I have a confession to make: I’ve never actually beaten Spelunky. I first tried it out it way back in the distant past when it was on Xbox Live Arcade, and I have fond memories of playing with my brother, who was far more skilled at it. I even later purchased it for PC, and then again on PlayStation 4. And to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever beaten Olmec. But I still have tons of hours across platforms in Spelunky because it’s seriously that fun — and difficult. Spelunky 2 is already proving to be even more fun, and maybe even more difficult.
Spelunky 2 is a roguelike platformer where you play as Ana, the daughter of the adventurer from the first game. You’ll explore a vast set of caves and descend into unknown territory as you search the moon for your missing parents. As you explore, each level brings forth new enemies, deadly traps, and so many secrets to uncover. In that regard, Spelunky 2 is almost like an upgraded version of the first game, with tweaked versions of the original levels as well as entirely new ones. It regularly introduces items and weapons that’ll help you traverse new areas or kill enemies and bosses with ease.
That being said, nothing in Spelunky 2 actually comes easy. It requires a fair bit of skill and a lot of patience to succeed. and my biggest hurdle was learning to take my time and be careful. My first instinct is to go as quickly as possible so I can progress further than I had previously. I want to see what else the game has in store, but rushing through the levels is actually a huge detriment. I would start running as quick as I could and make totally careless mistakes, like walking straight into a bear trap or getting hit by an arrow I should have seen coming. However, it’s also a bad idea to go too slow. If you spend too long on a level — three minutes to be exact — a spooky ghost shows up and chases you, killing you immediately if he catches up to you. After another 30 seconds, he’ll split into two, much quicker, more terrifying ghosts. So you don’t want to obsess over picking up every piece of gold and taking out every enemy, but you also don’t want to rush through and die from something that’s easily avoidable.
Be prepared though — most runs will end in death. I feel like most of my time is spent in the Dwellings, the very first biome. Luckily it has great music, and the difficulty feels very balanced. The Dwellings aren’t so easy that I can run through them with no effort, but they’re also not so difficult that they feel insurmountable. I know I can make it to further levels, it’s just that sometimes I get unlucky or make bad choices. Trial and error play a big part as you learn about enemy mechanics, different items, and how all the deadly traps will try to kill you. Each level has a central theme, and will always have the same basic sets of traps and enemies, with some occasional variation.
Sometimes the Jungle will have a bunch of killer bees, or the water-themed level will have a gigantic fish boss. This, along with the normal roguelike aspect of the game, provides an element of randomness that makes each run unique. Each level will have a different overall layout each time, making each run a little different, but you can always expect the same basic principles. Spelunky 2 is like a box of chocolates: you never know what kind of run you’re gonna get.
The randomness provides endless replayability, and that’s even before mentioning the daily challenges and co-op modes. The multiplayer co-op mode is perfect for me because I’m terrible at the game on my own. But if I have someone else I can rely on and help keep me from making dumb mistakes, I feel like I can succeed. That being said, it’s also just really fun to play with others! Spelunky 2 also features a daily challenge, where players compete for high scores on the same seeded run, with scores being calculated based on how far you made it in your run and how much gold and gems you picked up along the way. It’s a fun way to see how much better everyone else is at the game than you.
In all seriousness, Spelunky 2 is hard. Just about everything wants to kill you, and the map feels a lot more saturated with these hazards than in the first game. Once you get good at dodging traps and enemies, there’s still a bit of mechanical skill and muscle memory involved. And if you’re naturally talented at platforming unlike me, there’s still a ton of small decisions to make while you play. These include things like managing resources and going back through a level to pick up any missed items. I may decide to use my last rope to save the dog, Monty, who gives one additional HP at the end of the level. Or I may kill a shopkeeper if I want the items he’s selling but I don’t have any money. These both involve a fair bit of risk: I may need a rope later on to help me progress, or I may end up dying to a shopkeeper that’s still trying to enact revenge in later levels. These small choices and risk calculations add a lot of depth to the experience.
Spelunky 2 feels so much larger and deeper than the first game, with so many new items, enemies, and alternate levels. It’s incredibly difficult but also incredibly rewarding, and its richly woven world is downright fun to explore. I can’t wait to see what mysteries are uncovered as time goes on, because I know there’s still a lot hidden underneath the surface. I’ll be playing for hundreds of hours to come, and maybe, someday, I’ll make it all the way through.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.