Spelunker was one of, if not the first cave exploration title from the 80s and released on consoles such as the Commodore 64 and the NES, seeing the “HD” treatment a few years back on PS3 gen consoles it’s now time for Nintendo to welcome explorers back with Spelunker HD.
Spelunker HD sees you exploring caves in search for treasure and it isn’t shy on the amount of caves, alongside the original NES release you also have over 100 caves to explore and even a limitless one so if you have a passion for descent (and I don’t mean the boomer shooter) Spelunker HD will scratch that itch.
Spelunker shouldn’t be confused with the more modern Spelunky, this is some Grade A, NES era, hi-score chasing, life eating, sleep consuming beast in game form and when I say this I say this with equal love and hate for it.
First off graphically Spelunker HD looks fine with its new 3D graphics and some lovely atmospheric lighting effects going on but you can tell that this game is now 2 generations old in its animations and level of graphical fidelity, not that it’s a terrible thing when it’s upgrading a title from the early days of gaming nearly 20 years prior to it.
On the subject of graphics the game thankfully gives you the option to play it with its NES graphic set, something I not only greatly appreciated but helped me progress within the game due to how much clearer some of the pitfalls were.
Now the core gameplay loop of Spelunker HD is to reach the bottom of the cave, in the original mode this is around 28 stages and involves you navigating pitfalls, dodging fire, bat crap and using a trusty fan to ward away evil spirits.
Now there are additional modes such as an infinite cave with an online scoreboard, a more intense cave and online multiplayer so you can get your Spelunker fix with other like minded cave explorers.
Now at the expense of handing in my retro gamers card, I love this game but hate it in equal measure due to the extreme level of difficulty, this game is hard and it’s not the kind of hard that I ever thought was adaptable, this is the B.S trial and error memorization difficulty that saw me lose the initial 4 lives over and over again until I remembered each and every death and how to tackle them, wash and repeat as you move from stage to stage.
Some deaths within the game I’ll accept, I wasn’t quick enough or I rushed but if you misjudge the height of a jump by a pixel it’s a death, input jumping to a ladder didn’t register, it’s a death, I’m sure you can see where this is going and the checkpoint system is either really generous in easier sections or puzzlingly placed in tougher more intense situations.
As stated I enjoyed and loathed my time with Spelunker in equal measure, I’m well aware of its old school bones and would have expected that in the “8 Bit Graphic” mode but feel that the HD section of the game could have done with a few QoL improvements and difficulty tweaks to make it more of an enjoyable experience.
Spelunker HD is going to appeal to a very niche crowd, one that thrives on constant deaths and pumped full of nostalgia, while I enjoyed some of my time with the title and greatly appreciated the inclusion of the “8 Bit” graphic mode it isn’t a title I could easily suggest anyone pick up, while fans of the original will likely lap it up in spades it’s a much tougher sell for people expecting a more refined and fair experience.
A tough sell of an even tougher game. Not quite the right mix of difficulty and fun cripples this Spelunking adventure.
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