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Spelunker Party puts a friendly face on '80s masocore

Spelunker

Look at that picture above. It’s inviting. It’s bright. It features charming, bouncy kid-friendly characters and a variety of adorable pets including a multitude of kitties and puppers. This is the very image of a casual, easygoing family game. It’s even coming to Switch, backed up by the exact same marketing.

Spelunker Party must have murdered that sweet, innocent game to wear its skin like some kind of retro-gaming Leatherface. Spelunker has been the cold, unfeeling soul of cruel and unusual masocore platforming incarnate since 1983, and now it’s out on PC. Run, hide and be very careful not to fall more than three feet at a time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Spelunker, a little history lesson: First released for Atari systems in 1983, the series found its true home in Japan as an arcade and NES title. The original was a treasure-hunting arcade platformer famed for its fierce difficulty and comically fragile protagonist. Trip over a pothole? You die. Jump off the last rung of a ladder? You die. Stand too close to a flare you just launched? You are somehow disintegrated by its terrible brightness, which is still only enough to ward off bats for a precious few seconds.

Among Japanese gamers, it’s a decades-old running gag: The moment you strap on a lantern-helmet and delve underground, you become more fragile than glass. Even the Steam store page lets the mask slip for a second, referring to the protagonist as ‘The Weakest Action Hero’. It’s like Dark Souls’ PREPARE TO DIE advertising, but delivered in sing-song tone with a disingenuous grin.

Spelunker has seen many iterations over the years. All of them have retained this gleeful sense of cruelty, and every death is accompanied by the same, familiar catchy jingle. Spelunker Party is technically not a new game, but rather an expanded retail version of the free-to-play Spelunker World, which saw release on PS4 and Vita in both Japan and the US, but bizarrely never Europe.

While not new, Spelunker Party is the first game in the series to reach the PC in 34 years, so far as I’m aware. By most accounts, it’s the largest game in the series too, building upon the foundations of the original by adding cooperative play for up to 4 players, sidequests, persistent progression systems and a branching campaign map. But at its heart this is till Spelunker, and it will kill you without hesitation or mercy. And, Lord help me… I still want to play it.

Spelunker Party is out now on Steam and Humble for £24/$30.

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Dominic Tarason

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