The original Spelunky is perfect, or at least as close to perfect as any game can be. It may be difficult, it may test your patience to its breaking point, and it may be relatively short but Spelunky is a game that achieves everything that it sets out to do with charisma, style, and more challenge than you can chuck a run-ending yeti at.
It’s also a game that I’ve played across many different consoles, but arguably most enjoyed on the PlayStation Vita, owing to the fact that its roguelike nature makes it perfect for quick pick-up-and-play sessions. Because of this, I have always said that Spelunky on the Nintendo Switch is a no-brainer and would surely be a match made in heaven.
Well, it must be a blue moon or something, because I was right – Spelunky fits the Switch more than any other console, and it’s arguably the best place to play it.
With so much praise going towards the Switch, let’s quickly get the port details out of the way, as that was my main concern going in. I’m happy to report that it’s a perfect iteration of Spelunky with no glitches, no control issues, and no extra-long loading times. I’m so used to Switch ports being inferior in at least one way, big or small, that I was really looking for it here. Thankfully, it’s nowhere to be found.
So, Spelunky on Switch is a perfect port of a perfect game. But why is it a perfect game? That’s a little more complicated, but I think the core reason is that, more than any other game, Spelunky is all about learning.
From the moment you’re first dropped into a game, you’re learning. You discover that you should probably avoid arrow traps, and then you discover that you can set them off with an item. Then you’re learning to always carry a rock or item on you to chuck at stuff. What stuff? How about bats, one of the games core enemies? You quickly learn that the rock you’ve been carrying works equally well on bats as it does on traps, which means you’ve figured out one of many ways to deal with them.
After that you’re learning about item durability and just how many times you can use that rock without losing it. Suddenly, you’re getting braver and risking it all to rescue a pug in distress, platforming across the mines as if it’s got nothing left to teach you. That’s when you accidentally chuck it into an explosive crate, sending it flying at you and knocking you both into spikes. Back to the start you go – another death, another lesson learnt.
That scenario is early Spelunky stuff, by the way. As you go further into the mines and reach later biomes, the lessons get harder, but even more satisfying to take in. What’s amazing is that you never stop learning stuff. Did you know that even the smallest bit of treasure can activate an arrow trap if it happens to fall into it? I’ve played Spelunky for close to a decade and I only found that out from the Switch port.
Little stories like the one above flow through Spelunky’s code. There are so many different ways to mess up at any given moment that you’re bound to come out with some great ones. In some ways, Spelunky is even more about its failures than it is about the wins. Sure, I’ve beaten Olmec and made it to the end a fair few times now, but have I told you about the time a monkey jumped on my back, ripping one of my last bombs out and sending us both into oblivion. Something else for you to learn – monkeys, unless they’re the golden variety, are not your friend.
One point of criticism I’ve heard many times throughout Spelunky’s lifetime is that it’s too hard. Which, yeah, it can be very difficult. There are players who will never finish it, but that’s not really what it’s all about. As a roguelike, you’re going to die, over and over again, with no carryover for items beyond a shortcut system that you have to earn.
I’d argue that earning everything yourself is a big part of the fun, however, and I’d also argue that Spelunky being a 2D platformer means that it’s not too hard to “git gud”. It just takes time and the willingness to pay attention, something which I feel like Spelunky earns.
It would be easy to list even more things about Spelunky that I love, but a big part of why it’s so great is the discovery. Sure, I could mention some of the easter eggs and hidden characters, or why the shotgun is like a blessing from the heavens, but instead it feels more apt to let them be discovered. All of this is wrapped up in a simplistic art style that lets the items and enemies becomes second nature very quickly, and a soundtrack that is absolutely full of bops. The caves are a massive pain in the neck, but it’s all worth it for that smooth jazz.
I honestly didn’t think I could love Spelunky any more than I already did, but to see it translated so perfectly to a console that feels made for it is the icing on the cake. Spelunky is now available to pretty much everyone, and if I can teach you one thing from this review, it’s that you need to go and play it. It’s a modern masterpiece that you’ll never unlearn.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Mossmouth