Spelunky didn’t need a sequel. It’s not just a perfect game, but a truly infinite one. With its procedurally generated levels, it’s a different game every time you play it, and even when you’ve officially mastered its mechanics you’re still at the mercy of its complete unpredictability. Spelunky is as thrilling, challenging, and compulsively playable today as it was when it was first released. Again: It didn’t need a sequel.
Thankfully Derek Yu, the game’s creator, disagreed. Spelunky 2 is out now for the PlayStation 4 (a PC version arrives later this month), and it’s exactly as amazing as the original. Like, exactly.
With most videogame sequels you expect the three “-ers”: bigger, badder and better. At least that’s what the standard marketing boilerplate drones on about at every E3 press conference. Spelunky 2 can scratch off that “bigger” tag, at least—it has more worlds than the first game, although its branching structure makes sure that you don’t see them all during a single playthrough. There are multiple tweaks throughout that marks this as its own unique game, and yet despite those changes the ultimate experience perfectly recaptures how it feels to play Spelunky. It’s less a sequel than a continuation, or some parallel dimension’s version of what Spelunky has always been.
Yes, a lot of the same building blocks return. Snakes, bats, spiders, the most untrusting shopkeepers ever, and that creepy unkillable ghost (the dead can’t die again): they’re all here, and they all look and act more or less as they did in Spelunky. The first world even has the same brown-and-brown mine tunnel color scheme as the beginning of Spelunky, even though you’re digging into the center of the Moon this time. There are new creatures ready to decimate you, though, and new dangers and scenarios that will repeat across plays. There’s even a second layer to the game worlds, with smaller caverns that connect doors on the main map, like the old tunnels you could find in the original Legend of Zelda.
Those new enemies—like the horned lizards that roll into balls and spring towards you when they see you, or the moles that hurriedly burrow through the earth and have a knack for popping up right where you’re standing—will fundamentally alter your pacing and strategy in the sequel. The greater speed of these new creatures reflects your character’s enhanced speed; running is now the default for your character, and if you need to slow down for more precise movements you have to hold a button down, in the reverse of Spelunky and almost every other game ever. This doesn’t necessarily make Spelunky 2 inherently faster than the original—I pretty much always hold the run button down when I’m spelunking, which might be why I’m terrible at Spelunky despite loving it—but it does make speed much more of a necessity.
I’m going to compare how Spelunky 2 feels to music, because I compare most things to music. You know when a band covers itself? When they rerecord one of their songs years after the fact, changing some parts, elaborating on others, maybe using different instruments or a new arrangement to find something new within the material? Yo La Tengo has done this a lot. Spelunky 2 feels a bit like that. It is immediately recognizable as Spelunky, but a Spelunky I’ve never seen or played before. And not in the way that the ever-shifting Spelunky is always new when you play it, but change on a deeper, more atomic level. It’s like Yu broke his game down into its component parts, threw a few new pieces into the pile, and then reassembled it in a way that’s both instantly familiar and yet eerily foreign.
The genius of Spelunky 2 is that it somehow adds new possibilities to a game that already had endless possibilities. That’s legitimately impressive. And that’s why I’m sure I’ll be playing this for as long as I’ve played the original, both games coexisting blissfully together as one of the absolute best parent-child pairs in gaming.
Spelunky 2 was developed by Mossmouth and Blitworks and published by Mossmouth. It is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC; we’ve played both versions.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.