Spelunker HD Review

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Spelunker HD Publisher: Tozai Games
Developer: Timothy G. Martin

Platform: PlayStation 3
Reviewed on PlayStation 3

Real spelunkers are a rugged breed, nosing about in total darkness, squeezing into the narrowest of passages, often facing death in the form of deep deposits of scorpion-rich bat guano or dangerous pitfalls. Whether you call them "spelunkers" or "cavers," they are tough individuals, often delving deep into caves solely for the pleasure of experiencing an environment seen only by the few others daring enough to experience it. The eponymous character from the game Spelunker, by contrast, is caving in search of treasure, and is possibly the most fragile man ever to enter a cave mouth.

Kyle Ackerman

Spelunker saw a number of releases throughout the 1980s for home gaming systems, and was ultimately more popular in Japan than in North America, probably due to the game's difficulty. Spelunker was hard. More accurately, Spelunker was frustrating – incredibly frustrating. Most platformers had (and still have) a broad tolerance for jumps and falls. Usually the goal is to make the player feel skilled, allowing seemingly improbably jumps and many, many retries. Spelunker, by contrast, goes to great lengths to make the player feel incompetent. Pretty much anything the spelunker touches will kill him. A slight step down is just as deadly as a rolling boulder, and seemingly nothing is as deadly as leaping to and from ladders or ropes.

Do something even slightly wrong in Spelunker, and you pay with your life – or at least the life of your hard-hat wearing cave explorer. The hardest thing in the world is jumping, and that's before you have to deal with ghosts, falling bat guano and gouts of flame. To make matters worse, the cave is filled with "gotcha" traps that you can't see coming. That turns the game into a series of replays as you learn the precise location of each and every trap through painful repetition. Step off a ladder wrong, you die. Touch water, you die. Come anywhere near a trap, you almost certainly die.

Spelunker is decidedly a game of the old-school, in which learning a series of exacting controller movements was central to the game – not story, experience or multiplayer abuse. That the game is still more successful in Japan than in North America is something of a testament to the difference in game-playing philosophies. If you are one of those (many) Western gamers who isn't fond of repetition, precise movement and extreme difficulty, Spelunker won't appeal to you. Spelunker is all about bragging to your friends that you delved 22 meters lower than they did in the cave, leaving unspoken the understanding that you beat your head against the controller countless times just to make it that far.

Spelunker is still the same tetchy game it always was. Spelunker HD features nicely updated graphics, but as much as the new visuals are an improvement and far easier on the eyes, the game is often easier to play with the original graphics, as it's clearer exactly where things are located when fewer pixels are in play. The greatest complaint about Spelunker is typically getting on and off ropes, so the game does feature a "Rope Assist" function. Personally, I had few problems with ropes (everything else killed me, though), so I didn't find this made much of a difference. Spelunker is simply a game that demands the highest precision, and excelling at Spelunker is like excelling at laparoscopic surgery &ndash it's a genuine accomplishment, but no one at your cocktail party will care unless they're good at it, too.

Spelunker HD is absolutely faithful to the play of the original, updating the visuals and graphics for the modern era as much as possible (without altering the play itself). Spelunker HD isn't going to unearth an entirely new generation of Spelunkers, although it has considerable niche and nostalgic appeal. Those who've played the original know that faithful doesn't necessarily equate to fun. This is a game for fogeys from an older era of gaming, and for those obsessive enough to complete the game.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 5, 2010 11:00 AM.

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