Developed By: Tozai Games Published By: ININ Games (Digital), Strictly Limited Games (Physical) Categories: Platformer, Kusoge, Retro Release Date: 08.06.21
Spelunker. The King of Kusoge. Kusogame in a literal translation from Japanese means “Shit Game”. This isn’t to say Spelunker is bad, as this title can range even to the bizarre or unconventional and is usually something to showcase. Spelunker is the game I will die on a hill to defend. I LOVE Spelunker. Oddly enough, Spelunker may have started as an American title, the series’ legacy comes more from it’s Japanese Famicom port. So much that it is practically a Japanese IP at this point, with majority of the releases coming from the late IREM or from Tozai Games.
A Little History
What exactly makes Spelunker kusoge anyway? It’s hard, ridiculously hard. Jumps are very set in place, as a game from the 80’s would have it. Everything is out to kill you and will kill you as well. Fall damage, even from barely missing a single step on a flight of stairs. Actually, it’s more dying from the fear of falling, as if you’re in the air and miss a jump to a rope, you’ll die right in the air. Steam, fire, spiked pits, and rolling boulders, typical traps. The worst of all bats and their droppings! Not to mention, you’re going to be using a lot of oxygen going deeper and deeper into the depths. You might even run into a g-g-g-ghost!
You can defend yourself however! There are flares to dissipate the swarms of bats, dynamite/bombs for snakes. Your trusty oxygen gun to blow ghosts away. Unsuspecting players must tread carefully though, as this will deplete the oxygen you breath. Everything is finite, but you can always find drops to get more and there’s always going to be an oxygen checkpoint not too far away.
Right, this is a review for the remake Spelunker HD’s recent re-release HD Deluxe. Spelunker HD is so similar mechanics wise to those original IREM games is levels on concerning. In a refreshingly sound decision, Spelunker forgoes “fixing” the original, HD instead embraces the laundry list of flaws that the thriving fanbase in Japan embraced.
A big draw to Spelunker HD is it’s multiplayer. No longer is Spelunker a lonely, desperate affair, now you can die repeatedly with friends. With Spelunker being as chaotic as it is alone, it becomes absolutely bonkers with friends, four locally, six online. If everyone is on the same level of awareness with the game, it’s a great, fun experience. If people are not, it seemingly becomes a prank to the ignorant party. Games can be played co-operatively, which is my preferred way, or competitively.
Deeper and Deeper
One Hundred levels, ten per area await you. Each level is always going to have a checkpoint, but hard saves will not arrive until after that tenth. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating, and maybe even a little demotivating. With enough patience and perseverance however, I have faith a player can succeed. The level of satisfaction from coming up victorious from these perilous trials is unmatched and most games nowadays can’t even begin to compare.
Is the standard Spelunker playthrough not hard enough, then perhaps Champion Ship Mode which hosts ANOTHER 100 levels, even harder levels is for you. Are you still not satisfied? For players searching for a true challenge, Endless Cave NEO awaits. As the name implies, it’s an endless mode, but with randomized levels. I personally don’t find much enjoyment in endless modes in games, but for score junkies or people who just want to show off their skills in an incredibly (key word incredibly) niche game, then this mode is just for them.
That said, if players want more than classic (outdated to many, but not me) design sensibilities, Classic Mode is always there for them. A flashback to those old IREM graphics and sounds. Maybe it’s just me, but I also found Classic Mode much more difficult, at least in gauging my surroundings for precise jumps.
It’s Like an Earworm
I’d be remissed to neglect mentioning how catchy the music in this game is. The main spelunking theme will never, ever leave my headspace. Forever living in my head rent free. It’s a short loop, but trust me, it’s a keeper.
Graphics are not the best, but this is a port of a budget game from 2010 in a series that is far away from a AAA game. There’s no reason to get twisted over something like this when it’s not the game’s goal anyway. The game runs smoothly, so I’ll take the cheaper looking graphics any day.
Maybe I need something spelled out to me, but I’m not sure I immediately notice the changes between HD and Deluxe. Perhaps my memory is failing me, but the biggest reason for this release is bringing Spelunker HD to modern consoles that otherwise only hold the World titles. Those being the F2P and sadly shut down Spelunker and it’s more traditional Freemium stripped release Party. Party feels more like a beginner’s Spelunker, so having HD, the real deal on Switch is great…even if I miss the cutesy graphics.
Spelunker HD Deluxe is not and will not be for everyone. Feel free to make the game journalist joke, but Spelunker has never been a beginner friendly series. I believe games should be enjoyed by everyone, but I’m also in the belief that not every game should be made for as wide of an audience as possible. Niche games deserve to exist as much as the standard AAA or casual game. If something like Spelunker removed the intricates or flaws, it’d no longer be Spelunker.
If you’re up to the task, I very much recommend playing Spelunker HD Deluxe. With difficult jobs, comes rewarding results.
Buy Now: $24.99 Digital – $35.99 Physical – $71.99 Collectors Edition
*Game Download Code graciously supplied for the purpose of review