Spelunker HD Review

By Darryl Kaye on December 10, 2010

Over 20 years ago, the Atari was booming in North America and at that time, a game developer called Tim Martin concocted the platformer known as Spelunker. It was well known for being a very challenging affair, as the main character died from very minor things. What made it addictive though, was that it wasn't a design flaw, and it wasn't so difficult that it was impossible or over-whelming. Everything is possible. And with that in mind, Tozai Inc. decided it was time for the world to experience the challenge again, with Spelunker HD.

The premise behind Spelunker is that you're trying to get as deep as you can, all while trying to find fragments of a picture. It doesn't sound very hard, but the game can be very restrictive. In keeping with the original game, the main character can only perform a jump, or use an item. But this is what makes it challenging, because while he can jump, he can't fall from any kind of height, and he'll die in one hit from anything.

What this means is, that if you slightly miss-time a jump, you'll die. If you fall off a ladder, you'll die. If you get touched by some bat droppings, you'll die. And if you get crushed by a boulder, well, you'll die. That last one isn't so shocking though. It might sound like it's a very frustrating affair, and in some cases it is, but if you die you know it's because of something you did - a mistake you made. At no time is it ever the game's fault, and this is what makes the game so appealing.

When you first start playing the game, you'll probably see your lives disappear rather quickly, but once you get used to how the game works, and learn what puzzles are coming up, you'll get further. What initially seemed daunting becomes a walk in the park, and this is how the game progresses all the way through. Once you get past the previous part that was causing you trouble, you'll encounter a new problem.

Spelunker HD Multiplayer
This doesn't just come in the form of navigating a passage though, it also comes in locating the items you need to progress, or to unveil the picture. There are various keys hidden around the stage and you can't progress until you find all of them. It's not uncommon to find picture fragments in places which are hard to reach, or hidden behind lumps of rock which must be destroyed first.

Despite there only being three items, their use can be quite tricky. Bombs can hurt you, so you need to make sure you get out of the blast radius - but this can sometimes mean traversing back through dangerous ground. Flares need to be used to scare off bats, whose droppings are rather deadly, but again, they can hurt you too and only last for a finite amount of time. The final item, is your mysterious gun which can destroy ghosts, a rather annoying foe.

Unlike the more static enemies, like the spiders or snakes, which follow set patterns of movement. The ghosts appear randomly and just home in on you. It's quite ominous to hear the music change and not know exactly where the ghost is coming from. You also can't fire your gun while performing any action, so you need to decide whether you want to take a risk or not, and try to progress a bit further.

This is quite a big issue too, because everything is based on time in Spelunker. At the top of the screen you'll see a bar which is gradually ticking down, and when it expires you die. To replenish it, you need to pick up key items, or get to a checkpoint.

While the gameplay provides a near identical experience to the original, the game has received a nice make-over in the form of HD graphics and a few nice tracks of music. However, if you just can't get enough of the original, it is possible to play the entire thing with classic graphics and original styled music.

To actually complete Spelunker HD, will require a ridiculous amount of hours, potentially more than a standard retail release. It will take that long to learn what's in store for you, and then, to actually pull it off flawlessly. There are a plethora of levels and even getting to the 10th one is an achievement in itself. Oh, and there's also multiplayer available for up to six players.

Final Thoughts

Spelunker HD is a really fun and enjoyable experience. Sure, it's tough, but it's tough in a good way. If you keep playing you'll learn more about the game and you'll be able to get further than you did the last time. And that's how the game hooks you in, you'll always have that lingering feeling that you could have got further. If you have a hankering for a challenging platformer, then definitely give Spelunker HD a go.

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