TGS 08 hands-on: Spelunker (PSN)

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Spelunker is a remake of the NES classic from Irem. Does it look familiar to you? Do you remember the game from way back in the day, 20 years ago? If you do, it's probably because the aesthetics haven't changed much. Though boasting updated, modern graphics, the game's visuals retain a retro-stylized feel. The 2D characters are still there. The lifts and ladders are still in the places they would've been. Overall, it looks like an interesting title for those old-school gamers looking for a blast from the past.

Of course, the question is: How does it play? First off, the controls are simple enough. It's a 2D game with a focus on platform jumping, with other actions including: riding down elevators; leaping over pits; climbing ladders; and dodging fire, steam, and toxic liquids. You can collect items such as bombs to demolish obstacles in your way, or keys in order to progress through locked sections of a stage. It all sounds very simple, familiar and arcadey -- in other words, a perfect fit for a PSN game. Right?

Gallery: Spelunker

Despite sounding like something we might want to play, our time with the title didn't earn it any new friends. The game can be unforgiving at times; perhaps because the design incorporates not only a retro look and structure, but many archaic and rigid design mechanics of days gone by. Think of this title as presenting another old-school mechanics revival a la Mega Man 9. The controls seem rather broken, unfortunately, as it's easy to overshoot jumps towards ladders simply by accidentally tapping a directional button after latching on. Death occurs frequently if you forget that you can't drop down the seemingly shallow pits – remember, we're back to instant-death traps with this one.

In that respect, gamers who played this game back in the day will probably end up loving this update. To them, things like the classic boulder chase scenes should easily tap into those feelings of nostalgia. It's not all old stuff, though, as Spelunker seems to feature all-new, four-player split-screen gameplay.

Despite such a boon, Spelunker still feels too much like a niche title that perhaps only a few could truly enjoy. So far Irem hasn't made any announcements about taking it out of Japan, though it would make a great deal of sense if it did -- in fact, the HUD is already in English.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.