Retro Video Game Review: Spelunker (NES)

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Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars

Spelunker was a video game released for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console that saw its North American release occur in 1987. This platformer title was developed by famed house Irem and published by Broderbund. With the deceivingly simple premise of exploring deeper into a cave in order to collect as much loot as possible, avoid enemies, and generally just spleunk the crap out of the place, Spelunker offers a distinctive brand of gameplay for a one-player challenge.

Gameplay

This game follows the plight of your typical red-and-blue protagonist not named Mario or from the Hudson Soft series of games such as Hydlide. The spelunking begins on an elevator that can be directly controlled up and down via the corresponding directions on the directional pad, and offering a look at several levels of the cave that our plucky protagonist can leap onto in hopes of collecting treasures, avoiding hazards, and collecting the keys needed to advance deeper into the abyssal chasm.

The catch, though, is that this caver is very delicate, instantly dying upon the slightest of falls; at least, by video gaming standards. This death effect is so exaggerated that, even when plummeting off a climbing rope or ledge, the game does not even animate the complete fall, merely the meager portion of traveling downward a few feet before the character mysteriously dies. Some would say this provides a “steep learning curve,” or perhaps a “true difficulty,” maybe even label it “hardcore”; but, in reality, it makes this title no fun and very difficult to enjoy.

The game is quite tepid and has nothing new to offer in terms of entertaining value like say a Pokemon stars and stands nowhere in comparison as mere Pokemon go accounts for sale at high cost value.

Otherwise, hitting the B button activates this weird little ghost spray gun thing that evaporates any oncoming extra-spiritual entities that represents all the previous miners that have died in this stupid quest to get to the bottom of a hole. Hitting B while holding the up button launches a flare, of which must be found to be kept in inventory, the firing of which temporarily disables bats. This is important, because the bats poop, and the bat poop instantly kills our fragile hero. Yes, this is a video game where bat poop is staggeringly deadly.

But, hey, this game has mine cart riding sections, so it must at least have some semblance of fast-paced fun, right? No, the mine carts operate as lateral elevators, and the entire stop-and-go-and-stop-and-go trip is spent dodging upside-down geysers from the cave ceiling. There are also steaming lumps of dirt on the ground, pits, and other obstacles, but the biggest most challenging feature will always remain the simple fact that our character cannot even fall from the height of his own height; which is profoundly sad, since he himself is a rather diminutive sprite.

Oh, and he has an energy level that is constantly being sapped, so recharges must be found for it as well, lest he suddenly croak in the midst of his spelunking. So, there is that. Really, this is a video game that seems to have been made to answer questions such as, “What would happen if we removed all the enjoyable aspects from a standard platformer, like smooth platform-jumping or a form of combat?” Or, possibly, “What gameplay mechanics can we provide that will absolutely be as annoyingly aggraviting as utterly possible?”

Graphics

The visuals are crude. Now, in this game’s defense (which is a ludicrous concept), this really suits the intent, as such tiny sprites and items perfectly complement the precision-jumping, item-finding, claustrophobic spelunk-style gameplay. However, even the title screen is bland, being rendered as one-color letters in a boring typeface font over blue bars, a clear indication that the development team was not exactly focused on wowing the player with glamorous on-screen stylings.

Sound

The sound effects are simple. There is your typical “boop” effect for jumping, a weird raspy rat-a-tat-tat for the anti-spectral gunfire, a buzzy sort-of “boom” for the bombs to blow up rocks, and other various little hisses and the obnoxious cry of a bat on the screen. During gameplay, there is a piece of background music, and; actually, it is somewhat catchy. Yet the highlight of Spelunker’s sounds has to be the title screen track, which has a moody sort of promise to it, like it is making a covenant to deliver a high-impact, in-depth performance. How disappointing it must be for the player to advance past the title screen, then.

Originality

Spelunker is certainly a unique experience, one that may test the resolve of even the most ardent old-school gamers out there. Perhaps it is even a title to “develop a taste for” in the long run. But with time-limited, item-finding, arbitrary, ho-hum tedious gameplay, and an instruction booklet that even questions its own descriptions of the item icons to be found (“Diamonds?”), this video game is just not fun and does not stand comparison to other, more formidable cartridges, even within the context of its very early release for the console. This cave-diver can only score one star out of five.

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Carlo

About Post Author

Carlo

Carlo Ybarra is an entrepreneur, writer and photographer. He has been working for Pad Mare Sort Bali for 5 years and counting as the senior content editor.
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