Released: March 2009
Reviewed April 2009 by Keith Murray
The common reaction from the average person on hearing the term Spelunker is undoubtedly “huh?” In the conventional sense, it refers to a person who has an interest in caves and caving in general. The more interesting reference is for the videogame from the mid-80`s which has been brought back to life on the PlayStation Network as Minna de Spelunker.
The original Spelunker was the brainchild of Tim Martin and released on the Home Computer formats which dominated gaming in the 1980`s. It also made its way to Japanese consoles, with the MSX and Famicom hosting ports of the title. This last fact plays an important part in the story of Spelunker, as it attracted a loyal audience in that territory and goes a long way to explaining why developers Irem would go to the effort of updating the title.
Distinctly old school in both appearance and gameplay, Spelunker is an unforgiving beast which has lost none of its brutal edge during its translation onto the PSN. The player takes charge of the titular caver as they attempt to dodge obstacles in the search of the hidden treasure which ends that particular level and opens up the next. All this is set against an ever decreasing oxygen counter, but thankfully replenishing canisters are dotted around the level, along with bombs that can demolish obstacles and coins which boost the player’s score.
While attempting to get to grips with all this, almost pixel perfect jumps must be made from ladders, ropes and the like. The price of failure is not a dip in health or similar modern conventions; death is the only reward, being placed back near to where the life was lost. Once all lives have expired, the Game Over screen is displayed and it’s back to the beginning – a harsh introduction, especially for those who aren’t used to the demands of the title and this will no doubt see many players just give up. This would be a great shame as Spelunker rewards the players persistence, providing steady progress as their skills improve.
The obstacles in Spelunker are numerous to say the least. From Indiana Jones inspired boulders or even ghosts which have to be vanquished with a Ghostbusters style backpack, the action can be relentless and no quarter is given or asked. As a novel twist, the game can be played with an approximation of the pixel art from the original, which actually helps those who’ve never seen the title before get to grips with things.
While the difficulty level is a surmountable hurdle it’s the price, currently 2,400 yen, that might prove the most difficult to stomach. While it could be argued that the extensive four player offline multiplayer mode will provide lots of fun with like-minded friends, the lack of online multiplayer for the admission price is risible.
Minna de Spelunker is a quality title, brimming with character and providing a stiff, yet enjoyable, challenge. That the price comes as it’s major stumbling block is a real shame for its long-term prospects.