Spelunker HD

Caverns of Despair

Spelunker HD is for the hardcore only. All others turn back now.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: December 20, 2010
For those of you not old enough to know, Spelunker started out as an early arcade game from IREM that was later ported to the NES and became one of the hidden gems of that system. Essentially a fusion of Miner 2049er (a game no one remembers) and early Pitfall games, this classic was updated and released over a year ago to great fanfare in Japan as Minna de Spelunker, and now it has finally made it to our local PSN as Spelunker HD. Should you take the $10 plunge on this diabolical classic? Part of that answer might depend on how old you are…

Spelunker HD can be controller-smashingly frustrating at times. While the game features updated graphics (with the option of enhanced "retro" graphics also available, and actually a little easier to play with), it hasn't done anything to update the gameplay. For those of you who don't remember, games were a LOT harder back in the day. So be prepared to die if you fall more than a handful of pixels, if you jump off too steep a slope, or if you expect to have inertia at all. Your spelunker is a fragile fellow, and given the sprawling verticality of the levels, there are lots of nagging opportunities for death at every turn. Spelunker HD takes place in 10 massive caves, each of which is comprised of 10 seamlessly connected levels, giving you 100 areas to explore, if you dare.

Those familiar with any platforming game will find themselves at home in Spelunker HD's cavernous caverns. Our hero will move around using ladders, elevators and ropes, all while trying to avoid an untimely end at the hands of ghosts, centipedes, guano-dropping bats, snakes, birds, giant octopi and other spelunkers, as well as non-organic antagonists like spikes, pits, an unforgiving clock, and those giant rolling balls you saw at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". While you have an anti-ghost gun, bombs and flares to help fight these foes (and find hidden treasures), most of your defense comes from running and jumping. You will not avoid all these dangers, as many are very well hidden "gotchas" until you hit them the first time, so death is a friend who's cold embrace you'd best learn to love. Truthfully, once you get past the first 2 or 3 caves, things will get easier as you understand everything the game throws at you (which is a very impressive array considering the age of the source material) and things WILL get easier. But making over that early hump (especially the ice stages) will take great fortitude to be sure.

Once you explore your way to the bottom of the caves (hopefully grabbing all 100 hidden map pieces on the journey) you aren't done yet, as this game has an interesting multiplayer system. Featuring 2-6 players online, exploration groups can work together to make their way through the 100 levels (each with their own unique hidden map piece) or race through one of 5 different diabolical courses. The cool part of the online comes from the fact that the screen splits into 6, with your action taking place on the largest area, while you can watch the other 5 spelunkers progress on their own little screen surrounding yours. This is way, way more fun than it probably sounds, and there are so many ways to fuck with your fellow spelunkers that you cant help yourself, even if it is counterproductive as you share a pool of lives. Things are made a little easier by the fact that you can revive your comrades, but if you don't reach them in time they are dead for good, no matter how many levels the rest of the teem progresses through. The race modes are also delicious fun, but the fact that only 5 short courses exist take some of the wind out of the sails of this mode. It also can be practically impossible to find a group playing online, and since games are not joinable once started, be prepared for a lot of sitting in the waiting room for people to arrive if you want to get a big game going. Better yet, make your friends get the game too, that way you can arrange to meet in the open lobby at the same time.

So does this package stand the test of time. and do these crazy Japanese who voted it PSN Game of the Year last time know what they are talking about? Absolutely, if you have any old-school gamer in you. The simple gameplay belies the complexities of some of the levels, and while this game lacks the flash of modern platformers, it does distill the best aspects of the genre down to nice bite sized chunks. Toss in a great online mode (if you can find players) and this game is easily worth the $10 asking price just for breadth of content. Just be prepared that this isn't for the faint of heart.

Trophy Tips: Spelunker HD features a full suite of trophies, including a precious Platinum trophy. Most of these will be achieved through basic gameplay while spelunking the depths, although the one to grab all map pieces may well prove to be difficult, especially as you can only replay in 10-level chunks, so missing that map on level 19 is going to require you to play levels 10-18 just to get another crack at it. There are a handful of easily obtainable multiplayer trophies, but the one that requires you to get all 100 map pieces in co-op can be a dealbreaker, although you can cheese it by pretending to play local co-op and letting player 2 sacrifice himself by standing around. Otherwise prepare for hours of frustration as you try and find a partner competent and dedicated enough to traverse 100 levels with you. Platinum Difficulty: High, due to co-op map pieces.
The Verdict

Spelunker HD caters to old-school gamers unapologetically, and if you fit into that category, and especially if you have friends that do too, you will be well rewarded for your $10 investment. Wimps need not apply though!


The modern graphics are a little silly and can be difficult to discern at times, but the retro NES graphics look amazingly sharp and are really fun to play in this game. Check out level 19 in retro graphics. Hilarious!


Sounds are fine, but not very memorable. The ominous tune that plays when the ghosts appear captures the mood well, but otherwise this isn't an aural feast.


They controls don't seem precise enough for some of the tricky timing moves you need, and for the love of god, turn on rope assist unless you are a masochist. Stay away from the analog stick too! This game is D-pad only.


Traditional old-school platforming at it's finest. Unforgiving is probably the best word to use describing it, but the rush from getting through some of the hardest levels makes it all worth it. The multiplayer is sneaky fun.