Before there was Spelunky, there was a 1980s platformer called Spelunker. The ultra-challenging platformer saw players navigating deadly caves with little chance of survival. That game was remade and expanded as Spelunker HD on PlayStation 3, but it’s not exactly easy (or even possible) to play PS3 games on modern consoles. Hence, ININ and Tozai Games have recently brought Spelunker HD Deluxe to PlayStation and Switch, complete with 4-player local and 6-player online co-op. The hard part now is both mastering the game and finding co-op partners who have the skills to pay the bills.
In Spelunker HD Deluxe, one or more players attempt to descend ever further below the earth, collecting treasure along the way. The challenge comes from the fact that nearly everything will kill our heroes: boulders, snakes, bats, bat guano, stalactites, geysers, fire spouts, pitfalls, will-o’-the-wisps, explosions, falling flares, and more. Deadliest of all, falling from a height of more than one space will kill the player. There are very few games as absurdly unforgiving with fall damage as Spelunker... It really takes some getting used to each time you play. After a game or two, however, a dedicated gamer can mostly get used to it.
Other than the fall damage, players do have a few tools with which to deal with many subterranean threats. Bombs will blow up rocks that block the path, scare off snakes for a short time (but not kill them!), and occasionally destroy a wall that hides a treasure or collectible map piece. Our heroes have to high-tail it after laying a bomb, though, because explosions have a huge and deadly radius. Flares will make bats stop dropping killer guano for a short time, but the falling flare can still kill any humans below. A lot can go wrong even when you’re trying to play it safe!
As if the natural threats of each level weren’t enough, a purple ghost spawns in at frequent, regular intervals. The music changes when a ghost enters the map, usually prompting players to stop what they’re doing and prepare for the encounter. You can fight off a ghost by blasting it several times with your gun, though it still advances and can kill you while being shot. Some ghosts split into multiple smaller ghosts when hit, each of which must then be vanquished independently.
The player’s gun consumes fuel (or is it air?). Running out of fuel also results in death, but replenishment canisters (which resemble Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stacks) appear liberally throughout each level. Managing fuel is usually not a big deal – just advance or backtrack to a canister whenever it runs low. That said, the game is tough enough without the constant threat of ghosts – they really should spawn less often.
Spelunker HD Deluxe consists of four distinct modes. All modes support 4-player split-screen or 6-player online multiplayer, and all are cooperative unless otherwise noted. All modes can be played in 3D or 2D graphics styles – the host player selects between looks when setting up the game.
Adventure Mode: This is the main game consisting of 10 areas with 10 stages each – a total of 100 levels. Upon reaching a new area, that area will unlock as a starting position, so it’s certainly possible to reach the end of the game by putting enough time and dedication into it. All players have separate pools of lives in this mode.
Competition Mode: The only competitive mode. Play through 10 unique levels with unlimited lives. The goal is to reach the end before other players. Bombs can be used to thwart opponents, which gives this one a unique touch. Because of the unlimited lives, Competition is actually less stressful than other modes. However, the second Competition level is obnoxiously difficult, so players will want to skip over it when selecting a level.
Championship Mode: Championship is essentially a balls-hard New Game type of mode. It consists of 10 EX areas with 10 stages each, so that’s 100 punishingly cruel levels. As with Adventure, players can choose to start on higher areas once they’ve been reached. To give you an idea of how hard Championship is, the team starts with 100 shared lives, and reaching Area 2 (the 11th stage) is still soul-crushingly difficult.
Endless Mode NEO: The only mode that does not feature hand-crafted levels, Endless challenges players to survive for as long as possible in an auto-scrolling, procedurally generated level. This mode has no split-screen component. Whether online or offline, gamers will die if they get left behind by the auto-scrolling camera. Endless could potentially be a lot of fun, but you get kicked back to the main menu when a game ends, resulting in far too much time between matches.
When playing offline multiplayer in the non-Endless modes, Spelunker HD Deluxe defaults to a 4-player split-screen display. If you’re playing with less than 4 players, the unused screens will simply display the game’s logo. Play online and the game displays a 6-player split-screen view by default. That makes for tons of wasted screen real estate if you’re playing with just two or three players, which will be the typical scenario. Thankfully, pressing the Triangle/X button toggles between split-screen and full-screen views. Just play in full-screen most of the time and then switch to split-screen when you need to check on a partner.
Co-op really brings Spelunker to life. Splitting up to explore stages in search of keys and treasure is a lot of fun with another player – I can only imagine how exciting it would be with a full game of six explorers! There are certainly times when players can coordinate with each other in the same vicinity to overcome tough threats like ghosts and boulders as well, even if my partner and I did experience some de-syncing when ghosts appeared while we both played online on our PlayStation 5 consoles. Another good reason to play co-op is the revival system. A player who runs out of lives can be revived if the other player reaches him or her in time, even if the living player has no lives remaining.
Spelunker HD Deluxe is not a game for everyone. Even gamers who are used to the challenging platforming of Spelunky 2 might be put off by Spelunker’s old-school design and merciless fall damage. Still, if you can tolerate the unforgiving mechanics and fall-related deaths, the gameplay is extremely rewarding. I’ve had a blast when playing solo, split-screen, and online. It might not look like much, but Spelunker HD Deluxe is one of the most enjoyable non-Metroidvania platformers I’ve ever played. If you’ve got the skill and patience for this type of game, you’ll probably love it too.
A PlayStation download code was provided by the publisher for review.
The Co-Op Experience: 3 out of 4 modes support cooperative exploration. In Adventure and Endless Mode NEO, players do not share lives but can revive a player who runs out of lives. In Challenge Mode, players share lives. Most online modes default to a split-screen view, but the view can be toggled to full-screen as well.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.