Reviews: Spelunker

A very technical platformer challenge

Spelunker had a unique concept for its time - cave exploration in platformer form. It had limitations that, at the time, seemed realistic: you can't fall too far or else you'll die, your own bombs and flares can kill you, and you have a limited air supply that must be refilled at times.

It was precisely these "realistic" limitations that gave the game its reputation as a sadistically difficult challenge, especially in the Japanese-developed NES version (the game is originally American), which was even harder. And it's precisely these limitations that the HD remake on Play Station Network is entirely built around.

Realistic or not, the spelunker guy developed a reputation as "the weakest character in gaming" - a phrase that literally appears in this game's description on its Play Station Network page. He dies from all the things I just mentioned, and many more.

Spelunker HD takes this concept and runs with it. First, to compensate, the game is more forgiving, offering you a great many extra lives, as well as a save feature. Cartoony animations and silly death music now mock your deaths, but make them a lot funnier.

But you soon learn that practically everything can kill you, and the game slowly introduces new hazards in its 100 levels divided across 10 zones. In the fifth zone, for instance, the screen will start shaking at times as an earthquake occurs. Get onto a rope or stay hanging on one, because after a short while, the earthquake will shake the ground and kill you if you're standing on it. The third zone introduces rocks that fall from certain ceilings whenever a bomb goes off nearby.

The levels sometimes place these threats in ways that force you to know the game's mechanics very well. There's a rock you need to bomb on a small ledge. Bomb blasts can kill you. So, place a bomb near the rock, jump onto the nearby rope, and climb out of range of the blast so you don't die. Or, a group of platforms is arranged in such a way that your jumping must be very accurate, lest you fall 3 feet and die.

It's very technical, exacting gameplay. Many will hate it, and understandably so. But if you can get into it, you'll find a game that rewards precision, and is built for the hardcore platformer. A unique, yet forgiving (due to the numerous extra lives) form of Platform Hell. If you have a PS 3, check it out.