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Video Game / Spelunker

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For the similarly named freeware roguelike-like Spelunky, click here.

Classic video game created by Tim Martin in the early 1980s and published by Brøderbund. Spelunker is about, as you'd expect, a guy who explores a large cave and looks for treasure. He has dynamite to help him blow up large rocks, flares to ward off bats, and a limited air supply. Adding a bit of fantasy to the game is the frequent appearance of ghosts, which need to be warded off with an air blaster. A pretty simple game.

Except for one thing: its sadistic level of difficulty.

The spelunker himself can die very easily from a wide variety of things, including some you wouldn't expect:

  • His own dynamite, of which the blast radius isn't actually visible (the entire screen flashes white when it goes off)
  • Any enemy
  • Bat droppings
  • Falling in a small pit that's less than one half the already small safe fall distance
  • His own flare landing on top of him on the way down
  • Most infamously of all, falling less than his own height! (on NES version. The height of the player character was increased, while the vertical distances traveled were decreased.)
    • And what's worse, when you're on a rope or a ladder, if you push left or right, you can actually slide off and end up dying in midair before you had a chance to jump off! The computer originals, mercifully, allowed jumping off of ladders and ropes safely by holding jump and tapping the stick, a luxury not allowed on the NES version.

That one involving falling is particularly nasty, due to the gameplay mechanics. The spelunker can only jump a short distance, can't change his direction in midair, and falls straight down instead of slightly forward when walking off an edge. Your jumps must be very precise, or you will die from the fall — in midair, no less.

On the original 8-bit computers, it was fairly well received, but the NES game was widely forgotten in America, but became a Cult Classic in Japan due to its hilariously unforgiving difficulty and the ludicrous weakness of the player character. The game ended up being returned to used video game stores in high numbers when players got frustrated with it, but later developed a following among fans of Nintendo Hard games. As a result, there have been several Japanese sequels and fangames, including an arcade release by Irem, an In Name Only sequel that turned it into an action RPG, and even a remake for Playstation Network in the form of Spelunker HD, which adds multiplayer play and cartoony animations mocking the deaths, but also adds a lot of Anti-Frustration Features like lives and a save feature to soften the blow. More recently, Spelunker Party was developed for Steam and the Nintendo Switch.

The game actually inspired a Japanese expression: スペランカー体質, literally "constitution of a spelunker", which means someone who gets hurt badly from minor injuries.

Spelunker contains examples of:

  • The Anime of the Game: Titled Spelunker is a Teacher, it's basically about the hijinks of the titular character as a teacher in a Japanese school.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: In Spelunker HD, there is an option to turn on "Rope Assist," which makes getting on and off a rope safely less of a pain in the ass than in the NES version. It mocks you for doing this by placing a Japanese "new driver" symbol over your head for all to see, and prevents certain advanced techniques.
    • On Spelunker World and Spelunker Party, all of Spelunker's techniques are clearly explained to you when you first need them.
      • Also, the bomb radius problem is fixed by having the explosion cause a noticeable ring of death.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: One of the enemies.
  • Cartoon Bomb: These can be used.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: For Spelunker HD's "Rope Assist," which makes getting on and off a rope safely less of a pain in the ass than in the NES version. It mocks you by placing a Japanese "new driver" symbol over your head for all to see, and prevents certain advanced techniques.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Ghosts, burst of steam, own bombs, fall traps, you name it.
  • Evil Twin: In Spelunker HD's single-player mode, perhaps to compensate for the lack of getting killed by other players' mistakes in multiplayer.
    • Spelunker World and Spelunker Party has him be one of the four playable characters, admittedly being effectively nothing more than a alternative skin for the titular character.
  • Excuse Plot: "You need to go to the Earth's Core to help heal it from it's corruption!"... That's the whole gist of the plot of Spelunker Party. World doesn't even try to pretend there is a plot.
  • Falling Damage: Exaggerated in this game, and part of what makes it so difficult. The player character dies in mid-air, even if he could have grabbed a vine or something on the way down. He can't even walk over very tiny gaps the way many other 2D platformers allow you to.
  • Game Lobby: Spelunker HD allows up to 6 players to play online. Good luck finding more than one other person to play with, due to the game's unpopularity. You must wait in a lobby for players to join, then start the game when you're ready.
  • Gratuitous English: The opening theme of the anime, possibly a shout-out for Spelunker's American origin.
  • Have a Nice Death: Spelunker HD adds cartoony death animations and even lampshades it in the tutorial, where you're told "In the tutorial, you have unlimited lives. Now's a good chance to find out what kinds of things can kill you."
  • Nintendo Hard: As demonstrated here.
  • Nostalgia Level: The early levels in Spelunker HD.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: And boy is the protagonist quite a wonder.
  • Platform Hell: The NES version has vanishing ground that drops you to your death, secret power-ups that can get you killed, invisible keys on the second loop, and lets you kill yourself by jumping while walking down a slope. Spelunker HD takes all of these and makes them even worse...though it is quite generous with extra lives.
  • Respawn Point: The last place you picked up an "important item." Since most "important items" are at the end of long corridors filled with death, this forces you to go through the corridor 'again' every time you die.
  • Retraux: Spelunker HD includes a "classic graphics" mode, which mimics the look and sound of the NES version, even though it also contains a lot of new content.
  • Ruins for Ruins' Sake: Several levels in Spelunker HD.
  • Secret Level: There are two exits from Stage 99 ... one of which requires an additional key not found in the stage. At least, not found in Stage 99...
  • Self-Deprecation: In the Nintendo eShop page for Spelunker Party, the titular character is labelled "the Weakest Action Hero", and even the game's own Excuse Plot practically has the Call to Adventure wonder if he really would help going on the quest at all.
  • Shout-Out: A possibly unintentional one, but Spelunkette looks very much like MEIKO.
  • Smurfette Principle: Spelunkette, who only really gets prominence in Party, where the storyline has Spelunkette as the Chosen One, while the Spelunker... They don't want to go there...
  • Underground Level: The entire game.
  • Video Game Remake: Spelunker HD, which expands the game's original 6 levels to 100 levels, including a separate set of 100 multiplayer-only levels, while also adding new types of environments.
    • Spelunker World and Spelunker Party, two almost identical remakes, which add RPG style progression and equips. The only difference between the two is that World is full of free-to-play mechanics, and has regular collaboration content, while Party gives a more traditional experience.
  • A Winner Is You: Expected in the NES version. Incredibly aggravating in Spelunker HD when you've just gone through 100 levels of Platform Hell to get there.
  • With Lyrics: The main theme has had lyrics written for it in Japan (they mainly talk about how weak the spelunker is and how much he dies). The anime's opening theme is actually a remix of the game's main theme and the stage clear theme, sung from the viewpoint of the titular Spelunker, albeit entirely in hilariously disjointed and nonsensical Engrish.