Spelunker Party! (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 21.02.2018

Review for Spelunker Party! on Nintendo Switch

Spelunker is the kind of game that, perhaps, the youngest generations of gamers probably won't have even heard of. Perhaps Spelunky, a 2008 indie title, which itself was heavily inspired by Spelunker, will ring a bell, but not so much the source material. The original 1983 Spelunker for Atari 8-bit microcomputers, however, was such a famous title that it got ported to pretty every popular platform of its era, including the Commodore 64, the MSX, Nintendo's own NES, and even an arcade version was produced. Like others of its vintage, a 1985 title over in Japan, the Famicom version proved rather successful, spawning even a sequel that never saw the light of the day outside of the country. A certain following developed over there around the series, which in 2009 led to the release for the PlayStation 3 of Spelunker HD, and then later Spelunker World for the PS Vita and PS4, a free-to-play title. This title, Spelunker Party! for Nintendo Switch, is a revamped version of the latter that strips away all free-to-play elements in favour of a fully-featured package that requires only one upfront payment.

The NES version, in particular, has been kept very much alive over the years through multiple re-releases on Nintendo's Virtual Console across the Wii, the 3DS and the Wii U. To better understand Spelunker Party!, one must understand what that older version of Spelunker was like. The NES Spelunker is about playing the role of the titular character, exploring caves and mines in search of riches, coming across crumbling platforms over pits full of spikes, steam spewing mounds of dirt, elevators, ropes, and so on, and so forth, that create a gigantic structure that encourages exploration. What is probably the most memorable element nowadays, though, is its stiff and downright unfair approach to platforming. To put things in perspective, however, the NES version was in development before Super Mario Bros. had even come out in Japan and the original Atari 8-bit computer version came out when the original Donkey Kong was still pretty much the pinnacle of platforming! Stiff controls and harsh difficulty was still the norm at that point, which means repeated deaths due to the character falling from too high or a jump not being timed correctly since once a forward jump is initiated, the player loses all control of the character until it lands back on firm ground, exactly like in the original Donkey Kong.

The reason this subject is touched upon is that, for better or for worse, pretty much every modern version of Spelunker still plays very much like that to this day and the reason games with such gameplay are still being made is that there is an audience for it. Spelunker Party!, like other more recent HD outings, pays homage to a series that, over in Japan in particular, has managed to stick around in the back of people's minds, especially as a Famicom classic. It is a modern retro game that is surprisingly challenging despite the choice of cheerful aesthetics and music. The musical theme from the MSX and Famicom/NES versions, originally developed by Irem Corp., is featured heavily throughout in various upbeat remixed versions and has been, in fact, in use in many of the more modern versions of the title released over the last decade.

Screenshot for Spelunker Party! on Nintendo Switch

The overall game is still all about exploring caves in search of riches, although the structure has seen a much needed overhaul with a large map screen showing the progress made towards the deepest depths of the earth and completion of the game, nowadays, is automatically saved in-between each cave, at the very least. Inside each stage are plenty of enemies, hazards, and obstacles - bats and ghosts, jets of fire, and bottomless pits, locked doors, and breakable walls. Of course, items are there to help overcome these in general, such as bombs to break down rocks and even inconspicuous walls that hide some secrets, as well as flares that clear a room of any bats, whereas keys are compulsory collectibles required for progression.

The map is comprised of 100 stages, plus some extras not found in Spelunker World on Sony platforms, and each contains various treasures and litho-stones to collect; the latter combine together to unlock new pieces of equipment that belong to one of the four playable characters. There are hundreds of those, multiplied by the amount of litho-stones required to unlock each piece of equipment, so that certainly amounts to a lot of content, enough to last any potential buyer quite a while! Pieces of equipment can be hats or outfits that come with different properties, such as a helmet protecting the player from bat droppings (this is not a joke) or a fireman's suit protecting the player from fiery hazards. Moreover, pets will be encountered along the way, which can help the player along the way, like the dog Snowball who can dig up treasures from shiny spots found within the caves. Furthermore, each of these pieces of equipment, including pets, can be levelled up through normal gameplay upon completing levels, typically to increase the amount of uses for their properties, such as allowing Snowball to dig up treasure more than once within a same stage or the fireman's outfit protecting from multiple hits.

