Spelunker Deluxe HD
Old games becoming new(ish) has been happening for ages. The most recent adaptation for the Nintendo Switch (with other platforms available too) is Spelunker Deluxe HD. Spelunker has a pedigree that is older than I am, which is rare for most videogame series these days, and dates back to 1984. People like to say videogames were tougher back then, and certainly some of them were genuinely hard, while others were just bad.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Old school arcade difficulty|
|+ Some pleasant earworms with the soundtrack|
|+ Lovely aesthetic|
|Negatives||– Poor control scheme|
|– Online requirements blocking restarts|
|– Uneven checkpoint placement|
|Our Playtime||6 hours|
|Available On||Nintendo Switch, PS4|
I suck at Spelunker Deluxe HD. I could lie and say this incredibly challenging game, with high levels of frustration and an old school level of repeating yourself has been completed, or I’m tons of levels in, but that would be a lie. After many hours playing the game, I’m nowhere near as far as I’d like or expect to be. Thinking back to how videogames were ‘back then’, Spelunker isn’t bad and it isn’t just hard, this remaster in its Deluxe HD form is somewhere in the middle.
Having played the similarly titled Spelunky, I honestly thought I’d be better at Spelunker Deluxe HD. But no. Spelunker is very basic in premise; you’re a cave diver with an incredibly fragile set of bones that snap as soon as you’re looked at. Your one job is to dive through as many caves and mines as possible. Along the way you’ll be met by snakes, ghosts, bats, other people, and a whole raft of cavey items that’ll cause harm.Sounds easy enough, right?
With 10 levels per zone and a ton of zones, it takes a long time before you can hit a decent save point. While you’re killed in one hit, you do get lives and that can be increased throughout the level. When you’re revived after dying, you’re normally placed a few steps back but these points are often in as awkward a place as possible. This game has intentionally been designed to be hard and to annoy you, as many games back in the day were. The levels are not automatically generated, so you get very accustomed to seeing the same enemies and obstacles in the same spots, and due to the volume of deaths, the game is a lot less fun, as it is just going over old ground. A lot.
Sadly, the controls are unacceptably poor in 2021. I can respect a game that’s hard work – that’s fine -but when they’re made difficult with slow controls, that’s just not fun. You can only jump forward if you’re already moving forward but the jump button press seems delayed;there’s a fraction of a second lag time before the character moves and in a game that’s designed to be difficult, this delay really impacts your ability to complete the level. The delay, jumping, and even dying is so inconsistent. It feels similar to playing Sonic 2 in split screen mode and having to factor in the lag when jumping, except Sonic 2 didn’t punish you with instant death. Or that hard to begin with. It reminded me of an unpatched Witcher 3 where a two inch drop kills you dead.
Visually, Spelunker is good. There’s two modes to select, pixel nostalgia with 8 bit music to accompany you, or the more modern style which, while basic, really fits in well. The entire game has been considered and nothing feels visually out of place. It’s all very brown and earthy coloured levels with a main character who is somewhat bright and hard to miss. The enemies on the other hand can blend into the background a bit, with the exception of the ghosts, but they’re normally moving and easy to spot.
Each level challenges you with a countdown timer and you can increase your available time by collecting power ups on the way. By and large the oddest moments are when you’re a faux-Ghostbuster blowing ghosts away with your main weapon, or some of the very strange musical choices. Music cannot be ignored and Spelunker has some ear worms, and not always the good kind. Two standouts are the awful noises the bats make, and the nothing short of Eurobeat music of finishing a level in a zone. I got strong flashbacks to the Ayumi Hamasaki Eurobeat remix album of the early 2000s. Strange but memorable for both their high and low qualities.
After you’ve exhausted your lives, the screen will prompt you to upload to the online leaderboard…
Even if you’re not online.
Even if you don’t have a Nintendo membership.
There’s no way to stop this annoying feature and when you die a lot, it’s a recurrent scene that delays getting back into the game. When you do eventually say ‘No’, you’re back at the main screen and there’s a bunch of options to navigate through to get back to playing. It’s definitely an oversight in a difficult game, especially as it’s so easy to turn the Switch off.
Ultimately, Spelunker Deluxe HD is for those who have the time to memorise the level layout, can handle odd control lag and are “hardcore” in a way most people no longer recognise. This alone hugely limits the audience, the appeal, and ultimately the fun factor. It’s a game likely to have an incredibly loyal fan base but one that will struggle to attract more.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.