Review – Spelunker HD Deluxe

I am amazed that the Spelunker franchise has managed to survive for as long as it has, considering how it has barely updated its gameplay and physics over the years. Those games are stupidly challenging platformers, not necessarily because of their level design, but more due to their intentionally clunky and unresponsive controls. Not to mention the fact that literally anything, be it a wisp, a worm, or tripping on a small hole, kills your character in one hit. Spelunker HD Deluxe is the second Spelunker game to be released on the Switch after the largely underwhelming Spelunker Party. I am not expecting much from it, only for it to be less annoying than its 2017 predecessor.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Boulder

This giant boulder is actually one of the least annoying traps in Spelunker HD Deluxe.

First of all, I need to clarify that, despite being a brand new release, Spelunker HD Deluxe is not exactly a new game per se. This is a remaster of Spelunker HD, a remake of the original Spelunker originally released for the PlayStation 3 way back in 2010. By and large, this is the same game, albeit with a few graphical enhancements and some new modes. A remaster of a remake, to be more precise. The same 2D platformer with clunky controls, the same game where you actually die if you fall off from a height most ants wouldn’t complain about.

The controls aren’t as obtuse as the ones in Spelunker Party, which is weird considering that the latter is actually a newer game when you think about it. However, there is an issue that plagues Spelunker HD Deluxe‘s gameplay: its improved graphics. It sounds weird, but the problem lies in the caves looking more detailed, and therefore visually busier. This results on a LOT of the game’s many, many cheap traps simply not being easily recognizable onscreen, especially if you decide to play it in portable mode, like most of us would prefer. As insane as it might sound, playing Spelunker HD Deluxe with retro 8-bit graphics is the ideal way to experience it without getting angry about its cheap deaths. At least not any angrier than normal, as rage is inevitable.

Spelunker HD Deluxe 8-bit

I recommend playing the game with 8-bit visuals. You’ll be able to actually see the traps in front of you.

If Spelunker HD Deluxe was all about its very annoying “career mode”, it would have been as disappointing as its predecessors, even if the inclusion of couch co-op with one Joy-Con per player is indeed a neat addition. Although, there were two things that made me not dislike it that much. At times, its soundtrack is actually quite catchy, even though you’ll spend most of your time listening to the death fanfare instead. And boy, that jingle is a nuisance.

There is also another mode which creates randomly generated auto-scrolling levels that are meant to be impossible to complete, being just a high score arcade mode meant to see how long you can survive against an onslaught of increasingly annoying traps before inevitably dying. I actually ended up liking this mode more than any other in the game, even though it was actively designed not to be beatable.

Gauntlet Mode

This randomly generated gauntlet mode is more fun than the actual main mode.

If you are a die-hard fan of the series, then rejoice: Spelunker HD Deluxe is much better than some of the franchise’s previous outings. It looks a bit better and it does feature a few new modes that vastly improve its overall replayability. However, it is still infested with questionable design choices and intentionally clunky controls tailor-made to irritate players in the most frustrating of ways. I get what it was supposed to do, but there are countless difficult platformers out there that will provide you with the same level of anger and frustration, but with much better controls and physics.


Graphics: 5.0

Playing the game with remastered polygonal graphics actually makes this harder for the player, since death traps end up blending in with the environment. The game does run at 60fps at all times, though, which is a plus.

Gameplay: 5.5

The game suffers from intentionally clunky controls and physics. You never know when a death was due to a mistake you have committed or if the game decided you had to be punished. You can get used to these conditions, but they are still questionable at best.

Sound: 6.0

For as one-note as the soundtrack can be at times, the main Spelunker theme is one hell of an earworm. The death fanfare on the other hand, is the complete opposite.

Fun Factor: 5.5

It can provide a few minutes of arcade fun at a time, especially if you play it with friends, but Spelunker HD Deluxe is expertly crafted to irritate you with some of the most unfair deaths and traps in any game out there.

Final Verdict: 5.5

Spelunker HD Deluxe is available now on PS4 and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Spelunker HD Deluxe was provided by the publisher.