“This is the run where I’m making real progress,” I tell myself. “Last time I was careless, but this time it will be different.” With this self-assurance I descend into the caves of Spelunky 2 for the umpteenth time. I masterfully avoid booby traps and whip bats, spiders and snakes before they can steal my health. I can make it through the first level with ease. My self-confidence rises when I grab a crossbow from the shopkeeper. Everything is going according to plan when suddenly a horned lizard rolls into me, pushes me back and sets off a wonderful chain reaction with skeletons, arrow traps and finally a pit of stings that triggers my death. I’m frustrated that my best plans fell apart so quickly, but once the option to start a new run appears, I can’t select it fast enough.
Despite the many times I’ve yelled when my character’s body bounces around like a pinball machine from scenarios like this, Spelunky 2 is incessantly fun. Keeping the same formula as its predecessor, the engaging villainous action platformer puts you in a procedurally generated cave system and dares to go further than last time. The fascinating difficulty and randomization of the world is effectively combined with the desire to do better and provides the drive to take another round. As you dig deeper into the caves, you’ll discover new biomes, like an aquatic area filled with killer fish and octopus all too ready to end your run. Starting over at level 1-1 can make the experience tedious. By making several visits to the deeper areas, you can start running at this point instead. The procedural generation offers nearly endless levels to play through, and the different worlds introduce new elements and challenges to keep the experience fresh as you venture deeper into the caves.
This time, you can choose your path depending on the challenges you want to face. After completing the first area of the cave, will you venture into a lush jungle flooded with monkeys and man-eating plants? Or do you want to brave the volcanic foundry full of explosive robots and fire-breathing ladybugs? I love deciding which world to tackle when I reach these new territories, and I’m always impressed by how different each biome feels from the others.
Not only is Spelunky 2 able to choose your way through the caves, but it also adds new secret areas that you can duck into for treasure, challenges, and even new characters to save them and get your community back on track Base to add. It’s fun to see the people you are saving appear in your camp, but too often these passages lead to nothing which makes me sometimes ignore them as they are usually a waste of time. This further underscores the main trap of procedural generation: while skill clearly plays a huge role in your overall success, luck also does, as some runs are considerably easier than others. Even so, no run is impossible as Spelunky 2 makes sure there is a free path to the exit of each level and I tried to make sure I made the most of the time that luck pleased me.
While the descent into the caves alone is a blast, you can get help in the form of NPCs, who are often so aggressive that the best you can hope for is to have some enemies on their way to theirs conquer own death. You can also spot helpful mounts, like a turkey that can head-hit enemies and slide, a fire-breathing dog, or a lizard that breathes bubbles. Better company, however, is multiplayer mode, which can now be played locally or online. As you’d expect, when you add more players to the mix, the chaos reigns. Don’t expect to make better progress with your friends, but it’s definitely fun.
Spelunky 2 is just as addicting as I played this year. Two minute runs pile up to transform into consecutive hours of play, and “just one more try” easily turns into an afternoon of exploring, dying, and trying again. Spelunky 2 is addicting, stressful and exciting at the same time, and even now I can’t wait to test my skills again in the cave’s ever-changing walls.