It’s sometimes tough to decide what you want out of a sequel of a beloved game. On one hand, you want something fresh and new that builds on and surpasses what came before. On the other, you kind of want things to stay mostly the same, because you liked what you already played. Sequels often go one way or the other, but then there are rare instances like Spelunky 2 that manage to straddle the line quite well.
This particular follow-up is as much a ‘reimagining’ of its well-regarded predecessor as it is a sequel, managing to blend in quite a few improvements and additions to the core formula without losing any of the original quality or charm. In short, it’s a wonderful game, and you’d do well to pick it up as soon as you can.
Spelunky 2 follows a premise much like the first game, though here you take the role of Ana—the daughter of the explorer from the original. Some time after her adventurous parents disappeared on an exploration to the moon, Ana also travels to the moon and discovers ancient ruins not unlike the ones her parents once triumphed over in years past. Hopeful that her folks are still alive, Ana presses onward into the depths, ready to face whatever may come. Obviously, plot doesn’t really factor much into a roguelite such as this, and while games like Hades have shown that a strong narrative can work well with the repetitive roguelite style, it’s nice that Spelunky 2 remains focused on gameplay first, just like the first game.
Similarly, Spelunky 2 follows almost exactly the same gameplay structure as its predecessor. Your goal is simply to make it through a little over a dozen levels (at least at first...), ideally collecting as much loot as you possibly can along the way. Don’t explore enough, and you’ll be at a disadvantage when facing the much rougher challenges later levels throw at you. Take too long exploring, and you’ll be hounded by a near-inescapable ghost who will end your run instantly if it catches you. Thus, there’s a kind of anxious thrill that permeates any given run of Spelunky 2, as you’re constantly in that precarious position of weighing risks against the benefits. Is it worth it to spend your money in the shop now, or wait till the next one and hope the items are better? Do you try to snatch that idol off an obvious trap, or do you pass on it?
All these decisions are relatively small in the grander picture, but such decisions are each made that much more important by the sheer stakes at hand. Spelunky 2 is not kind to the player. Even compared to its predecessor, which was famed for its punishing difficulty, this is a mean game to contend with. A single small mistake or miscalculation can result in your character instantly dying, leaving you to ruminate on your failures while you watch 30 minutes of effort instantly go up in smoke.
Sometimes it’s not even your fault. That new enemy you’ve never seen before? Turns out it can kill you in one hit, and you learn that by watching it happen. Spelunky 2 is absolutely a put up or shut up kind of game; learn to play by its rules or you will simply never get anywhere.
And yet, it’s the player’s gradual understanding of these rules that makes Spelunky 2 so addictive. Progress is so small it’s almost unnoticeable, yet each run teaches you more about the overarching mechanics and how to fudge things in your favor. Then, you suddenly have a moment of clarity when you realize how quickly you just blazed through a level that was insurmountable to you only an hour ago. More importantly, runs are so quickly ended and easily restarted that you can’t help but try going in one more time to test out a new theory about how to approach an obstacle or enemy. The whole game is one massive sandbox that all but begs you to tease out its secrets, and there’s so many of them that you’re almost certain to find something new each time around.
This focus on deepening one’s understanding of the rules is what really separates Spelunky 2 from the veritable mountain of other roguelites that have sprung up in the years since its predecessor’s release. This is not a game about ‘winning’ in the same sense that most games are. Bizarrely enough, it feels like a rare example of a game that is merely about ‘play’. Yes, there are technically endings if you overcome enough challenges. Sure, there’s an in-game achievement list to tick off.
But Spelunky 2 is more about the road that it takes to get to the conclusion. A road that you have to retread a hundred times over, and yet it feels equal parts familiar and different every time. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is about this loop that Spelunky 2 succeeds at where so many other roguelites fail, but suffice to say, it’s the kind of thing you want to experience blind. Don’t look up guides or tutorials to help you uncover the finer secrets here; you’ll be robbing yourself of the foundational draw of the whole experience. Just take it all in as it happens, let yourself be frustrated and surprised.
For those of you who prefer playing in multiplayer, you'll be pleased to know that the options are a little more robust this time around. You can still play co-op with up to three other friends and deathmatch is always an option if you crave some competition. Co-op is as chaotic as it's always been, while competitive multiplayer has gotten a boost with overall better map designs and more options to customize matches. Plus, you can play online if you don't happen to have any friends nearby, though we didn't get the chance to test this feature out. Spelunky 2 will always feel like a single player game first, but it's nice to see that the developers haven't forgotten about those who want to play with a buddy.
Much like it has in the gameplay department, Spelunky 2’s presentation simply aims to improve upon and polish what was mostly already there. Animations are still stiff and sprites are still basic, but the environments are nonetheless detailed enough that they feel suitably atmospheric. Most importantly, all the important elements on-screen are nicely contrasted against the static objects in the environment or background, which helps greatly with readability for those moments when quick reactions are necessary.
Spelunky 2 is a masterclass in great roguelite game design, expertly combining crushing difficulty with a steady drip of new secrets and lessons to keep you coming back for more. Some may be put off by the steep challenge—this is certainly a game you have to work for a bit—but putting in the effort is sure to reward you with plenty of thrilling memories. We’d give this game a high recommendation to any fans of roguelites or challenging platformers, and even if that doesn’t describe you, this is still certainly worth a look.