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Spelunker Party impressions

November 28th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m actually a decent fan of the Spelunker series (which a lot of gamers nowadays mix up with the Spelunky series). I haven’t played all the games in it, there was a sequel to the original that came out only in Japan that I never played for example, but all the Spelunker games I’ve played I thought were pretty dang great. I especially enjoyed Spelunker HD.

The Spelunker games are hated (in the west) for a pretty stupid reason if you ask me: you die REALLY easily. Fall from too high, which isn’t actually high at all? Die before even touching the ground. Touch a bit of hot steam? Die. Get pooped on by a bat? Dead. But that’s the point. You’re surrounded by things that will kill you, and you must use the gameplay mechanics to traverse the levels. It’s called good game design. It actually is considered a classic in Japan which is interesting.

So this came out in Japan as “Minna de Wai Wai Spelunker”, which was a fairly expensive import (around 60 to 80 dollars), but we got a pretty out-of-nowhere english release date announcement for October and I was able to spend less on the game, especially since I randomly waited for Black Friday and it was on sale then. I would’ve been happy to  get the japanese version, so spending less is always nice.

So this is an impressions post because I’m nowhere near done with it, but I do want to talk about it sooner rather than later.

Let’s go!

Developer: Tozai Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Date of Release: October 19th 2017
Platform: PC, Switch (Switch version reviewed)
Genre: Side-scrolling platformer

Rated E for Everyone

Presentation

Graphically this is an update over Spelunker HD. It uses a similar visual style, with chibi characters that have round hands and anime eyes (except for Spelunker, he just has black ovals), but there’s lots of cuteness added to it with a pile of animals, customizable clothes, storybook illustration-style parts for the story, and a lot of different looks for caves depending on where in the world you are. Plus it looks a LOT better than Spelunker HD, and not just because it’s more polished. Spelunker HD kept it simple because you could switch from the new graphic style to NES-style graphics, which was how I played the game actually. But that limited how big power-ups could be or even how detailed the environments and enemies could be, because the game needed to be workable in the NES-style. Party just looks a lot more fun and has a lot more personality, plus every single element that exists in both games looks WAY better now.

This basically uses a lot of classic Spelunker music, but done with more modern-style instruments. I already love the music from Spelunker, so not much else to add there. None of it sounds bad here, though I do wish the ghost music was a bit louder and less… slow. That’s it, it’s nice.

Story… Well, the main character this time is Spelunkette, Spelunker’s… friend? Probably not sister… maybe girlfriend? Wife? Who knows. She can talk to animals, that’s a thing. Like Spelunker, she’s the Weakest Action Hero… So she’s waken up by a comet landing somewhere nearby, and she’s told by spirits to go check it out with Spelunker’s help. That’s about it, I’m not at the end yet so I don’t quite know what you may encounter at the end. You do get help from both friends and animals in your quest, specifically Spelunkette’s sister, who is called… Spelunkette’s Sister… And Dark Spelunker, a possibly-evil version of Spelunker himself (I was jokingly calling him Dark Spelunker before I found out that it was his actual name, that was pretty funny).

Gameplay

Like how Spelunker HD was limited by the NES graphics for its HD visuals, it was also limited by the NES gameplay style of essentially just having one level that went very deep. Party instead has a lot of different levels (I believe over 100), and a few new quirks of its own.

The basics are much what you’d expect from Spelunker. You can jump in a very specific arc, at a very specific distance and at a very specific height. Learning exactly what that jump arc is like is very important. Jump to a vine from too far away will kill you, jumping off a platform that’s too high will kill you, walking off a platform that’s too high will kill you (very possible if you mistime your jump)… So learn the jumping. You can go up and down vines, use bombs to break rocks (stay far enough away from the blast or you’ll die), use flares to scare certain animals (be careful not to touch the slowly-falling flare), use a portable fan to destroy ghosts, find hidden items in walls by using bombs (there’s a few ways to tell if a wall is bombable, it’s not foolproof though). You can also crawl under low ceilings (which makes your oxygen go down faster).

With the simple mechanics you have really cool levels designs that really require you to master how to play the game. It puts a lot of very fun obstacles in front of you, all of which can kill you in one hit. Some segments are really long which puts your oxygen limit to the test (which kills you the millisecond it gets to zero, no matter how close you are to an oxygen station), others have annoying enemies (which you can scare with bombs or flares, sometimes), some have constantly-respawning giant rolling rocks that will crush you, some of keys in pretty annoying places… There’s a surprising amount of variety both in the obstacles you’ll encounter, and how they’ll be set up to kill you. Every level has something interesting, including boss battles, or Dark Spelunker being a dick.

One weird thing here is equipment. Each level has several litho-stones, which are basically ancient puzzle pieces. You will end up getting pieces of equipment if you complete the illustrations that the litho-stones form. Hats and suits are tied to a specific character, accessories and animals can be equipped by anyone. Animals have special skill you can use in levels, accessories can do several things including making your base equipment better (fan that goes further, longer-range explosions to destroys rocks that are just beyond a short hole). Clothes can give score or EXP boosts, but more importantly some will have protection to specific obstacles (which will only protect from it once at first). All equipment can also be leveled-up, by completing levels you get EXP, enough EXP and the equipment will usually gain bonus instances of protections from whatever they protect you in the first place. This is very helpful.

The game is already very fun alone, however levels are clearly designed for 2 players to traverse. All levels are entirely doable alone, of course, but most of them tend to have something 2-player focused. You’ll find switches that make platforms appear, but only while someone’s on it, so some litho-stones are locked behind needing 2 players. Some obstacles are also based on needing 2 players to be any danger, such as one levels where many of the vines are brown… this seems benign when you’re playing alone, but with another player you’ll find out that those brown vines actually disappear after a couple seconds if 2 players are hanging off of them. That said, 2-player is SUPER fun, the teamwork is solid and having 2 people exploring is really nice. I actually wonder, after playing 2-player for a couple hours, if more than 2 is actually decent, because nothing really struck me as requiring more than 2 players.

Overall

Spelunker gets a bad rap, you know. It’s has solid, really well made gameplay, but it gets hated on pretty heavily on in modern years because people suck at video games nowadays and can’t handle a little bit of challenge. I don’t get it. But that said, Spelunker Party is probably around the top of the series for me. It just builds on the solid basics of the series, adds a few things, gives you over a hundred levels, manages to implement multiplayer that is actually fun… There’s not much to complain about. I do think the difficulty is maybe a bit lower than previous games due to the level-based progression, but the levels are a good length, and the game loves giving you bat poop bullet hell segments.

If I have any complaints, it would be the quests… they’re fine on their own and give you cool stuff, but having to handle them one at a time is a bit ridiculous to me. I’d rather them be a bit tougher but not having to select one at a time. Also, lots of litho-stones are locked behind needing a second player, which is a bit annoying. You can play online, but I’d rather play locally.

Yeah, I very much recommend this game. You might want to wait on a sale if you’re not convinced (which the game DID just have so I assume there’s a good chance of more sales later), but it’s a series that deserves a second chance from the haters.

Might not be a party like the title implies, but it is a fun game.

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