Spelunker HD Review

As another British summer draws to a close we find ourselves asking two familiar questions. Firstly, where was the vaguely warm weather we were promised and secondly, how does this generation of barely literate youths, who’ve abandoned Shakespeare in favour of the latest futile fads (step forward social networking and reality television) manage to achieve such impossibly high examination results? Without any meteorological qualifications to speak of, I’ll refrain from answering the former. As for the latter though, well it’s obvious: nowadays education is a doddle.

Back when they called them O-Levels, exams actually required a bit of effort. In those days, writing your name on the top right corner of the paper wasn’t rewarded with a grade C. You had to work for your marks. Fascinatingly it’s exactly the same with video games and thus playing anything “old school” requires infinitely more patience and determination than contemporary offerings.

That’s why Spelunker HD is such a difficult PSN download to review. Yes, it can be very enjoyable and completing levels brings a lot of satisfaction, but against that there will inevitably be hours of joypad throwing, hair pulling and shouting along the way. It’s very much a game from that long-forgotten era where platformers weren’t afraid of making players suffer their way to the finishing line.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves and reach any definite conclusions though, let’s take a look at what is actually involved in these spelunking adventures and what different surprises gamers can expect to encounter on their journey.

As in the original game, the aim is to travel further and further down through an assortment of caves via ropes, ladders and some moving ledges. Along the way there will be snakes and spiders, falling icicles and thunderous earthquakes. Don’t expect any shields or health bars to hide behind though; you’ll never be anything other than a single false step away from the mocking death melody and less one of your a precious lives. On top of these tangible obstacles, there’s also the small matter of a depleting oxygen supply to worry about and the occasional ghost (apologies to those who were looking for an accurate cave-diving simulation) to dispense with. On their own these various hindrances aren’t necessarily much of a problem, but when you’re forced to deal with several simultaneously things can get rather spicy.

In terms of length, there are 100 missions to get through (though don’t be surprised if you get stuck on the wrong side of 40) and plenty of secret items to search for. There’s even an online multiplayer mode to sink your teeth into, although locating some fellow spelunkers might prove just as tough as finding those hidden purple crystals.

The updated visuals are pretty, albeit hardly ground-breaking, but the fact that you can experience the game in all it’s original pixelatedglory is a welcome addition. The musical score also comes in both new and old guises and subtly encourages you to press on and delve deeper into the unknown. Quite why the publishers opted to boast about HD in the title of a retro remake is baffling? We’re not talking about COD aesthetics here people.

That brings us on to some of the more significant annoyances. First up, the “Save and Quit” system. Such is the difficulty of the game, resourceful players will probably find themselves saving their progress after each little section. It’s frustrating having to go back to the title screen every few minutes, but the fear of losing all your lives will force many to engage in this dark practice. Perhaps the developers should have included an alternative system (maybe just a “Save & Continue”) to resolve this and avoid alienating the modern day “softies”.

On top of that it can be very difficult to predict what is and isn’t going to kill our protagonist – sometimes you’ll take a long jump and be surprised to land successfully and other times a fall of barely a centimetre will wipe you out. Another smaller gripe is the fact that the game doesn’t show you falling to your death, but rather tips you upside down on the spot and freezes the action. This may have seemed ok 30 years ago, but it feels very wrong with the updated graphics – audiences have come to expect to see the consequences of their mistakes.

Overall Spelunker HD is an quality little game. Provided you can handle the agonising frustration of repeated failure, the eventual success will taste very sweet. In all honesty the difficulty means it’s never going to appeal to the masses and will always be a very niche franchise. The fact that you’ll probably die repeatedly on the tutorial and, if you aren’t cautious, can often find yourself losing a life on the ledges down from one stage to the next tells you all you need to know about how unforgiving Spelunker is.

If the excessive difficulty isn’t your cup of tea, don’t beat yourself up… just focus your efforts on something less demanding like a Maths GCSE.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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