Spelunky 2 Offers a Million Ways to Die on the Moon

Plus, Super Mario 3D All Stars. Is It Worth It?

Spelunky 2 title screen with young explorer Ana holding a torch.

There are rules. The rules aren’t fair. Get over it. This is Spelunky 2.

That’s right, we’re doing another We’re Just Playing “Indie Game of the Week,” and this time we shine our miner’s headlamp on the sequel to one of last generation’s best rogue-lite games.

Plus, Super Mario 3D All Stars is out in all its emulated glory. What’s our verdict on it?

Johnny Malloy

For anyone that rolls their eyes and goes, “Ugh,” whenever they hear a game described as a “rogue-lite” (or “rogue-like,” they mean the same thing), let me just say, at this point, “I hear you.” I name drop The Binding of Isaac and Dead Cells all the time here, but even I’m getting rogue-lite fatigue, or at the very least, rogue-like symptoms.

However, Spelunky 2 is just like it’s predecessor, meaning it’s a simple-to-learn, maddening-to-master rogue-lite that demands to be played by gamers who welcome a challenge and don’t frustrate easily.

I was never very good at the original game despite having logged over 100 hours on the PS3 and Vita. I found it to be harsh and unforgiving. I seemed to get better over time, but not as quickly as I had hoped or assumed. You see, the trick to these games is remembering one very specific rule: Everyone and everything is trying to murder you at all times. Let your guard down for even a second and a statue will shoot an arrow at you; perhaps a breakable jar will reveal a spider or scorpion inside (and it almost inevitably does—causing you damage—when you break it while standing on top of it). That’s just how the odds work in these games. Forget it, Jake, it’s Spelunkytown.

The story in the game involves Ana (the young daughter of the original characters from the first game) going to the moon to search for her parents who haven’t returned from an expedition. Her beloved dog, whose name escapes me (he may not even have a name), joins her on the trip.

The game doesn’t bother much with the story, and frankly I’m not all that interested. Spelunky 2 is all about the bittersweet, punishing gameplay anyway. Those randomized levels that sometimes feel needlessly shoehorned into games like this, are absolutely integral to this game’s appeal.

As you play (or should I say, “die repeatedly”) you’ll learn things that will make you a better player next time. However, with the randomized layouts, you never know where the exit is (outside of the general “bottom” area of each level), or where the arrow-shooting statues are placed. Let your guard down even for a second and a mole with crawl out of the ground and knock you out cold. That may seem frustrating the first few times, as you probably don’t even notice the dust clouds signaling where he is initially, but eventually you’ll stop complaining and simply remember to be aware of that threat.

The difficulty comes from learning that your choices need to be deliberate and thought out, but also done at a somewhat steady pace. Take too long (or open a cursed treasure box containing a lucrative diamond) and a giant ghost will appear and relentlessly stalk you until you escape out the exit or succumb to its deadly curse.

The ghost reminds me of the Baron von Blubba enemies from Bubble Bobble that would hunt you down if you took to long completing a screen. They both box you into corners and allow little room for escape.

Quick-To-Anger Shop Keepers Return!

I remember in the first game, it seemed like I was always accidentally pissing off the shopkeepers. One minute I’m browsing his wares, a half second later he’s firing a shotgun at me and calling me a thief or vandal.

That carries over into this game, and when it happened here, I retroactively forgave the first game for doing this. It finally dawned on me. Everything is trying to kill you. Being in a shop doesn’t mark you as safe. Nowhere is safe. Now when I go into a shop, I have a plan. I know what I want, I get in, and I get out. I don’t want any trouble.

A shop where Ana can buy weapons and items. Tread lightly. The owner is easily angered.
Shop Keepers have a short fuse. Do not anger them or they start blasting.

Spelunky 2 adds new shops that include pet shops and even games of chance as well. You can pay $2500 to roll two over-sized dice in the hopes of rolling a combined total higher than 6. I’ve yet to not bust out. Also, one time, I somehow angered the shopkeeper when I rolled the die. I think I may have hit him by accident. Who knows. All hell broke lose and when all was said and done a mole struck the final killing blow.

The Many Lives and Deaths of Ana and Co.

When you die, you are given the classic rogue-lite death screen telling you what exactly killed you, with a quick instant replay of your death (that continues on until you hit the Quick Restart button, meaning you can watch your dead character get needlessly pummeled postmortem).

The playable characters (I only have four at the moment) have no discernible differences (outside of superficial) as far as I can tell so far. They all die just as easily.

And let me tell you, oh, the deaths you’ll see! Deaths that befall you will include spider bites, large falls, explosions, lava, arrows, shrapnel that ricochets off arrows, angry cavemen, bats hiding jerkily behind tattered cloth, haunted spirits, piles of jagged bones, your own bombs, those easy to kill snakes that suddenly emerge from a jar, an angry turkey owner seeking revenge because you got a little rough trying to return all his pets to their pen. I’ve made it to Level 3-1 (which includes a boss fight) a total of one time so far.

Yes, I’m not very good at this game, but to be fair, only the very best are.

Game over in level 3-1. Ana makes it as far as she ever has.

Risk vs. Reward

This sequel also adds secret caves and areas. Some of the caves are accessible and out in the open, while others need to be discovered by bombing their secret locations. Sometimes, you can see a secret cave while inside a completely different one, offering a tantalizing tease of potential game-changing gear.

The game is always dangling a carrot on a stick, trying to sidetrack you from your goal of progressing further. Sure, you could just head south, avoid as much conflict as possible, and probably get a few levels into the game. Yet, you really should be exploring the area to find gold, jewels, and things such as the booby trapped gold idol that makes it’s return from the original. The more money you earn, the more items you can potentially get when you encounter a shop down the line.