Screenshot for Spelunker Party! on Nintendo Switch

On that topic, everything that can kill the player in Spelunker can do so in one hit, so bringing anything that can prevent Spelunker, Spelunkette, or any other playable character, from dying in one hit will be most welcome! Most stages are divided up into "exploration areas." Some stages may hold only two, others up to five even, but every stage must be completed with a limited amount of lives at disposal and running out of lives even on the fifth exploration area out of five can be pretty punishing, especially on later stages where the difficulty can turn to pure evil. A particular element of this version is the possibility to explore caves in multiplayer. Up to four players can co-operate in local or online, either with friends, or even complete strangers from the region set in the options menu or from around the world, towards completion of a level. Different options can be toggled on or off, such as friendly fire or "friends only" when creating a room, and communication is handled through icons making hand gestures for basic commands, such as "come over here," but, unfortunately, these may not make proper co-operation easy, so resorting to third party voice chat options on other devices may be best to play amongst friends.

Since often caves require the collection of keys to progress, and since lives come in short supply, co-operation can and will help make things easier to sit through when players manage to co-operate with one another, since splitting the work also means splitting the hazardous encounters en route to each coloured key. Players must, however, meet together at the end of each exploration area before moving onto the next, by standing together on a big pressure plate that will close the door leading back to the previous area and open the one forward.

Screenshot for Spelunker Party! on Nintendo Switch

These are still encountered even in single player, showing that the emphasis during the development was indeed on making this a multiplayer adventure, so this is probably where the biggest enjoyment will be had in Spelunker Party! on the condition that third party voice chat is in use. A levelling-up system is also in place for the player itself, from collecting rank stars on each stage to allow other players online to identify a player who has progressed through the game a lot, or who has only completed a handful of levels so far.

The overall presentation is rather clean and simple, no matter what platform it is played on but this at least allows the Switch to run the game at native 1080p and 60FPS while docked, and 720p 60FPS in handheld mode, which is the best each mode has to offer anyway. Some visual effects, such as the light cast by the lamp on the player's helmet, reflecting of the rocks in the scenery, is still rather pretty to look at while keeping things easy enough to read and identify at a glance. It is a fun game at core that doesn't take itself too seriously with its humour, but which will certainly be taken seriously because of its difficulty. At the end of the day, the difficulty stems really from mastering a type of controls that do feel dated more than from the hazards found herein. Let no mistake be made that the controls are not unresponsive or anything, but simply require such accurate timing at times or distance evaluation for jumps so as to not miss a rope or a platform by a pixel, that it doesn't feel very user-friendly in this day and age, that's all. As a result, Spelunker Party! will likely not sit well with an audience looking for a friendly game to enjoy in a laid back fashion. Rather, it is meant to pose a challenge in the same way that its 30+ year old prequels did and still do to their fans nowadays.

Screenshot for Spelunker Party! on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Spelunker Party! offers a rather meaty package that will certainly provide dozens of hours of gameplay to the right audience, those able to stand the controls and difficulty or are looking for that sort of experience. Such people certainly exist out there and, while of course the unfairness certainly doesn't reach the levels of the NES or 8-Bit computer versions, the stiffness and accuracy required when playing still feels like something from a different age that won't necessarily appeal to everybody. With that in mind, however, Spelunker Party!, like other Spelunker games, chooses that approach on purpose so as to appeal to its fan-base and certainly does succeed in that regard! It is, therefore, a fairly good rendition of the series on Nintendo Switch that should lend itself well to multiplayer Spelunker parties amongst fans both online and locally, on the go.

Also known as

Minna de Waiwai! Spelunker

Developer

Tozai Games

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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