Spelunker is a blast from the past. It started out life on home computers such as the Commodore 64 and was eventually ported to the NES. The game’s protagonist is tasked with working their way down a giant cave to find the great treasure that is rumoured to be hidden within the depths. Along the way, perils such as water, uneven terrain, steam vents, small ledges, chasms and deadly pits do their utmost to block your progress. From time to time you also have to use bombs to blow up blockages in order to progress. If all this wasn’t danger enough, you also have to contend with bats and even a haunting ghost.
For a game that is now over 25 years old, Spelunker can be forgiven for being a little unpolished. The graphics are fairly bland and the music is as annoying as a Crazy Frog ringtone. Spelunker’s limited control system and unfair difficulty are less forgivable; they turn what could have been a half decent game into a frustrating chore which will make you want to tear your hair out if you play for too long.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Spelunker has to be the number of ways you can die. If you fall from a distance that is slightly greater than the height of your player you perish; if you walk off the last step of a slope you lose; when jumping off a rope, if you don’t press the action button exactly at the time you press left or right, you will fall to your doom. On top of that, jets of steam and bats dropping guano are also a threat to our mining friend.
This is not to say that Spelunker isn’t fun for a little while, but the frustrating controls, vindictive traps and ever present threat of running out of air, all conspire together to make this very difficult to recommend to even the most patient retro gamer. Do yourself a favour and avoid this game. The NES isn’t short of platformers and almost every one of them is more balanced and enjoyable than this.