Spelunky 2

Spelunky 2 will beat me before I beat it.

I like Spelunky 2. With that said, using cheese and shortcuts, and having played 55 hours, I’ve gotten to the final boss twice, and died both times. So I don’t think I’m very good at it. On the other hand, the stats for steam achievements say that only 5% of players have actually finished building all the shortcuts. Maybe the game is just hard.

Spelunky 2 is the sequel to Spelunky. (Surprise, surprise) Having only ever played Spelunky very briefly, they feel rather similar to me, but I suspect someone who has played both could give you an extensive set of differences. Spelunky 2 has the classic roguelike loop: start the run, acquire power-ups and items, then try to go as far as you can without dying. The game itself is a platformer, with the main character starting out with a simple whip, a jump, and a duck/crawl. And that’s it! These are the tools you have to get as far as you can. Let’s talk about that “As far as you can” bit.

With Spelunky, the game is broken up into worlds, each consisting of one or more levels. A level is procedurally generated, which shouldn’t be confused with “randomly generated.” Rather, you’ll get used to seeing certain patterns and setups, and certain blocks of rooms, but the way they’re connected or placed together changes from run to run, as well as what they’re populated with. In addition, each world is populated with different enemies and traps.

Which arrow launching trap will our brave hero forget to trigger in advance, and be shot by about eight seconds after taking this screenshot?

To beat a non-boss level, you just have to get to the exit door. This is easier said than done, because not only are the levels populated by enemies, traps and problems, they’re also full of gold, gems, dogs (Yes, dogs, we’ll talk about them later), altars, shops, and other things you might want. Your primary resources are health, which if you run out of you die, bombs for blowing up walls, and ropes for climbing down large depths.

So far I’ve mostly just talked about what Spelunky 2 is, and not really why I like it, or continue to play it despite being very bad at it. The reason I’m still playing is that in close to 30 hours, there have been maybe only one or two instances where I died because of what felt like actual bullshit. Almost every situation in which you lose life or die, you can look back at what led up to that point, and see how you got there. In my case, for example, it’s usually because I get greedy, and press my luck on something stupid that goes horribly wrong. None of my failed runs are because of bad luck, they’re failed because I made bad choices, and it means I have no problem starting another run, confident that this time I’ll do better. (This will usually turn out to be a lie.)

Yes, the game does have more then two biomes, but I hadn’t seen them when I was taking pictures for this article.

To try to illustrate this, let’s talk about pots in Spelunky 2. A pot is a small item that shows up pretty much everywhere. Pots break when things hit them, and you can also pick them up and throw them. When you break a pot, it can have a variety of things inside, including gems, gold, or various enemies. They’re incredibly simple in that regard, but the flow chart of how you actually end up interacting with them is far more complex.

Pots can be used to set off arrow traps like most thrown items, and kill weaker enemies, but they also can have loot inside. They’re single use, so if you throw them early, you might find yourself without another projectile weapon in the short term future. So when you find a pot, the questions you really should be asking are things like, “Do I have space now to break this safely, and grab whatever comes out if it’s a good thing, or should I pick it up and carry it until I need it? If I’m already carrying something else, should I just throw that at the pot? Can I just smash it with my whip and call it a day?” And because you’re doing this all very quickly, if you’re me, you will inevitably forget some part of this flowchart, and do something stupid, break the pot, and have a snake pop out that hits for one of your limited health points.

And almost every item and enemy in Spelunky 2 has this level of twitchy decision making around it. Did you fire the shotgun near a ledge, only to forget about the knock back? Enjoy being launched into a pit of spikes. Accidentally whip the dog? Hope you don’t have to use it to get past a arrow trap, since now it only has two life left. Try to drop a bomb down a shaft, only to forget you have bombs that stick to walls, and now you have about two seconds before the floor under your feet isn’t? Better move quick!

And because the game is random, you can’t just memorize your way though. You’ll really have to learn how objects and enemies work and interact, discover how items function, and then remember to actually use that knowledge. You can’t faceroll Spelunky. And while the levels are different, the objects are not. Pots and Rocks will always be thrown the same, arrow traps will always trigger, and enemies behave the same.

I really like Spelunky, but if you don’t like platformers, and you don’t like rougelites, and you really, really don’t like bashing down brick walls with your face, you may not have as good a time. I’d buy Spelunky 2 again, and for the $20 price tag, I’d say it was worth it.

Ed Note: There’s no online Co-Op on PC yet, which is kind of frustrating, so hopefully that gets patched in soon enough. Apparently it released super janky on console, so maybe we’re not missing much.