"I've got so much muscle memory attuned to [Spelunky] that basically doesn't even matter anymore. The speed at which I do things has changed, and there's so many different enemies and traps. I have to relearn the game again, almost, because it's not only a new game, but it's a new game that I think I know".
This is how gaming content creator, voice actor, and huge Spelunky fan Alex "BaerTaffy" Larrabee reflected on his early sessions with Spelunky 2 when I spoke to him last week. "I went in there thinking I was at the top of my game, because I had just come fresh from a Spelunky (1) stream, where I had just crushed it. I was doing so well, and I felt like the game couldn't touch me."
Despite being a far less talented Spelunker, I largely shared BaerTaffy's expectations. Heading into Spelunky 2, I was confident that I'd be able to breeze through the opening levels and see the depths of whatever environment Mossmouth had chosen to be the new 'Hell' zone. Instead, I found that my runs were frequently interrupted by new enemies, unfamiliar zones, and misjudged attacks with my trusty whip.
There's no doubt that Spelunky 2's opening levels are deadly, even for veterans, but I was interested to see which new additions some of the best Spelunky players have been struggling with while exploring its unforgiving worlds.
Attack of the run-ending Cave Moles
Despite Spelunky 2's new mini bosses, and the fact that you now fight the final boss from the first game on level 3-1, the enemies that continue to cause the most frustration are often the smallest.
"I don't think I've seen one person who doesn't hate the moles," said Aaron James "Bananasaurus Rex" Loder during our call last week. "If I could remove one enemy, I don't know if I'd pick mole or witch doctor. It would be a really difficult choice—those things are just ridiculous". Considering that Bananasaurus Rex was the first person to successfully complete a solo eggplant run in Spelunky, this speaks volumes about how patient you have to be with these new foes.
While he still hates them for the same reasons everyone else does, BaerTaffy has come to appreciate the genius behind troublesome moles: "The more I think about it, I honestly feel like the moles might be brilliant," he said. "And I don't even say that to be just hyper contrarian... but they are. They're such a good introduction to how badly this game wants to kill you."
It can be difficult to predict cave moles' movements as they can dash out of a wall just as you're descending, pop out from beneath your feet, or fall onto you from the ceiling. In the unlucky event that you run into two at once, consider your run toast.
On a roll with Horned Lizards
Special mentions also go to Horned Lizards, spiky new pests that are found in the Dwelling levels. Attempting to skirt past them can prove to be particularly challenging as BaerTaffy quickly found: "They can sneak up on you with how quickly they'll pounce up, and bounce off you. And then of course, the natural spelunking of things is for that to then Rube Goldberg you into the most ridiculous death possible in that moment, which you know, happens to be on a regular basis," he said.
These creatures can fully deplete your health if they manage to land too close to your stunned character after an initial hit. Their death rolls are enough to make even the best players want to rage quit. "I still hate the lizards...but I thought they were just not even okay when I first started," Banansaurus Rex chuckled, "but I've kind of gotten used to them."
An extended stay in the Dwelling
Both content creators' reactions to early enemies made me want to talk more about the Dwelling, Spelunky 2's opening zone. You spend the first four levels here, and it feels far more challenging than Spelunky 1's Mines, containing far more enemies and traps.
"It's just really, really dense," said Banansaurus Rex. "In the Dwelling, you're just getting started, you usually don't have anything, especially for the first couple of levels… [particularly if you're new to the game.] There's just so many things on the screen, and so much to keep in mind. It's really easy to get your run screwed over before you even get started."
Alongside having to relearn habits he picked up from the first game, BaerTaffy found the Dwelling tricky to navigate at first: "I was getting so sick of being in there so early on. I wanted to experience more of it, and I was getting so frustrated that I was getting stuck. I couldn't believe it". While he still slips up in the Dwelling now and then, BaerTaffy's grown to love the area, citing it as "the punishment I can't stop coming back for."
It appears as though lots of players have found the Dwelling difficult, so much so that Mossmouth announced that monsters spawn chances have now been adjusted (as of yesterday). Level 1-4 now has more room variety, too.
