Developer: Tozai Games, Inc.

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: Oct 19, 2017

Price as of Article: $29,99  £24,99

Story

One night, Spelunkette woke up with a fright to a deafening rumbling sound. She looked out of her window in amazement as the bright streak of light travelled across the dark sky. When the light disappeared beyond the horizon, she heard a faint boom and felt a little shake.

Strange things have been happening to the Earth ever since that collision. According to the Faerie Chief, the cause is located deep down underneath the Earth.

It’s now up to you or you and your friends to explore the depths and make your way down to the earth’s core! The story is ok and sets the scene quite well. Other than the opening cutscene there isn’t much to drive the game in terms of story. Once your down in the mines it’s just a case of exploring unlike say a game like Steamworld Dig 2 where the story played a much bigger role at driving you as the protagonist.

 

Audio

The audio in this game is quite superb. So catchy and entertaining from the beginning. It makes your feel like you are on one big adventure. Everything about the melodies screams happy and while the sound effects are not the best I have ever heard they are all good enough to match what you see on screen. From the explosions to scare away bats to boulders rolling down the hill at a frightening rate of knots.

Visuals

Visually this game is super cute and charming.It has the cuteness factor that you associate with games like Mario or Animal crossing. The levels all look detailed and crisp enough and I did not encounter any slowdown or technical issues in either handheld or portable mode. The animations leave a little to be desired but for me just adds to the overall character of this game. You could say you either like this style or you don’t but I found it all to be pleasant and welcoming.

The levels could have done with a little more variation as they do all look quite similar which was a little bit of a disappointment. Overall though I found the visuals to be of a decent enough standard.

Gameplay

I am showing my age here but back in the day, there was a game called Spelunker which was about exploring a cave and getting to treasure deep in the cave.  I first played it on the Commodore 64 however it was originally a game made by Timothy Martin on Atari. I remember this game being one of the hardest games I ever played and honestly I think most people that played it would say it was impossible. In 1987. Spelunker 2 was released.

When I saw this was coming out, my hairs stood on end, sweat poured down my brow and I had the shivers. The memory of Spelunker etched in my memory forever. Multiple deaths and was a game I would never recover from. It was back and this time I was going to conquer my Spelunker fears. It was time to face my demons.

Here we have a similar theme although it’s skinned a lot more friendly but don’t let those cute looks deceive you because this not an easy game either. I will be honest with you. In the first hour, I wanted to send the code back to Square Enix and tell them I was not reviewing it but that would just be running away from the problem. After coming from reviewing the fluid Splasher platformer I found it difficult at first to adjust to this platformer which is in all intense and purposes is mechanically a little dated. There are design decisions made here which will literally drive you mad but bear with me.

You start out at the cave and will be able to choose a number of routes to drive further down. Each stage is broken down into a number of areas sometimes two, three or more. You can explore these caves on your own or with friends. With friends, it’s more fun and you are able to collect more collectables than if you were to play alone. I spent most of my time with the game exploring on my own. In your way will be a number of traps and enemies ranging from bats to ghosts but you are equipped to tackle these. Bombs can be used to blow up rocks and find secrets for example. Ghosts can be dispatched with your weapon.

the collectables range from discovering gold to litho stones. Litho stones are cool because they help you unlock items and gear. When you unlock this gear you can equip it and it will level up as you complete stages. You can also unlock pets like dogs which can help you find further collectables and it’s really great if playing alone to have some company. You can use power stones to power up items also. Furthermore, you can place items and save them in sets so you can choose your favourite sets to tackle specific levels where the gear may be more appropriate which is a really nice touch. There are online leaderboards also where you are able to show how quickly you completed levels to add more replayability. The things about this which is great is you are able to play online. When you play online with others the screen splits. This is crucial for two reasons, to see what other players are collecting in terms of collectables and of course to see the funny side when they die. You can toggle this on the fly to full screen by pressing the right stick. Brilliant. You can also of course play locally by just breaking off a joycon you’re off and away.

Your pets can also be powered up and become powerful allies in your adventures, Snowball, for example, digs up Litho stones. Be sure to pay a visit to the Faerie chief and accept quests because there are certain items you can only get from him. Make sure you give candy to pooch and this special pooch will retrieve something special for you each time which I will not spoil here, he can be found on the home screen where you can also customise your items.

The worlds each have their own unique properties, each level will take you no more than 5 minutes to complete and they are perfect for the Switch and it’s portable nature. I found myself playing this one mostly in portable mode as I just felt more comfortable playing this one in that way. So back to those demons! This game is frustrating due to a number of design choices. One is the nature of deaths and how you can die just from jumping a little too high or when you jump for a rope you can’t just run off the ledge and grab it you have to jump or the death animation will appear in the gap between the rope and the ledge. The number of traps and animals trying to get you from gasses spewing out of holes, bat’s dropping stuff on you to snakes crawling up ropes will no doubt kill you a number of times. You only have a certain number of lives per level. Lose all of them and you start again. There is also an energy metre and if you run out of energy you die. There are energy replenishing checkpoints which give you some respite.

Despite all the iffy design choices and constant deaths which brought me back to the 1980s, and despite the first hour is one of the most frustrating ever, something about this game kept me coming back for more. It’s fun and I enjoyed the grind to get more items and gear. I wanted to carry on and unlock more cool stuff and find more litho stones. It has an addictive quality and I understand now why Square Enix wanted to publish it. Be prepared though for this. If you play with other casual gamers who are not as skilled as you, you will end up even more frustrated because they will also die a lot.

If they are not prepared to put the time in to learn the game even though it’s pretty simple then it will be frustrating for both of you. Try and play the game with equally skilled gamers for the most fun. I do wish it was a little more accessible because the nature of the way it looks gives you the impression that it is but underlying this game is some real punishment. Never judge a book by it’s cover has never been truer than with this but like the game Toe Hoe which I had a similar experience with, this grows on you the more time you put in. I can only explain it like some songs that you listen to for the first time and you don’t think much of it only for the song to get better each time to listen to it. Then somehow it becomes one of your favourite songs.

value

you get 100 levels here and they are challenging so it’s not going to be completed anytime soon. The fact this is a party game you can play with up to 4 players is fantastic as this is one of the massive strengths of the Switch. It’s 24,99 or $29,99 on the eshop. You can get a Japanese version of the game in physical format and the import price to the UK is around £40. I will link it below. It’s also one of the few party games to have a good online mode so you can play with others if you can’t get together with players locally which is a real bonus. Yes, it could have been cheaper but I don’t think the price is that unreasonable.