I am not good at Spelunky 2. It took longer than I’d like to admit to even get past level 1-2, and by the time I finally got the trophy for making it to the second area, my attempts were nearing 100. I usually hate reviewing games before I’ve finished them, and truth be told, I haven’t finished Spelunky 2. That’s why our review is landing so late. But get this: only 3.2% of all players have even completed the game yet (according to the trophy for game completion), and that’s just the tip of Spelunky 2’s iceberg. Completing the game isn’t nearly everything it has to offer, and there are multiple ways to “finish” a run of Spelunky 2. That near-frustrating and almost-absurd difficulty is part of what makes peeling back Spelunky 2’s layers so enamoring though, and keeps it one of the most beloved roguelikes ever.
On its surface, this is pretty standard 2D-sidscrolling platformer, but Spelunky 2 is the type of game that will consistently kill you in ways you didn’t even know were possible. Careful as you might be, something else unknown always lurks around the corner; a laughable series of unfortunate events that whittle your hearts down to none and leave you bleeding out on a set of spiky bones in a pit. It’s not just the death mechanics that are surprising however. Spelunky 2 is filled with secrets, nuances, subtle mechanics, and hidden elements that paint an increasingly complex picture of what this moon-delving dungeon explorer is all about. But also death.
Spelunky 2 Review – You Died
With each death comes another piece of information to file away. It may not become second nature at first, but after enough deaths to a surprise skeleton arising from a skull or burrowing moon mole knocking you off a too-high cliff, you start to learn how to navigate the randomized levels safely and quickly—a muscle memory conditioned by repeated failure and accident. Rushing will often get you killed; Spelunky 2 requires a careful and patient precision in order to gain the knowledge necessary to reach the next area.
Experimentation is key. I often asked myself “I wonder what this does?” or “I wonder what might happen if I do this?” just preceding some hilariously embarrassing deaths. But I learned. And sometimes that experimentation paid off. Spelunky 2 is a notoriously difficult follow-up to a notoriously difficult game, but it balances its difficulty and frustrations with a sense of discovery and learnability that begs for just one more run. Succeeding, whether by reaching the next area or uncovering one more of Spelunky 2’s treasure trove of secrets, is a rewarding dopamine hit made all the sweeter by just how easy it is to stumble on failure.
And so the levels of success in Spelunky 2 are directly related to how much risk it takes to get there. You can try snagging that golden idol, but a series of traps are going to make it difficult. Want the reward for returning turkeys to the turkey-herder? You’ll have to cross back over that treacherous environment again to get back to him. Smashing the ghost urn might reward you with a diamond, but you’ll be relentlessly chased by a ghost to the end of the level. But that’s the beauty of Spelunky 2’s multi-tiered approach. Getting to the end is just one of many paths to completion and reward.
Spelunky 2 Review – Journey of Discovery
The sense of mystery and discoverability pervades every part of Spelunky 2. Outside of a basic explanation of the mechanics (move, jump, pick up/throw objects, etc.), Spelunky 2 doesn’t go out of its way to tell the player the unique ways they can utilize these mechanics. Thus, it’s filled with “aha!” moments as you realize even simple things you can take into your next run, often found purely by accident or through abject failure. Items can be purchased in shops scattered throughout the game, but without overt descriptions telling you what they do, plunking down your hard-earned gold for each becomes something of an experiment, honestly far more fun to discover for yourself than to look up online. Some are perhaps more obvious than others—like bomb boxes and packs of ropes—but when a mysterious unknown item pops up, I couldn’t wait to burn the gold I’d collected to see what it did. After all, I was probably going to die and lose that gold anyway. I might as well have fun doing it.
I’m trying to talk circles around many of these mechanics and secrets because much of the fun is discovering them all for yourself, even the simplest things. If you want full guides and rundowns, the Spelunky community is filled with eager treasure hunters tracking down everything in the sequel. A quick Google will tell you exactly what the cape or glasses do. It will tell you how to best deal with each enemy. It’ll tell you how to unlock shortcuts and other secret characters. But what’s the fun in that when you could just crack your whip at that mysterious skull-laden coffin and see what happens for yourself?
Additional layers allow for even more replayability (as if it needed more), including seeded runs to practice on the same layout, single-play daily challenges that offer the same layout for everyone, and multiplayer—both online and local couch co-op. While delving deep into the moon’s mysteries was a delight on the couch, the online occasionally presented us with a lot of issues, tanking the framerates for both players and making it entirely unplayable. When it works right, it’s a great addition, but the problems it had were definitely of note. Fortunately multiplayer is just a nice bonus, not the crux of what makes Spelunky 2, so the issues here don’t impact the rest of the game.
Many games fall into the roguelike genre, but few define it. Spelunky 2’s secrets and danger-infused caverns make it simultaneously one of the most frustrating and rewarding games I’ve ever played. Yet, having barely scratched the surface of what it offers, I can’t wait to start another run—whether in search of secrets or just to see how far I can ultimately get. And in the end, isn’t the desire to continue playing the hallmark of any great game?
Spelunky 2 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.