Spelunky 2 is a feast of brilliant new ideas
There is a single console running Spelunky 2 in the corner of Sony's booth at PAX West, and it is by far my favourite part of the show. The queue is surprisingly small, but it's alive with excited chatter as everyone waiting for their turn talks about the new stuff they can see popping up on screen. It makes for good conversation, too, because there is an awful lot of it. I am a distinctly average Spelunky player but, having spent a lot of time queueing and requeueing, I've now seen rather a lot of a sequel that's familiar but isn't resting on its laurels.
The first thing that strikes you when playing Spelunky 2 is how it looks - the visuals have been given a series of subtle but welcome improvements, freshening up the art style and overall making it look a fair bit smoother in action. Pushing through a spider web, for example, now has its own animation - the white strands bow around your character's arm as they force their way through. The characters and enemies have been redrawn as well; the bats have longer ears, the cavemen are more expressive and the spiders are frankly adorable, although I have to say the snakes now look daft where before they seemed menacing.
There are plenty of new enemies on offer as well - there's a mole that springs out of the ground and comes at you with giant gnawing teeth before running away again, making the initial levels feel surprisingly like a game of cat and mouse. There are also armored lizards that will roll across the floor at you and take a few hits to kill, providing another interesting challenge from the get-go.
Thankfully, there are also some new critters available on your side as well as in the enemy ranks. Cats finally find themselves represented in the game's pool of damsels in the form of a frankly massive looking calico, for instance. Most exciting of all though, you can stumble across a turkey either standing around a level or in the game's shop. You can ride this turkey around, using its speed and impressive double-jump to traverse the levels more easily. I'm not sure you can use it for a sacrifice jump á la Super Mario World, but it's probably worth a try. There are also new items on offer in Spelunky 2, including some boots that seemed to enhance one's jump distance, while also leaving pleasing green halos on activation. I didn't get much of a chance to try the new items, owing to my aforementioned mediocrity at Spelunky. Sorry about that.
The new enemies, allies and items are all welcome changes to Spelunky 2, but it's actually in the level layouts themselves that the most significant alterations have been made; just a few additions and tweaks have made big changes to the overall pace of the game. As well as the customary skulls littered around the caves, there are now also entire blocks made of out bone, making some bits of the levels look like a golgotha. These can be destroyed with one crack of the whip (or unceremonious flinging of a cat), so effectively there are now platforming sections built on very unstable ground. With some aggressive enemy types now the norm in Spelunky 2, it makes traversing these sections quite treacherous, especially when the new log trap gets involved.
The log trap is basically an entire tree trunk suspended ominously in the level, often above a number of bone piles. If you step underneath it, it releases and comes crashing down with tremendous destructive force. Getting past these traps is fairly risky, but there's also an element of reward if you can position an enemy underneath it. Doing so requires some fairly expert timing, and it was interesting to see how often players would stop to consider their options on reaching one of these traps. The risk / reward nature of these traps adds a ponderous note to the game - one that slowly disappeared from the first game as players grew more and more familiar with its intricacies.
The log trap wasn't the only example I saw, mind you - there's also a lava biome strewn with a series of fast-moving conveyor belts. These will fling you across the level if you throw yourself into the direction of travel, allowing you to soar across the level and reach new heights. With lava pits bubbling below, however, I shouldn't have to tell you it's a risky strategy. Indeed, it provides a pleasing contrast to the more careful rope and ladder traversal of the caves before it.
I'm aware that at least part of these moments of contemplation are down to players acclimatising to Spelunky 2 - this being the first time it's been shown off - but while I'm sure the more skilled Spelunkers will be back up to speed in no time, it's a very good sign that there are these moments that make even seasoned players pause for a moment and think hang on, how am I going to get around this one?
In short, Spelunky 2 is shaping up to be a proper reimagining of the classic platformer, one that's going down extremely well with the people who love it best.