You’re not even my real dad
Spelunker may be considered by the Japanese to be a “densetsu no kusoge” or “crappy game of legend,” but I consider myself a fan. It wasn’t bad, it was just sort of a jerk. It made bank in Japan, but it then started filling up the bargain bins. So, you have to wonder what led to the development of Spelunker’s sequels: Spelunker II on arcade and, confusingly, Spelunker II on Famicom. Were they trying to make more money off the name, or were they trying to continue the legacy by making a worse game?
I don’t have an answer to that question, and by the end of this article, I still won’t have an answer. Spelunker II: Yuusha he no Chousen on Famicom isn’t terrible. It’s not great, but I’ve played much worse. More strikingly, it has very little to do with the original Spelunker.
The Famicom version of Spelunker was a simple game at its core. Your goal was simply to descend or “spelunk” a cave to the very bottom. The twist was your protagonist had bones made of breadsticks and could die if a bat pooped on them. It was a simple port of a Broderbund game that got blown out of proportion due to its reputation.
For the console sequel, Irem licensed the title from Broderbund. After that, I can’t follow their logic. You start off by picking one of three characters: the explorer, the priest, and the esper. An esper, if you didn’t know, is someone who can use extra-sensory perception, which seems to just mean psychic powers to the Japanese. I’m not sure what a clergyman and a person who can tell what’s on the concealed side of a card are doing plumbing caves, but here we are.
The important thing is that they all have different abilities. While the explorer just has a gun and a knife to start with, they can carry more items. The priest casts spells that can hurt the undead. The Esper can, most notably, set points to warp back to. They each have different amounts of health and “toku,” which translates most directly to “virtue.” Your virtue ensures that Hell will kick you out whenever you fall into a pit, and you also need to be above a certain threshold to use the rosary. You lose it by taking damage, looting graves, or killing innocent deer, and you gain it back by stabbing hams in caves. Or just by killing enemies.
Too much venison
You also start above ground, confusingly, but don’t go anywhere; I promise there actually is spelunking. Spelunker II is one of those exploration platformers that became big in the wake of Zelda and Metroid. There are three maps, but you have to explore them to find the boss and the exit.
You may ask how that has anything in common with the original Spelunker, and really, there isn’t a lot. To say it is completely unrelated would be disingenuous. Some of the hazards are obviously taken from the original title. The biggest difference, however, is that your hero is no longer suffering a tremendous hangover and can withstand more than a little poop.
You’ve got a tremendous health bar, and the only instant death I’ve really found is if you fell into a pit and have eaten too much venison. Even things like falling into spikes or tumbling down a long distance only hurt you instead of killing you outright. It’s a strange departure, which again calls into question whether or not the developers were interested in replicating the spirit of the original.
Spelunker II isn’t a long game, especially if you know what you’re doing. However, if it’s your first time, it’s a good game for mapmaking if you feel like breaking out some graph paper. There’s a certain amount of exploration and backtracking needed to reach the end, so if you want to avoid doing circles, taking notes is the way to go.
I really don’t mind Spelunker II. It maybe lacks a lot of the things that made the original so special, and the design is half-baked in some places, but as an exploration platformer, it’s better than some attempts. It’s nowhere near as cryptic as something like Super Pitfall or Goonies II, so once you know what you’re doing, it’s a pretty alright time. I’m not entirely sure if that’s on purpose, though.
It also has some incredible box art. I kind of wish I imported a boxed copy since I can’t find any high-resolution images of it out there in cyberspace. But look at it. I’ve never seen panic so well encompassed in a single image.
We’d never get Spelunker II over here in North America. The series is still running with Spelunker HD Deluxe and Spelunker Party being reasonably recent. I don’t know why anyone would localize a niche Famicom title like this, but it could happen. In the meantime, it’s relatively comprehensible to English speakers. If you want to deobfuscate it further, there is a fan translation you can slap onto it that will clear up any confusion.
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She’s been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.