The duality of the Switch as both a home console and a handheld has made it my favorite place to play any game, but that duality doesn’t always fit. Big AAA games like Immortals: Fenyx Rising can feel awkward to play on the Switch’s little screen, while the latest entries in the Pokémon franchise might feel a bit disappointing when viewed as a console entry. Then there are games like Spelunky and Spelunky 2, both of which just hit the system, that feel absolutely perfect in both modes.
What’s in a Cave
For anyone who missed out on these games before, Spelunky is a 2D platforming rogue-like game where you delve deeper and deeper into caves filled with enemies, traps, damsels, and treasure. You play as an explorer who starts at the entrance of the randomized caves each time you die armed with a whip, a rope, and some bombs. Each run has you traversing individual rooms that usually only take a few minutes to get through in an attempt to get deeper and deeper and deeper.
The trick with the Spelunky games is to not move at top speed at all times. There are so many traps and enemies hidden throughout each level that you really need to be cautious. Rushing through the game is a sure way to end up shish-kabobed on spikes or snacked on by spiders or succumbing to snakes.
As you progress through a cave you’ll occasionally come across shops where you can spend the treasure you’ve accumulated to buy abilities to help you out. You might find a mitt that improves your ability to throw items or spiked shoes that do more damage when you stomp on enemies. This is a rogue-ish game, though, so those upgrades will only last during your current run. When you die, you’ll start right back at the start of the game with no upgrades.
The only meta-progression you’ll find is the ability to unlock shortcuts, just like in Dig Dog. There are a few extra requirements for that unlock beyond just making it from one world to the next, but I’ll leave that for you to find out.
There’s also a wonderful multiplayer mode in these games, which lets you delve with friends. You can play locally with up to four players on one Switch or using local wireless! In Spelunky 2, you can even jump online! I’m not sure that having more adventurers exploring the caves makes things any easier, but it’s certainly a fun, chaotic experience.
One, Two, Either, or Both?
If you’re still reading, I’m guessing your thinking the idea of a procedural generated, dungeon-delving platformer with permadeath on Switch sounds pretty good. If that’s the case, the last question to ask is which game to get. Both Spelunky and Spelunky 2 launched on the same day on the Switch, but as two separate releases than one “definitive edition” package. This is great for folks who already played one of these games and not the other, but makes things a bit awkward for newcomers like me.
I’ve been able to sample just a bit of both of these games, and they really are mechanically very, very similar. The most obvious difference I saw in the gameplay was that 2 had the player character running by default, while the first game had you holding a button to run. Outside of that, it seems like the actual player input is almost identical.
On the accessibility side of things, Spelunky 2 has loads more polish than the first game does. If you’ve got concerns about screen flashes or the like, it might be best to skip to the sequel.
Otherwise, it really comes down to the question of price and story. These are roguelike games, which typically aren’t known for epic narratives. From the bit I’ve seen of the second game, though, there is a story the links the two. On pricing, the first game is coming in at 10 bucks compared to the sequels 20.
Spelunky has been around for over a decade, and it’s finally found the home it feels like it was always destined for. The fast, action-packed, run-based gameplay feels perfect in handheld mode, and being able to put it up on the big screen to play with your friends is wonderful. If you like platforming challenges and have never checked this series out before, I would absolutely recommend picking the first game and trying it out. I think you’ll like it, and the slightly more polished sequel might hit a sale by the time you finish it.