Spelunky 2 is a game that can take a while to click. Its warm charm and style masks the unforgiving and challenging aspects of its roguelike genre that rest underneath the cartoony appeal, and getting the hang of it means you’re likely to go through periods where the frustration outweighs the reward. It’s a game I likely would’ve passed on if it’d gotten a free trial or was wrapped into some giveaway promotion, but after sticking with it and advancing through the first few daunting hours, it's getting easier to love.
The steep learning and difficulty curve in Spelunky 2 is the first big roadblock to overcome. After being ferried through a tutorial where you whack some cardboard cutouts and learn how to finesse your enemies, you quickly find out you’re basically the cardboard and your enemies are the ones whipping you. Death comes quickly and from the most seemingly harmless sources in Spelunky 2 – airborne enemies like bats and mosquitos are some of the best examples early on – and it soon becomes apparent why your journal’s bestiary tracks how many times specific creatures have killed you.
But once you peel away those frustrating layers, it’s easier to appreciate Spelunky 2 for how simple it keeps things and its fair expectations from players. It doesn’t layer abilities onto your character to turn you into some superhero with combos to master and it doesn’t force you into situations where there’s only one viable option. Through limited resources and the occasional item pickup, it emphasizes skill and decision-making over putting the right shape in the right hole to advance to the next stage.
Like most challenging games, Spelunky 2’s frustrations are resolved mostly in one of two ways: You learn what you did wrong and correct the issue while retaining the knowledge, or you laugh it off because of how ridiculous the circumstances are. Three minutes to make a decision before a ghostly spirit comes in to one-hit you doesn’t seem like much time at all, but once it happens a few times and you get used to the time constraint, three minutes seems much more reasonable and you’ll have only yourself to blame if you get caught. Other accidents like getting boomeranged to death in a narrow corridor without ever having a chance to escape or getting killed by your own ally aren’t as much as on you as they are on the game, but those moments are thankfully few and far between.
One part of Spelunky 2 that deserves all the praise is the tightness of the controls. You’ll spend a lot of time hanging from ledges and narrowly dodging insta-death objects in Spelunky 2, and anything short of precision simply wouldn’t cut it. Predictable enemy patterns and simple yet effective ways of moving around the map make Spelunky 2 an incredibly rewarding experience when you find yourself zooming through levels you once struggled with.
Those levels are diverse enough to keep things fresh and intimidating with every new world you unlock. The ability to choose between different worlds to go into after you complete one is sort of a pick-your-poison mechanic where you choose the one you’ve grown most familiar with and master it until you’re tossed into the next. There’s an alluring, tingly feeling of anticipation and uneasiness to be felt when you cross the threshold into a new realm. You’ll panic mash your jumps and whips and beat enemies away from you so you can check the journal to find tips on them knowing all the while it’s only death and practice that’ll teach you how to survive in the world. “Completing” Spelunky 2 feels like one challenge while fully knowing the intricacies of its levels and the levels’ inhabitants is a completely different mission.
Simplicity and challenges are key components of the game, and they’re executed almost perfectly here in an accessible and skillful way. Spelunky 2 certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those who stick with it to see what it has to offer, the payoff is worth the investment.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Spelunky 2 is now available for the PlayStation 4 and PC platforms. The game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a review code provided by the publisher.