a way to finish the game, and then there’s the way to beat it. Like the original, what you think is the final boss may be but a bit-player.

There’s many that believe the original Spelunky to be a kind of perfect video game. Fiddling with the formulae is always risky, but I think it’s paid off here. The joyful, cartoon tone of the original, the playful cycle of death and the hidden, arcane depths that slowly unravel are all strengthened rather than diluted. The original is rightfully an all-time classic. It’s hard to see Spelunky 2 as an altogether separate sensation, but rather a continuation of the same grand legacy – the cementing of a master work.

‘Spelunky 2’ is out now for PlayStation 4. It’ll be released for PC on September 29.

Our Verdict

Spelunky 2 successfully freshens up an all-time classic. Masterfully designed and endlessly replayable, it’ll be some time before even the combined efforts of the community unlock its deepest mysteries and secrets.

Pros

  • Perfect, precise platforming
  • Endlessly replayable, with multiple routes and endings
  • Full of mystery and surprise
  • You can’t help but chuckle after dying, even when it’s heart-breaking

Cons

  • If you didn’t get on with the original, this isn’t different enough to change your opinion

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