The curse of the Witch Doctors
Once you've sweated your way through the Dwelling, what lies beyond those homely campfires? At the end of level 1-4 you can choose to either head through the exit on the left to visit Spelunky 2's revamped Jungle area, or dash to the right to visit an entirely new zone called Volcana.
Returning players will be fully aware that the Jungle area isn't as straightforward as its predecessor, introducing new traps and enemies that will nab your hearts if you're not paying attention. There's one new enemy that's ruffled more feathers than anything else though, and that's the witch doctor.
"There are so many situations that can arise where they'll be wedged into a corner, or just have a one by two space that they're bouncing through. And you've just got this tiny little window where you can drop in and hit them on the head, and take them out," exclaimed BaerTaffy. "Otherwise you're cursed, and being cursed is awful!"
Being cursed in Spelunky 2 sets your health to a single heart. This status effect is notoriously difficult to cure, and even carrying pets to the end of the level won't help you. What's worse is that, along with its floating skull companion that inflicts the curse, witch doctors can place a mark above your head. This deals one damage to you, unless you interrupt its spell by attacking it. If you're already cursed when this happens, it's game over.
"I don't know... It's hard to say if they're too difficult because you can deal with them, but they're tough, man," noted Bananasaurus Rex. "They're probably the hardest single enemy to deal with, in my opinion."
So we're all in agreement that witch doctors are a colossal pain, but even if players manage to scoot past them unscathed there are plenty more hazards awaiting in the Jungle's treacherous canopies.
"We talked about how much harder the Dwelling is than the Mines [but] this Jungle makes the other Jungle look like a cakewalk," said BaerTaffy. "I don't know if you've died to a bear [snap] trap in a dark jungle level yet but, oh, it feels gross. How can you be prepared for that? You just have to like inch forward a little bit by little bit."
These traps can be sneakily perched on the tops of trees, partially obscured by the tree itself. They're also found later in the Tide Pool zone where they can be covered by coral. Wandering into a snap trap ends your run in one clean swoop, and Bananasaurus Rex also highlighted that these can feel particularly brutal when they're not fully visible.
Neo problems and dastardly drills
Beyond these sticking points, the honey in the beehives is still proving to be a problem for BaerTaffy. Whereas Bananasaurus Rex is hung up on Neo Babylon—a zone you won't see until much later in the game: "Neo Babylon is probably the hardest area, and a big part of it is because of the spark traps." These traps can even nudge corpses across the level, making it dangerous to hang around in one spot for too long.
Naturally, lava also cropped up in our conversations. This is another element that Mossmouth listed as a common complaint in Volcana, which is currently being looked into. Lava can flow through levels if you disturb its fiery pools, which for the most part isn't a problem. However, when players interact with the drill in Volcana, the lava can continue dripping down into the pit it creates for a good while afterwards.
"The best strategy is to wait for the lava to settle for like a minute or longer," advised Bananasaurus Rex. "[But] even if you're careful, if you're unlucky enough, a drop of lava will just fall on your head... I wish you just couldn't get lava there, to be honest."
There's no guarantee that Mossmouth will be able to find a fix for these instances as they're a result of how the levels are generated. That said, BaerTaffy is all for "embracing that chaos" as he feels like that's "just part of what makes Spelunky great". Getting killed by something that feels unfair is a common occurrence in the Spelunky games, and if anything, these moments make for funny highlights.
Stick with it
After playing a game like Spelunky for hundreds of hours you get used to the rhythms of its enemies and their hitboxes. This knowledge becomes ingrained in your reflexes, so the tiniest adjustment can throw you off. New enemies and traps are bound to cause a few untimely deaths when starting out, but mistiming simple and familiar motions (like using your whip to kill a nearby bat) can feel even more frustrating for returning fans.
One thing that I heard BaerTaffy and Bananasaurus Rex say a lot during our interviews was 'I'm used to that now'. While they've certainly spent more time with Spelunky 2 than the average player—and we know they've got some serious Spelunking skills from all the hours they invested in the first game—it's comforting to know that they've struggled with similar aspects of this game.
Spelunky 2 may borrow a lot from its predecessor, but it's packing lots of new secrets and pitfalls to overcome, too. If you're finding it challenging to adjust to something in particular, the best strategy is to take it slow, and embrace the chaos.