I wasn’t going to play this, but then someone said I should and I caved.

Review Date: January 28, 2021

Release Date: Unknown date in 1983 (death count after 38 years: 15,493,275)

Platform: Atari 800

Developer: Broderbund

Genre: Linear Platformer

Anecdotes: Spelunker is the first of a handful of games that I played on the NES. I thought the NES versions were the original, but after doing some research, I learned that these games are actually older. My brothers and I played the NES version a decent amount, but almost never got anywhere. Then one day, my middle brother puts together a ridiculous run and gets through the entire game. We were in awe. Naturally, that never happened again, nor did we ever get close. He must have had a cheat code enabled.

Description: Your job is to spelunk, duh! Spelunking is done by navigating the natural elevators, stairs, keys, locks, and ghosts as you work your way deeper into the cave. The game is divided into levels, but they are connected. However, backtracking is never required. Picture a cross between Shamus Case II and Super Pitfall, remove the garbage from both games, and you have this.

Positives: Take note, Shamus II; this is how you implement spelunking into a game. Keys and other items are clearly on the screen. Stuff can be blown up. Exploration is encouraged and rewarded.

Somehow, this guy can’t jump, dive, or walk over a 6 foot pile of dirt, so he’s going to blow it up!

Although it will take a moment to adjust to, the game utilizes the keyboard in addition to the joystick. This allows the spelunker three extra moves: igniting dynamite, shooting flares, and ghostbusting spray. This adds a layer to gameplay not seen in earlier games.

I had to ride in the mine cart to get that key. However, I didn’t have a flare, so I didn’t get past that bat this time.

Negatives: Fall half your height off an elevator? Dead. Get too close to an explosion? Dead. Get hit by bat droppings? Dead. Let the air gauge at the bottom run out? Dead. Run into something in the mine cart? Dead. The game is frustratingly hard. I never even made it to the water areas. Unless you’re walking on flat ground (which won’t happen often), there’s likely a way to lose a life. There were two other minor issues: I got stuck permanently in a nook two floors above the mine cart on the far right, and I couldn’t ignite bombs any closer to the rock pile than pictured above. Oh, and I also found a cheap trap where a scrolling screen hides the upcoming hole in the floor. Dead.

There’s something strange in the neighborhood. It’s something weird and it doesn’t look good.

Grade: C

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