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Spelunky 2: A Bigger and More Daunting Adventure

The Spelunky series is a special crop of games. Created by renowned indie developer Derek Yu, this series manages to strike a unique balance of roguelike gameplay, platforming, exploration, and relentless difficultly. Spelunky Classic was originally a freeware game that introduced the series back in 2009. This set the stage for all the main conventions of Spelunky, and how I was initially introduced to Spelunky. It's a great game overall and also still free, so I would recommend checking it out if you have the time. After that was Spelunky HD, which is an expansion of Classic. You have multiplayer, new enemies, new items, different characters to play as, and a whole new hard ending. This is likely where most people have experienced Spelunky. And now Spelunky 2 was finally released in late 2020. The game had a surprisingly long development cycle but it's released without any major hiccups and drew critical acclaim. So how does it compare to the prior two entries in the series? Is Spelunky 2 the ultimate Spelunky experience? Here's The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad of Spelunky 2.

The Good

– Starting with the graphics, Spelunky 2 looks great overall. The colorful worlds and characters pop and all the enemies and animations look smooth. The bosses in particular look the best. Each area still retains a unique visual style which gives a lot of character to the world. Not much else to say other than it's a good looking game.

– The controls of Spelunky 2 are near perfect. They were great in the other games but it feels fine-tuned to perfection here. Your character is extremely responsive to your actions and it makes getting across even the trickiest of platforming sections doable. Again, not much to say here other than the controls are buttery smooth.

– Spelunky 2 continues the same great game design as the first. The thrill of randomized levels, the many secrets to be found, and engaging interconnected systems keeps Spelunky 2 addicting and fun.

– Spelunky 2 is a step up in terms of difficulty compared to the first. The first two games are no doubt difficult games to beat. This game takes it even further to truly test the skills of the player and Spelunky veterans. This game will demand you to learn its rhythm and gameplay loop, and will not go easy on you. Like the previous games though, most of the challenge comes from player skill. It's up to you to practice, learn and experiment. Nothing carries over if you die and you will start back at the beginning but that's perfectly fine. Over time, you will get better and learn and feel accomplished each time you get a bit further. It carries the same legacy as the other games, that being a (mostly) fair and challenging but in-depth experience.

– In Spelunky 2 you will die, a lot. But the game does feel rewarding for how far you get each run. The Journal system returns and it's a great way to track progression. Yes, it's not necessarily fun when you die, but it does feel rewarding to find a new area or defeat a new enemy and see your journal slowly fill up over time. Even if you don't make it as far as you would like, filling out the journal still feels like you accomplished something.

– Now to get more into the specifics, Spelunky 2 offers the choice of some different paths this time. You can choose to go to Volcana or the Jungle for world 2 and for world 4 you can choose Tide Pool or the Temple. It doesn't seem like much but these choices do lead to some nice variety. Each area has specific risks and rewards so it's up to you to decide how you want to approach a specific run. Don't want to deal with the lava in Volcana? Go to the Jungle. Want a chance to go to Madame Tusk's in Neo Babylon? Go to Tide Pool. It's not perfect (I'll go into it later) but I appreciate the choices.

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– I enjoy most of the new items. There's not too many but I found use in most of them. The Powerpack, Hoverpack, and Telepack each have some great benefits that can radically change your current run, the bows provide a nice lesser alternative to the guns, Excalibur can wreck enemies, and the clone gun can lead to some crazy scenarios.

– The new mounts are a nice addition. They can take damage for you, and provide some good offensive and platforming abilities. You can cook turkeys with fire damage and they turn into a free health dinner meal.

– There's a fair amount of side quests you can do while going through your runs. Of course one of the Tunnel family returns to allow you to build shortcuts but each area has a sub-objective you can look forward to. Saving the 3 sisters in the jungle can give you some crucial items, Van Horsing in Volcana gives you an easy Vlad kill, Tun in World 4 can give you items depending on if you do her quest, attacking Kali shrines or shopkeepers can give you quests with Beg and Sparrow for big rewards later, etc.

– I appreciate some of the balancing changes. Shopkeepers in particular have had some large changes. Of course, they still attack you if you decide to rob them but there's actually less incentive to do that. If you only steal an item and don't attack or somehow only damage their shop, they'll forgive you a few levels down. If you keep killing the shopkeepers, even more, will keep coming after you each level. So it's up to you to decide if you want to stay lawful, just steal, or keep attacking them. The Jetpack was easily the most useful item in the other games but now it's high risk and reward. One-touch with fire damage will cause it to explode doing massive damage. It's just as effective as before but it comes with great risk.

– I like that your camp is bigger this time. As you unlock characters it gets bigger and bigger. There's not a lot to do there but taking the time to talk to the other characters adds a bit more personality to the game.

– Spelunky 2 still retains the quirky and dark humor of the other games. It's just as fun as ever to watch your character die in hilarious ways and throw pets and people around as weapons. Some of the enemy designs and death screen journal entries got a real laugh out of me.

