Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022

Ana (midden) is de ster van <em>Spelunky 2</em> and she is looking for her adventurous parents after they abandon her to search for treasure on the moon.”/><figcaption class=

enlarge Ana (center) is the star of Spelunky 2and she is looking for her adventurous parents after they abandon her to search for treasure on the moon.

Mossmouth

My recent work at Ars Technica has mostly revolved around high-end gadgets such as VR headsets, GPUs and next-gen consoles. It’s fun stuff.

But as I swim through embargo hardware and frenetic news announcements, I keep coming back to a single video game that’s way out of “next-generation” mold.

Spelunky 2 is probably the most “dated” game that I will put the “Ars Approved” sticker on in 2020. The adjective “dated” works in part because the game’s success largely and loudly builds on the foundation of the 2012 2D smash Spelunky HD… and That title builds on the 16-bit genius of the freeware original from 2009. (Which you can still download! Free! Right next to the source code!)

A certain class of gamer will hear that”Spelunky 2 is everything good about it Spelunky HDonly better” and don’t want to hear anything more. That’s fair (especially for players waiting for the game to launch on PC in two weeks, after the timed PlayStation 4 exclusivity ends). Spelunky 2, like its predecessor, stems from how it cleverly shakes a cup full of gameplay and level construction elements, dumps it on a table and shouts “Yahtzee!” calls. because it surprises you again and again. (To be clear, in the case of this game, “Yahtzee” is a synonym for “You died!” You will die repeatedly in Spelunky 2

No spoilers yet, swear

Between runs, you can find the characters you unlocked in a small underground village.  (The characters are cosmetic only, but their audiovisual differences are still quite fun to explore.)
enlarge Between runs, you can find the characters you unlocked in a small underground village. (The characters are cosmetic only, but their audiovisual differences are still quite fun to explore.)
Spelunky 2 product image

Spelunky 2 [PS4, PC]

(Ars Technica may earn compensation through affiliate programs for sales of links on this post.)

To that end, this article is a largely spoiler-free exploration of what Spelunky 2 gets right as a sequel. First, the good news comes in the form of what hasn’t changed.

If you’ve never done that SpelunkyIf it’s been a while, or if it’s been a while, here’s a refresher: the goal of every game in the series is to get from the top of a treasure-filled network of caves to the bottom. As in super mario games, your side scrolling, 2D hero has a snappy amount of speed and momentum for running and jumping. As an Indiana Jones-esque twist on the genre, your default arsenal includes a whip, the ability to grab ledges, and a limited amount of explosive bombs and climbing ropes. All of these core systems are still responsive like hell, and it’s crucial that the game feels like awesome as you must master his pixel-perfect jumps and dashes to survive his chaos.

Each Spelunky 2 level is procedurally generated by shuffling and remixing a huge selection of pre-made level parts. Each time you die, your progress will be rewound to the top of the caves, after which you’ll find the world remixed below you. By default you can’t remember an exact arrangement of monsters, traps, shopkeepers, items, treasures and secrets, then optimize your run accordingly. This fact – coupled with how the game’s dangerous elements can erase an entire run in the blink of an eye – forces players to Spelunky 2The cruel reality: relax, or perish.

After my first three hours of playing Spelunky 2, I kept remarking to myself how surprised I was at seemingly new monsters, items, and tweaks… only to realize how much of that stuff was completely unchanged from the previous game. I point this out because I am amazed at how many Spelunky 2 moments feel incredibly fresh in 2020 without changing the good ideas from the 2009 original.

Your standard whip attack still has a smart amount of “behind your back” momentum. Bats still fly “directly” at your hero in obnoxious curved lines, making them surprisingly a nuisance. The freeze jet is still great to use, especially when you can turn a dangerous enemy into a usable block of climbable ice. Monkeys are still idiotic jerks who are totally there to rob and annoy you. AI-powered “helpers” are still maniacs who do more harm than good. Those kind of things.

Mild spoilers start here

Instead of removing or redefining tent poles from the original Spelunky, the sequel exists largely as a response to the game’s decade of fandom. Die-hard fans have continued to play the original version all these years later, and Spelunky 2 offers newer stuff especially for the experienced audience, in a way that seeps through organically to anyone who might reek of the game.

In a recent interview with the SpelunkyCast, series creator Derek Yu explained that a key design pillar for this sequel was to make it feel more like an open-world game, reducing the chance of “every” major gameplay element in a single run is seen is less likely. If you’re going to play the game over and over, Yu thinks, why should it always lead from the mines to the jungle to the ice caves? Hence, the first major change comes from a forking path in each run, where players are given multiple “world” options after about every four levels. When the environment is about to change, you have access to at least two doors, and these differ drastically in terms of enemies, challenges, and traps that lie ahead.

Without getting too spoilery, some of these environmental changes include new twists in “liquid” physics. Think of Spelunky HD, where you may feel compelled to blow a hole in a wall with one of your limited bombs to reach a treasure or progress. That still matters Spelunky 2, but now think of amounts of liquid that can be displaced or dislodged by a bomb, intentionally or accidentally. Does that liquid contain objects? If you swim through that liquid (a new maneuver in this game), would you be able to reach new places? Could that liquid harm you in some way? And with a freeze beam handy, can you turn dangerous enemies into floating ice blocks?

Let’s argue

In our early testing, Kyle Orland of Ars Technica and I had different opinions about these branching paths: which are safer, more fruitful, or more interesting. Neither of us dislike anything in these forking paths. It’s just different enough to spark a compelling disagreement – which, god, absolutely is juice for a game that lives and dies through procedural generation. A great random adventure game should not only be fun, but also promote great water cooler conversations between fans: “…and That angered the shopkeeper, but then he was crushed, so I rushed to get his loot, only to have a horned lizard catch me in a corner!”

In addition to that big change, there is simply more of everything. More store types, including some that let you trade your accumulated wealth for slot machine bonuses or tickets to mysterious treasure-filled vaults. More items, including a deadly crossbow that can be reloaded with any arrow you find (especially the ones that shoot from traps). And even more enemies and creatures that remix each level with new, dangerous possibilities to watch out for, like pesky moles crawling in and out of ceilings and floors – turning seemingly harmless tunnels full of treasure into potential death traps.

By akfire1

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