Spelunky is the definition of "harsh but fair". A roguelike platformer with a myriad of moving parts, the procedurally generated underground worlds have a strict set of rules, and you must follow them, lest you be punished in surprisingly gruesome ways. It's of course very much the same with Spelunky 2, a sequel that builds upon the successes of the original with a suite of new ways to both delight and destroy you.
Let's wind it back a little, though. The core of this series is a short adventure mode in which you delve into an underground labyrinth full of treasures to plunder and beasties to best. Equipped with a few ropes and bombs, your job is to make it as far as you can through several themed worlds. You'll run, jump, attack with thrown objects and your trusty whip, and die. You'll die and start over, over and over and over again. In hilarious, embarrassing, and infuriating ways.
Like its predecessor, Spelunky 2's cute aesthetic belies its extreme difficulty. Some will find the level of challenge and permadeath too much, but this is a game that truly rewards patience and player skill. As you grow accustomed to the many obstacles in your path, you'll slowly realise that there's a remarkable level of interwoven systems all playing out around you.
It's through playing and dying repeatedly that you'll slowly but surely find your feet. Learning how all the enemies and systems play into each other is key to a successful run. The game's world feels alive, and you're just one part of the mechanism. One move can set off an uncontrollable chain reaction of events as physics and AI react to the actions of the player and everything else. It makes for a tough game, but it's ingenious nonetheless.
Playing as the daughter of the original game's hero, you start your adventure in the Dwelling, a location similar to the Mines. Here, you'll be introduced to basic enemies like snakes and bats, traps like spike pits and arrow traps, and other elements like shops and other NPCs. A lot is given to the player in this first area, and it's where you'll learn most of your harsh lessons: don't underestimate any enemy, be on the lookout for traps, and robbing the shop is very dangerous. If you're coming to the sequel from Spelunky 1, you'll find the game plays very similarly, but there are a number of changes and additions that mean you can't rely on pure muscle memory.
At the end of the Dwelling are two exits leading to two totally different worlds. Each level also contains a "back layer" you can enter at certain spots, revealing hidden passages and other secrets. Lots of new enemies have been added; the Dwelling's mole, for example, now means even the earth beneath your feet could be hazardous. Rideable creatures afford you a double jump and new attack, but juggling these beasts while trying to carry, say, a health-giving pet to the exit can be pretty fiddly. New NPCs give you more varied runs than before, providing micro-tasks like herding turkeys or completing basic challenges. A "second layer" in each level is accessed via various doors, and may hide treasure, useful items, and other secrets. For as much as the gameplay stays the same, the sequel is a far richer experience with more intricate and interesting levels to explore.
It all runs flawlessly, too. Whether you're blasting your way through the destructible terrain with a load of bombs or outrunning the fancy new liquid physics, there's never once a hitch in performance. Online multiplayer, on the other hand, can be a bit of a gamble. The net code isn't great, and leads to games full of jittery player characters. This will hopefully be fixed, but right now it's a bit messy.
This leads us onto other game modes. Daily Challenge returns, giving everyone an identical set of levels for a chance to top the leaderboards. Unfortunately there's no quick way to find your position on the high score chart or compare with friends, which is odd. Seeded Runs unlock after finding enough characters, and allow you to go into specific layouts. Arena lets you hash things out in two competitive multiplayer modes for four local players. Deathmatch and Hold the Idol are both fun alternatives to the main attraction, but we're not sure why these modes are excluded from online play.
We touched on it earlier, but we really do need to give a shoutout to the game's visuals. Like the gameplay, the art style is familiar but different. The hand-drawn sprite work and animation is wonderful, and the image is always crystal clear. Some of the environments, too, are gorgeous, though you can't afford to stand around too long lest you be killed by the ghost. The music is also fantastic, capturing the adventurous and slightly creepy spirit of the series perfectly.
Spelunky 2 betters its predecessor in just about every area. Push through its tough outer shell and you'll discover a fantastic platformer well worth your time. More stuffed with secrets than ever and fleshing out the formula with all kinds of new additions, this is a rich and addictive roguelike with so much to unearth.