Spelunky 2 attempts the impossible – iterating on perfection – and fundamentally delivers a meticulous, brutal, and brilliantly elaborate sequel.
Here’s a salient truth which any and all Spelunky fans should bear in mind: no single video games journo has beaten Spelunky 2 yet. They may have seen the credits on their 100th or 200th run, but even the proudest among them knows full well that the breadth of the game’s treasures have yet to be mined. Much like the original, the sequel presents a veritable one-of-a-kind, often-copied, never-matched experience that borrows and innovates on generations of platformers and exploration-minded games. With Spelunky 2’s generous additions to this beloved formula, a fresh new feeling of complexity has been injected throughout, even though it’s noticeably more fiddly and imprecise than the original. None of this really compromises what makes the game great, but it might shine a light on what makes the first one distinctly perfect.
The original was the tinder that lit the roguelike bonfire, luring eventual Spelunky masters and eggplant wizards into that firelight for all to see. For the uninitiated: a cast of spelunkers venture into the unknown, cursed by Olmec to resurrect after death, looking for treasures and artifacts in the always-changing caves, struggling with each attempt to get a little bit farther than the last. On reset, the sequential biomes remain intact but the level architecture transforms, with some variations and constants; there’s always a damsel to rescue for a health boost, sometimes a shopkeeper or an altar of Kali to pay tribute, maybe a golden idol trap, and so on. Death is often swift and frequent, mostly due to the game world’s madcap hostility, and there’s usually a lesson in each failure…even if that lesson happens to be “look before you leap” for the umpteenth time.
Yes, there are shortcuts that can be unlocked over time, and Spelunky 2’s particular structure seems to make this feature more appealing than in the first game. There are little twists and massages to the formula that open up the game’s world, including a brilliant forking of paths at level’s end, whereas the original was more straightforward overall (outside of numerous secret routes). There are plentiful secrets and questions to divine and define, magnificent rewards that may inspire note-taking as players shove at the game’s seams, developing esoteric strategies that will surely clog up community forums in the days and months to come.
In a certain sense, the game most similar and possibly beholden to Spelunky’s ethos might be recent masterpiece Outer Wilds. In both games a restart is a fresh start, with vague progression aligning with player imagination, ability, and burgeoning knowledge. In Spelunky 2, Mossmouth adds a camp system, where collected characters (read these as player skins, essentially) build a growing little cave society and offer casual chitchat that changes via progression and results. It makes for a game that is conceptually less lonely and more supportive, even if the basics are the same.