– The music is something I know is a bit more controversial. Composer Eirik Suhrke returns from the Spelunky HD but decided to switch things up a bit. Spelunky HD had a great catchy soundtrack. Spelunky 2 decides to go into a different direction and feature more dynamic and atmospheric tracks. I admittedly wasn't too much into it at first but over time it grew on me. They're dynamic so the tracks will change based on if you're in the foreground or not, if you have 1 hp, what level you're on, etc. While they aren't as hummable as the HD soundtrack, they're nice to listen to and suit the atmosphere perfectly. I don't think the soundtrack is as good as HD, and we'll get into the Dwelling theme later, but I still like it a lot. The Tide Pool theme is probably my favorite level theme while Shop Theme B is probably my favorite theme overall (Although all the shop music is great).

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– A small note, but the VS mode is actually really fun in this game. I believe it's only local which is disappointing but there's a surprising amount of options to choose from. I would recommend giving it a try if you can.

– Cavemen

The Ugly

– I have noticed there's a bit more jank to this game compared to the first. It doesn't happen most of the time but I've noticed more unfair deaths occur. It's not game-breaking but making progress all the way to Neo Babylon, and then getting sniped by UFO flying at you is frustrating.

– The hitboxes in this game are also a bit janky at times. I think it's gotten better over patches but I've noticed some weak hitboxes on some of the enemies. The only one that's straight-up bad is the Rock Dog, like what happened there?

– There's not much of an incentive to go to the Temple compared to Tide Pool. Temple has much much more difficult hazards and enemies, even the bosses there are a lot harder. It might be the most difficult area in the game. For rewards, the elixir is not nearly as useful as the clone gun, and while the scepter is powerful, it's dangerous to use compared to Excalibur and you lose it in the next level getting to the City of Gold anyways. You do get a mandatory Jetpack in Duat and the alien compass is apparently useful for the cosmic ocean which does help the Temple a bit but for most players, there's not much of a reason to go there.

– Spelunky 2 doesn't have much of a story but there is some context to what's going on. The intro explains that Ana's parents traveled to the moon to explore and presumably got trapped. That's all you really need for a game like this but I think an actual proper ending would've been nice. When you get any ending, you manage to escape but that's it other than a congratulations screen. I wouldn't have minded just a 30-second cutscene with Ana reuniting with her family or something. Just something to tie up that loose end.

The Bad

– The bosses in Spelunky were never the main highlight but they have not been improved. Olmec is probably the best out of them, focusing more on platforming and timing rather than brute strength. Osiris and Hundun are fine but are rather underwhelming and just makes the player spam bombs if they have them. Kingu (the turtle) is pretty bad, you just stand there wacking her weak spot while she just tries to cheaply throw enemies at you. Tiamat might be just the worse though. She's extremely easy with a ranged weapon but extremely difficult if you don't have one. She's not balanced in the slightest and her fight is just disappointing or frustrating, no in between.

– The Dwelling. This is the first world in the game and it's a shame how much it can hinder the experience of Spelunky 2. It's not that bad when you're first starting out and learning the mechanics of the game but over time it becomes a boring slog. The general pacing of it is just poor for being the first part of your run. The two enemies are moles and lizards, which can be far more punishing than even late-game enemies. You can get around them but each have 3 health, which means it takes ages just to kill one. The lizards can wipe away your health in one attack and the moles are extremely aggressive and fast, with annoying invincibility frames too. Since you want to maximize your success as much as possible, this means you have to spend extra time in the first level getting money and health which takes up even more time. It's also quite repetitive structurally, with the same Yang and Quillback encounters every single time. Finally, the music, while not actually that bad, just becomes grating after many hours of play and I went out of my way to turn down the music when starting some runs. To sum up, the Dwelling is punishing, repetitive, and takes too long for it to be fun as it should.

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– There are a bit too many enemies on screen sometimes. I don't mind an increase in difficultly but the game will sometimes barrage the player with so many enemies it becomes ridiculous. It feels less like a difficult challenge and more like the game is just mindlessly throwing shit at the player. Now I would say 90% of the time this isn't an issue, but that 10% can become very annoying and frustrating. Neo Babylon is probably the worst with this, do we really need 5 spark traps on-screen with ufos and olmite bodies flying everywhere?

– The lack of level feelings is a step back. Level feelings are special levels that occur randomly throughout a run. In the first few games, this can be a hoard of undead enemies in the jungle, a snake pit in the mines, an alien invasion in the ice caves, etc. These levels often have their own risks and rewards which spiced up the gameplay. These still technically exist in Spelunky 2 but they're much rarer and less interesting. The restless dead level shows up occasionally but there's hardly anything of note about it and Volcana will get a factory level that also changes little. Admittedly sometimes you'll get extra long levels but it's just more of the same in the end. From what I know, the intention was to have less of these levels to keep the structure of the game more predictable but in the end, the lack of level feelings hurts the replayability of Spelunky 2 a bit. Also, despite all this, they still kept the dark levels which are about as fun as you remember.

– Roffy D Sloth

Well, I think that covers Spelunky 2! This is a sequel that managed to genuinely impress me because it takes the original and expands on it in a mostly good way. There's some jank here and there but this game's strengths far exceed its shortcomings. Will we see a Spelunky 3 one day? Maybe, and if it does happen, I hope it becomes the ultimate Spelunky experience. Random tangent but this game has inspired me to start the From Software games, specifically Bloodbourne. Haven't gotten too far into it but I'm having a blast so far. I'll write a review when I'm done with that and Ghost of Tsushima.

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