Spelunker, a game about exploring caves that heavily inspired the popular roguelike Spelunky, is back, and this time you can bring three friends or strangers along for the ride, be them in person or online.
In Spelunker Party! players venture through caves in over 100 set stages while avoiding giant boulders, bats, snakes, giant bosses, and even some spooky ghosts; how appropriate for a game releasing in October! The end goal is to reach the end of the caves alive, but additionally, players can collect pieces of items and gold that can be used to gain additional items as well. Items are used to buff your characters giving them benefits such as ignoring hits by specific enemies, having a longer stamina meter (which must be refreshed by passing through checkpoints), or additional bombs or flares that are used to ward off baddies.
If that sounds like a recipe for microtransactions you're not wrong, but don't worry, as Spelunker Party! has none and is actually an enhanced port of the not so well received free-to-play Spelunker World that released on the PS4, only completely restructured as a retail release sans microtransactions. No longer are you expected to grind for random item drops, and the framerate is stable even when playing in four player split-screen, so much improved over the game it is based on.
Don't let "Party!" being part of the title fool you, this is definitely not a casual game you bust out at a party to play while playing with everyday people. I'm talking one hit kills difficult, falling more than a few feet kills you difficult. You'll be jumping across pits, vine to vine, avoiding bat poop, ghosts, snakes, and other annoying creatures that can and will kill you by simply brushing up against them.
While Spelunker Party! functions fine as a single player game, perhaps the difficulty can be curbed a bit by playing with friends. Whether playing alone or with friends, you'll start with five lives. In single player when you lose all of them you're done and forced to restart the level, but in multiplayer you can be revived by other players should they reach where you met your demise.
Split-screen runs silky smooth be it docked or undocked, even with up to four players moving around (yes, I managed to move four characters around at once by myself). You can use any combination of controllers available for the Nintendo Switch including single JoyCons and the Pro Controller. Splitscreen is also utilized in the online mode, which is convenient to know what your team is up to since the only way to communicate (that I can see) is a handful of emotes that leave a bit to be desired.
Online supports a lobby room system where the options to search for other rooms, join a friends room, or start your own are available. One disappointment, however, is that during local multiplayer only the first player's progress is saved, that said the other players can use any equipment or characters you've unlocked so far at their current levels.
Characters and items level as stages are completed. Leveling up your characters grants you additional "quests" or challenges to aim to complete while playing normally such as "kill 30 worms with bombs" or "complete a level in 4:15." Completing quests grants rewards such as gold or additional clothing. When clothing or pets are levelled, they gain better effects such as letting you take another hit or use another bomb. Pretty straightforward and easy to understand mechanics that offer a bit more reason to switch up your outfits and extends the gameplay a bit for completionists out there.
Speaking of completionists, a word of warning: it appears to 100% complete the game by getting all collectable clothing items, you'll be required to play at least some stages with two players (or two controllers and a lot of skill). Completing the game and seeing the credits is possible solo, however.
Otherwise, my only complaint with the game is that it isn't all that easy on the eyes texture wise. But hey, the cute characters and animals that help them out and ride on their heads are enough to make up for that.
If you've got a hankering for a hardcore platformer that isn't forgiving while still being fair then I wholeheartedly recommend Spelunker Party! One of the few couch cooperative games releasing these days that can be played start to finish with four local or online players, and there is a wealth of content with over 100 stages available, surprisingly with plenty of variety to be found. I, for one, can see myself attempting to 100% this game by annoying my friends to play with me till they cave (pun intended).
UPDATE: Multiplayer information added
Spelunker Party! was reviewed using “retail” Nintendo Switch download codes provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
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