Our friends to the East have been enjoying the platform game, Spelunker HD for quite some time now. A remake of the original Spelunker for arcades and the NES, Spelunker HD has the same infectious music and punishing old-school difficulty you all know and love/hate from the mid 80's. The new version has ten areas with ten stages to an area, so that's like, a million levels. -I'm being told that it is actually 100 levels, which is a lot. Speaking of a lot, that's exactly the number of times you are going to die. A lot.
You take your mighty spelunker, we'll call him 'Plunky,' down an elevator into a chasm of lethal perils. The e-mail from the game's PR firm actually taunted me with how difficult the game is. They think that having one of the most fragile heroes of all time is a selling point. And it is. This is one of those few games that achieves a satisfying mix of harsh difficulty with a sense of accomplishment as you complete each stage.
This game is as unforgiving as William Munny. You are going to die so many times. SO many times. If it moves, it will kill you. If you fall from a great distance, we'll say half of Plunky's height, you die. Allow me to offer up this quote:
Spelunker falls two feet – he dies
Spelunker steps in a puddle – he dies
Spelunker gets bat poo on his head – he dies
There are probably a thousand more examples, but I’m sure you get our point by now. This game is a ‘challenge.’
This is coming from the people actually trying to sell the game. I appreciate their moxy. It would be easier to list what wouldn't kill you. Hmm. What won't kill you in Spelunker HD? Let's just stand here for a minute and- I'm dead. Yes, if you stand around, you run out of air, or the will to live, or something, and die. You can re-supply your will to live air by picking up multi-colored items found through out the level. There are also assorted gems and treasures to add to your score, which you can upload to the PlayStation Network.
Run, Plunky, Run!
Take, for example, the picture above. Those anthill-looking lumps to either side of Plunky? No, they don't kill you. They simply throw you up and backwards if you fail to jump over them. Unless they are the kind of lumps that spray clouds of what I am assuming is weaponized arsenic into the air. That will kill you. So will the flames. And the ghosts. Did I forget to mention that there are ghosts? Yeah, there are ghosts. You can blow them away with your fan. Yep. You have a fan to protect you from the paranormal remnants of past spelunkers.
All kidding aside, the gameplay is sharp and very responsive. Thankfully, the developers have added a 'rope assist' option that will keep you from prematurely hoping off of ladders or ropes, preventing you from falling to your inevitable doom. The difficulty only makes completing levels all the sweeter.
Unfortunately, on top of all the challenging stages is a flawed save system. You see, you begin Spelunker HD with only five lives. If you lose all five before you get through and entire ten-stage area, it's game over, try again. I died five times on Stage One my first time through, so, yeah.
To save the game you need to select "Save and Quit" from the pause screen. Then you can choose to continue from the title screen to get back in the action. Be warned: Only one save slot per user. If you do manage to clear a whole area, you can select the next area from the title screen. There's a way to game the system to get infinite lives, of sorts. I'm sure you savvy gamers out there can figure it out.
This is not what co-op looks like.
Let's talk co-op! Spelunker HD is fun. With a friend, it's even more fun. You can play with four players locally or six people online. Each player gets their own screen. Not only that, each player gets to see everyone else's screen, whether they are playing or not. Did I just confuse you? Allow me to illustrate.
Four player local co-op. Nice.
Two player co-op... Huh?
Six player online co-op. Kind of cool?
Three player online co-op? Blah! Gwah! Ugh!
I am fortunate enough to play on a 55-inch screen in a large living room that my wife's law degree paid for. This is what I had to do to my living room in order to play couch co-op with her.
Not pictured: 80% of my living room..
55 inches of love just got turned into 24 inches of WTF. As you can see by my professional level photography, the unused screens remain displayed during gameplay, online or offline. Holy crap, does that suck. If I was left to my own finances, first off, I'd be homeless; but if I had a home, I'd probably be sporting the 19-inch tube TV I have in the garage. Co-op in this game would be unplayable on that screen. I guess that's where the HD in Spelunker HD comes in. It should have been called Spelunker Big Ass HD. That would have at least prepared me. And no, through all the powers of Google, I could not find a way to turn off the dead screens while playing co-op. If you know how, PLEASE let me know. I will add a full point to my co-op score.
It's a real shame, too, because co-op is a blast to play, locally or online. Spelunker HD is a charming, difficult platformer that delivers in content and challenge. If you can forgive the dead screens and enjoy the hardcore difficulty, I highly suggest you pick it up. It is available now for $9.99 exclusively on the PlayStation Network.