Glancing at the title of my next review and thinking that it’s one that critics have called ‘one of the best ever’ is enough to put a spring in anyone’s step, but it turns out that the missing ‘y’ in Spelunky is often what you scream when playing Spelunker HD Deluxe on PS4, a re-release of a PS3 game that remastered the original 1983 Atari title.
Good reader, I’d like to pose you a question – Is it possible to enjoy a game that’s aggressively awful? If your answer is ‘Yes’, please read on. If it happens to be ‘No’, you have my permission to exit this window. Turn around and don’t look back. I’ll hold no grudges.
Spelunker‘s formula is simple enough – scurrying through caves, avoiding pitfalls and falling objects to head deeper and deeper into caves, there are potential game-like systems that could be employed here and – who knows – maybe even some enjoyment to be had. The overwhelmingly large but, however, comes in the form of a complete lack of quality in all areas.
I apologize in advance to the developer of the remake if it wasn’t, but this absolutely has to have been intentional, in an ironic Goat Simulator-esque ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way, but without the humor. Smartphone game visuals and gameplay tepidly conjure up an image of a Mario and Bob the Builder lovechild while the animation hands him a jerky coffee addiction through an exaggerated movement speed, Bomberman-like, but on separate screens.
Committing gaming’s single biggest sin, Spelunky implements physics so poorly that you believe the game is at fault for your failure, rather than yourself. Dying from a fall from a distance you should easily survive, or dying instantaneously after running off a platform is utterly infuriating. Not only does fly in the face of standard gaming convention – it’s just plain ridiculous. You’d think the developer would use the momentum from your fall to give you the chance to grab onto something, but that would be too easy, right? Add an ‘amusing’ drowning death animation when walking into an enemy and it’s enough to make you turn it off in a fit of rage.
Play the game in its original 2D game presentation though, with its NES Mario graphics and 8-bit music and everything starts to make a bit more sense – the visuals look less tacky and the soundtrack doesn’t make you want to rip your ears off. Quite why the developer decided against using modern mechanics for the modern visuals is a bit puzzling, making a complete mess of the mismatch and doing the original a disservice in one fell swoop, but it at least solves that nagging feeling that something is oddly amiss.
Go one step further and involve friends and the reason for playing this torturous game becomes clear – you are supposed to share your pain with other people, locally or online, in mini speedrunning battles.
After this revelation it is, dare I say, possible to enjoy this title in short bursts, but only if you’ve found people to play it with, as any sane individual’s patience will likely soon waver.
The modes available to you are divided into Adventure, Competition, Championship and Endless Cave NEO, but are all much the same, which bares perhaps the game’s biggest wasted opportunity as being able to cooperate in teams in the same cave (with multiplayer currently only played on separate split screens) could have given this game a bit more longevity.
Spelunky HD Deluxe might just be the novelty spicy pepper of video games, where you trick your friends into playing it and watch them writhe. Enjoyment is not the goal then unless you are a serious Speedrunner and enjoy beating unreasonably bad games. Either way, it’s an experience you won’t forget, for better or for worse…..but probably for worse.