Spelunker HD Review
Some retro remakes are no-brainers. Bionic Commando, Galaga, and even Lode Runner all possessed a certain charm that made them obvious candidates for an HD remake. One title I don't seem to recall having fond memories of, mostly because I haven't even heard about until its HD remake, is Spelunker. This game sadly reminds everyone that not all retro games deserve an HD facelift.
The premise of Spelunker HD is simple. You're a miner in search of great treasure as you descend hundreds of meters down into a cave. As you make your way down, various environmental hazards, creatures and even ghosts want to end your quest early. To ensure survivability, you're armed with bombs to clear away rocks that block your path, flares that scare away bats and birds bent on ending your life, and a portable fan that dissolves any ghosts that might creep up on you.
Staying alive is anything but easy. Right from the initial second of spawning in the first level, I found myself dying because I figured out (the hard way) that you can't just jump from ledges, ropes or ladders. The little guy is so fragile that as soon as he lets go of a rope that is just slightly higher than the ground, he dies. And let me tell you, you will see him die many, many times. Like Contra had you memorizing enemy patterns, Spelunker has you memorizing level layout. A nearly invisible ditch that collapses when you step over it kills you, a falling flare that you shoot up in the air kills you, a bomb that goes off and you're not far enough from it kills you, stepping on the rails of a mine cart by accident kills you, not making a jump from rope to rope kills you...you get the point. As if that wasn't enough, your air supply steadily decreases; it also depletes faster when you use your fan to get rid of ghosts and can only be replenished by finding air supply canisters. It wasn't until my tenth try of the first level that I actually managed to progress further down.
If you're feeling nostalgic, you can play Spelunker HD in its original, retro form, which actually makes it slightly easier, as hazards and enemies are easier to see. The HD version has so many extraneous objects on screen that make it almost impossible to notice upcoming hazards, despite making it look better. Its only redeeming part is the inclusion of an up to five person co-operative and competitive multiplayer. Co-op mode has all of you working together to find keys to advance deeper into the mines. The difficulty dials down significantly even though you'll still die a whole lot, but this time your teammates can revive you. Competitive multiplayer works by ranking you by the amount of treasure you find and how deep you get.
It's not that I don't like tough games, but I prefer them to be challenging rather than unfair. Games like Super Meat Boy provide an amazingly hard level of challenge, yet I pressed on because it never felt cheap. I commend the inclusion of a co-operative multiplayer, but even that can't redeem the overall package. Spelunker HD will have you giving up way before finding any great treasure deep down in the creepy mines. If anything, this latest retro remake is a reminder that not every classic game deserves an HD makeover.