Game Review: Spelunky 2


Released: September 2020

Rating: T (Violence, Blood, Simulated Gambling)

The sequel to the cult-classic platform game, Spelunky, came out a couple of weeks ago (aptly titled Spelunky 2) and there are a lot of good things to say about it.

Familiar, But Better

Almost every new feature expands on what made the original so beloved, creating an experience that’s familiar but better. It feels very much like playing the first game for the first time all over again.

Spelunky 2’s gameplay remains similar to the first. Notably, it’s just as brutal, even for returning players.

The difference is in the additions: new enemies to kill you; new items to play about with, likely killing yourself in the process; new environments to perpetually die in; and new secrets to discover (and die trying).

What made the original Spelunky so great was it’s cohesion. Each element had its own set of rules and these would play off each other, creating different reactions for different scenarios.

The randomly generated aspect meant that these scenarios were infinite, and the game was full of moments where you would think – “Did that really just happen?” Spelunky 2’s new systems improve upon these moments.

In one run I came across a shop owned by a caveman. His merchandise largely consisted of rocks priced at $1,000+ each – a fair deal, if you ask me. Curious, I attempted to steal one. He tried to stop me. But a new mechanic allowing items and enemies to interact meant he tripped over one of the rocks and died.

This was hilarious, but more importantly it felt like a unique experience that was only possible because of chance. These elements: the shop, the rock and the caveman, played perfectly off each other thanks to the world’s cohesion and how everything interacts.

Image credit: PC Gamer

Other reviews have touched on this too but many fail to identify the main aspect that really ties the whole game together.

There is one thing that builds the relationship between locations, items, characters and secrets . One part of the design that shapes the world into a cohesive whole.

The most impressive part of Spelunky 2 is Eirik Suhrke’s fantastic music and sound design.

Cohesion in Sound Design

In an interview on the podcast Spelunky Showlike, sound designer Erik Suhrke spoke on the overarching themes of Spelunky 2 – those being mythology and space.  

He noted that having stronger themes than in the original game helped him design music and sound that tied-in better and complimented the game’s world.

Each new environment has a distinct theme that fits perfectly. The jungle’s theme is understated and mysterious, whereas a slick Reggae beat plays upon entering a room full of Yetis, chilling out in the ice-caves.

Image credit: Destructoid

It is really impressive how Suhrke creates a relationship with sound and gameplay.  Often, big musical moments are perfectly synchronised with what the player is doing.

Suhrke refers to one of these moments directly in the Spelunky Showlike interview:

“A tension building drum-beat, like a march, accompanies the opening and tutorial. This builds until you finally enter the first level, where the music becomes more and more intense until bursting  into the first world’s theme.”

This musical cue directly mirrors the excitement of starting the first run and moments like this are prevalent throughout.

Image credit: PC Invasion

A notable music moment takes place in Dracula’s Castle. The moment you set foot in the castle you’re hit with a wall of haunting organs. There’s something very cool about the relationship between music and the gameplay. When the music changes, you really feel like you’ve discovered something important.

There was one criticism I had early on. In the original game each world had a variety of themes, one for each level. In Spelunky 2, the music is continuous from one level to the next until you reach a new world or sub-area.

This can become repetitive after dying over and over in the same world. Eventually I did come to appreciate it, as it makes the experience feel like one long journey. It also makes sure that the nuances and small changes to the music are much more impactful when they do occur.

I was especially impressed when I reached the first world boss and the music finally changes to nothing but the beating of drums. It makes the encounter feel daunting and significant.

Once you’ve defeated the boss and are standing outside the doorway to the next world you can hear sounds from the next environment seeping through. Every level and world now feel connected.

Image credit: Destructoid

This came to be my favourite thing about Spelunky 2 – how each level and environment flows into one another. It definitely feels like a more cohesive whole and this can surely be directly attributed this to the brilliant sound design.

If you have time to spare, which you probably do (face the facts, you have no social life at the moment), definitely buy Spelunky 2. And spend at least 456 hours playing it. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Words by Joe Cromarty

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