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An influential indie gem returns, better than ever, in Spelunky 2

Not since the original Spelunky have I been so enamoured with a game that produces almost constant fear. Everything can kill you so easily, and often in ways you can barely understand, that it’s tough to feel in control at all. When you’re in familiar areas, you’re afraid the collection of deadly dangers around you will be organised in such a way that creates an unstoppable chain reaction of doom. And just when you start to feel comfortable you progress to a new area, with wholly new elements, and suddenly you’re afraid of everything again. Ladybirds, witch doctors, axolotls, robots; every new element you see is both an object of wonder and an unpredictable herald of death.

It helps that your demise is often very funny and unexpected. I’ve been shot by a vengeful shopkeeper after a lizard I skillfully dodged rolled into his store and upset his merchandise. I’ve been eaten by plants while running from a caveman who was angry I stole the pot he was holding. I’ve even been bashed by a gang of zombies and vampires when I accidentally exploded a satanic shrine while trying to sacrifice a dead body.

Having to start all over again can be a letdown, especially if you’ve made it a long way or have obtained something special you’re not done playing with, but it’s incredible to find that over time you can make it consistently further and further. The game doesn’t get easier, or your character more powerful — levels are built of the same component parts every time — it’s just that your knowledge and capabilities grow, which is a great feeling.

Though the game resets every time you die, the one exception is that you can earn shortcuts over time that let you begin from further on in the game. The first is relatively easy to unlock, but the others could take many hours of play.

I was initially worried that Spelunky 2 was too similar to the original, which I adore, but it turns out there’s just enough new and remixed material here to return that constant feeling of the unknown. Completely new elements include rideable animals, realistic water and lava physics, a hidden layer behind the main levels you can access through caves, bosses at the end of each world and forking paths that can make each run more distinct.

Beyond dealing with traps and enemies there are heaps of elements that can help you along the way, but it’s always on a risk reward basis and your options keep growing as you stumble upon new rules and possibilities. Who knew the turkey I was riding could become a health-restoring meal with a little help from a fire-throwing demon? Is it worth taking the time to seek out a gold key and get the Udjat Eye, and what does it do?

Shops are useful, but don't upset the owners. They hold a grudge.

Shops are useful, but don’t upset the owners. They hold a grudge.

Every stage is lousy with treasure and secrets, but loitering for more than three minutes summons a ghost who ends you with a single touch, so you can’t stick around to grab everything. Unless you find a leprechaun and steal his clover, and yes I’m aware of how insane this sounds. As with the first game, it’s going to take years before all the secrets of Spelunky 2 are fully discovered.

Beyond the standard solo runs you can also play with up to four players, which makes things a lot more hectic and comical, but also softens the impact of death by letting killed players persist as a ghost until the survivors find a magic coffin that can restore their body. To keep things fresh there are also online leaderboards and daily challenges, plus a multiplayer battle mode.

Platforming roguelike games are much more common now than they were in 2012, when the HD version of Spelunky became popular on Xbox Live, but Spelunky 2 proves the original is still the best. With short, enjoyable runs filled with tension and wonder, constant hilarity thanks to the chaos-creating creatures and items, and stellar multiplayer options, this is an incredibly deep game you could chip away at for years to come.

Spelunky 2 is out now on PS4 (reviewed), and coming to PC on September 29.

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