Review: Spelunker (Virtual Console)

spelunker_artPlatform: Nintendo Wii U (also on Wii, 3DS)

Developer: Tozai Games

Publisher: Tozai Games

# of Players: 1

ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Official Site

Score: A- (90%)

Still going strong after 30 years, Spelunker is one of those great games that gets a lot of love and hate for what it puts you through. On one hand, it’s a challenging game packed with treasures to grab and a satisfying sense of accomplishment each time you clear a level. On the other hand, it’s a REALLY and infuriatingly challenging game thanks to “the weakest action hero in the history of gaming”, and yes, that’s a selling point of this gem, folks. If you’re no fan of trial and error, the combination of this terminally frail dude, the need for pinpoint control and collecting air supplies scattered around the levels while avoiding death from everything from a VERY short fall to the small assortment of enemies will have you screaming at your TV within seconds…

On the other hand, for that $4.99 you’re paying for this on the eShop, you WILL die with enough hilariously maddening frequency until you start to grasp and grapple with how the game plays and there will come that zen-like hour or so where you’re grabbing gold, taking out snakes and bats, avoiding that pesky ghost and making that air supply last long enough that you think you’re invincible. Until, of course, you mis-time a jump or have a little mine cart accident and lose a life thanks to a blast of steam or some other hazard…

Failing is such a common thing in the game that early on, some might think there’s a problem with that Wii U Gamepad (which you can play the game on if someone else wants to watch something on the TV). But it’s just the game teaching you that you need to nail nearly every single move flawlessly. Of course, Spelunker goes against what many gamers have learned in Platforming 101, as jumping here has fatal consequences if done at the wrong time, yet you need to move quickly and with a sense of surety through most of the game. Even some of the helpful items you find in the game can work against you. Dynamite is great for blasting big rocks out of the way (and enemies nearby), but a bit of carelessness will take your little guy out as well. Ropes come in handy for progression up, down and across levels, but you’ll miss a jump or drop off one of those ropes too high and end up glaring at your controller or TV with gritted teeth.

Just scream out the nearest window and try again, I say. Between the easy to distinguish visuals, simple controls and that tune that will seep into your brain as you play, the game is a big fat worm on a hook that draws you in and keeps you going until you need to stop playing because you’ve gotten too nervous to continue or you’re feeling the need to stop before you “accidentally” sit on that expensive GamePad. Or, as the game is presented exactly as it was back on the NES, you can just lose that last life, check your high score and pass that GamePad to someone else in the room who may have been laughing at you for a perceived lack of skills only to now see how crazy the game is once they have a go at it.

Fair is fair, I say… just pop on some noise-canceling headphones for when they start in with the screaming and expletives,and you’re all good…

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