Even your trusty dog, lost wandering the levels with you, can aid you should you chose to rescue them and deliver them to the exit safely. In order to save your dog you first need to locate them. Once you do that you’ll need to pick them up and carry them to the exit. This means any time an enemy approaches you need to put the dog down and fight them, then retrieve the dog and continue on. Sure, you can throw the dog at some enemies and he’ll just get dazed (at first), but eventually the dog can cross the Rainbow Bridge if you treat him like a weapon. If you do manage to drop your dog off safely, when you exit the level yourself they will give you a sloppy kiss and give you back one hit point (which is massive in a game like this).

You can also get health back by blowing up the riding turkeys you find wandering certain areas. Now before you peg me a monster, I wasn’t trying to flash-cook a turkey. I was fighting for my life when I shot out a bomb that happened to land right next to a turkey that was knocked out cold. If it’s any consolation, he probably went peaceful. And he was delicious.

Still the Same

Make no mistake, Spelunky 2 is a great game and I’m wholly addicted to it, but a lot of it is more than a little familiar. I booted up my PS3 and gave the original Spelunky a quick replay. What I saw was familiar enemies, items, weapons, idols, treasures, and traps.

The menus in game are pretty much identical to the original, as are the controls. One wonderful change is that you automatically run now, whereas in the original, you needed to hold down one of the R trigger buttons, which was awkward and caused a lot of misfires between my brain and my fingers.

There are still Daily Runs, and there is even a co op mode, which I didn’t play because I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

If you loved the original Spelunky, you’ll love Spelunky 2, but I don’t know if adding riding animals and a few minors tweaks is enough to call this an evolution in the series. It’s the classic “More of the same, and that’s a good thing” cliché you hear a lot when a game sequel gives you a shinier yet-familiar experience to what came before it.

If you never played the original, but you do love rogue-lite games that don’t take it easy on you, this punishing game will lure you in with it’s cuteness, and then ram you off a ledge into a bed of sharp, jagged bones. In Spelunky 2, you can be constantly on guard, and still get savagely blindsided, and the desire to “get back” at the game by immediately restarting is what makes this a challenging and highly addictive adventure I strongly recommend.

Spelunky Guy and his wife, Tina, chase after Tina (wearing dad's hat) next to her dog.

Collin Henderson

Well folks, for one, I’ve been plugging away slowly at the massive run time of Dragon Quest XI. Considering I played the stupidly long Persona 5 Royal earlier this year, I don’t know why I decided to dive in to yet another super long JRPG, but here we are. At this point I think I’m roughly two thirds of the way through the story (I think) and while I’m definitely enjoying this entry a lot, I can’t say I’m wild about the pacing. Without giving too much away, the game shifts gears in its second half and makes you explore the whole world again in a somewhat nonlinear fashion. On the one hand, I appreciate the freedom this allows for the player to take things at their own pace.

On the other, though, I can’t say I’m not getting fatigued. Something that the best long JRPGs manage to pull off is they never feel their length. Something like the original Xenoblade Chronicles took me 92 hours to play through the story, but at no point did I ever feel that the game was too long. Instead, I was determining the pace I played at. In the case of Dragon Quest XI, I can’t help but feel that it’s almost too self-indulgent in its second half. Exploring the world a second time and rebuilding your party isn’t quite as exciting as it is the first time around.

Your Dragon Quest party, being guided by entertainer Sylvando.
Sylvando is the best boy, though.

A lot of the entries in this series are quite long (with VII being the most obviously flawed when it comes to its pacing) but even ones like the eighth entry still took me under 50 hours to get through, and that’s while being pokey. The most widely beloved entry in the series, V, is a solid 25 hour adventure, with brisk, snappy pacing. Point being, someone on the development team felt that the eleventh entry needed to have a stupidly long run time, but that isn’t necessarily true. I’m kind of getting burnt out on it, but plan on seeing it through to the end.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve also been dipping my toes in Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s been a minute since I’ve played any of the games it collects, and my old systems are with my parents, so this was a great opportunity to re-experience these beloved titles without having to deal with shipping my old copies. And while we’ve covered 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy on this site before, I still think it’s worth mentioning just how much Nintendo nailed Mario’s movement back in 1996.

Super Mario 64 laid out the groundwork for future 3D platformers, adopting an exploration-driven, collect-a-thon style that encouraged players to explore every nook and cranny of a given level. And while certain aspects of the game are undeniably dated (it is 24 years old, after all), it’s rather shocking just how well it still plays. Controlling Mario is immediately intuitive. He has just enough weight that he feels real, but is also exaggerated enough that you can pull off lots of cool tricks without too much effort. Playing as Mario is inherently fun regardless of what you’re doing (and rest assured, some of the levels in this game are kinda bad), and the fact is that a game from 1996 still has better, more responsive 3D movement controls than some big budget AAA titles do today (eyes Grand Theft Auto) is shocking.

It’s what makes these titles enduring, more so than other platformers of its ilk. I mentioned a while ago that I played through the original Jak and Daxter, and while it wasn’t a bad game, it’s far more dated than 64 is because the movement feels so stiff and unresponsive when compared to the Italian plumber’s first 3D adventure. It emphasizes the collection aspect of 64, while entirely missing what makes 64 work in the first place.

Mario collects a star in Super Mario 64.
“Here we goooooo!”

This is all to say that this collection, while definitely flawed and dated in many ways, is still a lot of fun to play. For my money, 3D platforming doesn’t get much better than Mario, and that does go for all of these very old games. As for whether or not it’s worth the price, that comes down to the individual. If you’ve for some reason never played these classics, this is as good a place as any to start. If you have, and still have them on readily accessible systems, this can maybe be skipped. But if you’re like me and don’t have access to those old consoles, this is definitely worth a look despite how bare bones a package it is.

Written by TV Obsessive

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