Hands-on: Spelunker HD
Today I had a chance to visit Tozai Games and check out Spelunker HD, which will be out this coming week on the US PlayStation Store. If you have been following this game at all, you probably have been waiting a while to get your hands on it. In Japan, the game was released all the way back on March 26 2009, where it went on to win the PlayStation Store Top Sales award for 2009. It also came in at a hefty ¥2400 price point, roughly $25. Well things have changed for the better and for being so patient, the game will only cost $10 here in the US.
Basically Spelunker HD is an homage to the original Spelunker on NES. Yes you will die, and you will die a lot. The Spelunker site puts things perfectly; he is the “Weakest Action Hero in the History of Video Games.” I remember playing the old NES version and cursing up a storm. You fall like 10 pixels, you die. You touch water, you die. A flare you threw up to kill a bat hits you, you die. There are so many ways to die in this game it is ridiculous. But honestly, this is why the game has achieved its cult status in Japan.
One thing that you cannot blame your deaths on are the controls. They are pixel-perfect just like in the NES version. They have however added an aid to make first time players feel at ease. This comes by the way of a rope assist, removing the ability to move left or right on a rope. However there is a caveat in using this, you are forced to bear the burden of a Wakaba mark. So keep that in mind when you head online, if you don’t want to get made fun of.
While none of the original caves are here, this version of Spelunker packs 100 levels across 10 different caves. Some of the caves have environmental effects too. For example, one of the caves is an “Ice World”. As you would expect, your spelunker will glide a bit across platforms because they are icy. There is also a lava world, which adds even more danger to an already perilous game. You can choose to play the game with either Retro or Updated visuals. I really liked the Retro visuals, which are crisp and as an added bonus are accompanied by a chiptune soundtrack. This is not a knock at the Updated visuals in the slightest though; I just have a soft spot for NES style graphics.
Your main objective, while navigating these caves, is to collect keys to unlock doors which open up more for you to explore. There are also gems to collect for a higher score, bombs that are used to clear boulders in your way, and air canisters which give the spelunker fresh air to breathe. The Min/Max bar at the top of some of the screens is your air supply. If that gets too low, you die… imagine that. These caves are also large so you will need all the air you can get, but thanks to a mini map in the corner, you won’t get too lost. There are also power-ups along the way, the most important being an invincibility mode. Besides all those items, there are also hidden treasures. During the loading screen of the game, a huge mural is broken up into many pieces. Throughout the caves are tablet pieces that when found are added to the mural. I won’t spoil what it looks like, but is really interesting to say the least.
Besides collecting you will also have to be on the offensive. For some reason, you have picked the most booby-trapped, haunted, and wild cave on the planet. There are snakes, bats, and spiders around every corner. But those are all squirts compared to the ghosts. Luckily, you have the arsenal to take all these foes out. Bats for instance can be scared away with a flare. All actions are done by hitting the square button along with some input on the directional pad. Bombs are mapped to down and square, while flares are used by pressing up and square. The square button by itself is your ghost zapper 3000, a.k.a. a portable fan. However, you have to use this sparingly, as it takes away from your air supply. You are also rendered immobile while using it… Just be smart.
You don’t have to do this alone though, this version of Spelunker has multiplayer. You can with up to 6 other players take on the caves in a co-op adventure via the PlayStation Network. If you want to play locally, you are limited to 4 players. In co-op, you are playing the same levels as in single player, but with the help of fellow spelunkers. Lives are shared for all players, so make sure you aren’t the one wasting them all or you will hear it from your teammates. Unlike in single player, you can be revived. All someone has to do it get to your position within thirty seconds and help you out. You also have to be more carefully in co-op as the ghosts are more powerful. Teaming up to take them out is a must. But if you don’t want to play nice you can be an extreme nuisance. Taking all the items, setting bombs in the way of team-mates, all sorts of great griefing fun. Look out when using bombs because it causes rocks to fall from the ceiling and if you are hit, you die. There is also an emoticon system for communication if not everyone on the team is using a mic, think Phantasy Star Online style.
Along with co-op there is a competitive mode which is a race to the finish. Here you get unlimited lives but don’t think that makes it any easier :). When playing today, I had a blast with this mode, even though I probably died upwards of 30 times. Rest assured when this game hits next week, there will be a throw-down amongst PSNStores Editors… Eric you are going down. There are also leaderboards, so be sure to add me to your friends list if you want a challenge. Sadly, the boards are region locked, so we won’t be able to look at the scores from Japan or Asia and weep.
Besides the leaderboards the game also features trophies and it has a platinum. If you get that platinum you are probably a hardcore dude, consider it a badge of honor. There are also some home unlocks if that is your thing. Tozai is working with Irem to bring the Spelunker Home Space over to the US version of Home. Although it won’t be there at launch expect it soon after. From the space, you can meet up with other spelunkers and use the game launching feature. There is also a cave to explore, just like in the game. And yes you can die there by touching pretty much everything!
So I hope you are as excited as I am to play this game next week. And I know these two things will be asked so I will answer it here, no there will not be a demo at launch. Tozai told me that they are looking into having one possibly later down the line. They are also unsure whether to bring the “Minna de Spelunker Black” content out in the US. So I pose this question to you readers, would you like to see the even harder, Spelunker HD Black? Leave a response in the comments or on the Spelunker HD Facebook page; I know the great folks over at Tozai will be watching.