Before you get your hopes up: no, this is not the long awaited console port of the indie classic, Spelunky. Spelunker HD is a brand new remake of the Brøderbund Atari/NES classic.
In fact, as it was released in 1983, Spelunker was one of the first “cave exploration” titles, and helped pave the way for many modern cave crawling classics. But does the PSN HD remake live up to the original’s name? Read on to find out.
Spelunker HD contains the entire NES game in addition to 100 new levels, and a multiplayer component (which can be played with classic or new graphical styles). Now there’s something you should know about the main character: he’s probably the worst cave explorer of all time. If he falls, even just a tiny bit, he dies. If he touches anything hazardous, he dies instantly. If a bat takes a crap on his head, he is apparently deathly allergic, and dies. In fact, death and caution are pretty much are the themes of the entire game.
At your disposal, you have a flare gun (for killing bats), a fan (for pushing away ghosts), and dynamite (for clearing rocks). Yep, you really aren’t that cool. The formula of a bare-bones hero really worked back in the retro era, when hardcore gamers didn’t mind the higher difficulty (plus technical limitations that prevented developers from making multi-talented heroes), but in the modern era, it’s a bit underwhelming to play as someone whose main power is death. To give you a bit of perspective, if you’re climbing up a ladder, and don’t jump off it just right, you will die: it’s that picky.
As previously mentioned, the entire NES game (100 levels) is included, and is actually the highlight of the package. For whatever reason, the original version is much more responsive when it comes to controlling your hero, and as a result, is a lot easier than the HD counterpart (which falls victim to odd placements of platforms in the new graphical style). While the HD version does have new levels, they don’t add a whole lot to the overall package, unless of course you’re playing online.
The online component, which contains 100 more levels, and can be played with up to five other players, is a blast: quite frequently I found myself planning out routes and battle tactics with all the other players in the room, and it really added a whole new dynamic to the game. You can give certain people combat duty, and others, you can task with entering secret areas due to their superior platforming skills: something you could never do with the original. Unfortunately, the online community is not really that large, and it’s incredibly hard to find a game with more than two people. As is the case with most arcade games, unless you have friends you know who will play with you, buyer beware.
In addition to the coop component, there’s a limited amount of levels you can race through. While the coop mode is more of the same type of gameplay you’d expect from a standard platformer, the races are pretty unique. It’s pretty neat to race side by side with a friend (or three, offline/five online), and considering some levels have you racing in separate sections, there is a bit of variety there. Sadly, there are only five short levels to do this in.
At the end of the day, Spelunker HD feels more like a re-skinned version of the Atari/NES classic than a full on remake with worthwhile additions. The new levels aren’t particularly spectacular, and unless you have a group of friends who want to consistently play Spelunker together, you probably won’t get a lot of play out of it.
Spelunker HD's retro mode is a nice touch, but the HD visuals are pretty bland outside of the ghost models.
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The controls still feel retro inspired, which is great when you're playing with the classic NES graphics, but a bit more could have been done to spruce up the "HD" version.
Not much extra was done in terms of the sound department here - the classic sounds still remain, however.
Depending on how many friends you have, your mileage may vary when it comes to the multiplayer. Depending on how patient you are, your mileage may also vary when it comes to the single player component.
Spelunky HD is a solid challenge, but it fails to do anything spectacular, and instead simply revels in challenging you. Compared to something more modern like Super Meat Boy, which is actually more challenging while still managing to be more fun at the same time, Spelunker HD pales in comparison.