Spelunky fans may have been gearing up for its sequel for years, but it's still surprising just how quickly they've managed to sniff out its secrets, find its obscure hidden levels, and traverse all 99 levels of its treacherous Cosmic Ocean world. Last month, we saw Spelunky 2 speedrunners reach the game's true ending in just one hour (opens in new tab) during the ESA Break the Record: Live online event. While this is around ten minutes shy of the current record on MossRanking (opens in new tab), this was an impressive achievement for an unseeded run streamed during a competitive livestream.
Derek Yu, tweeted (opens in new tab) that he was "blown away by how fun and dramatic it was, from start to finish", but he's also impressed by how often speedrunners are actually managing to reach the game's unforgiving final world.
"The WR runs are always jaw-dropping, of course", Yu told me, "but I think what surprises me the most is how consistently the top runners can get to Cosmic Ocean while playing so quickly." If you've been keeping up with the hardcore Spelunky 2 streamers on Twitch, you'll have noticed that since the Cosmic Ocean was first discovered in September (just days after the game released on PC), players have found efficient ways to reach the zone.
"When I released Spelunky Classic, I didn't think it would be a popular speedrun game, but over the years, players have shown me that randomness is not a barrier to them", Yu explained. "It's cool for me, because it shows that ultimately the games are more about your skill and knowledge of their systems, rather than what the RNG decides to give you."
Sometimes, overcoming Spelunky 2's random nature is as simple as restarting until you're able to steal a jetpack from a shopkeeper in The Dwelling—ideally you want to get this item as early as possible. However, more involved strategies have been discovered, like saving the Ankh rather than dying on 4-3 in Tide Pool, or entirely skipping the Tablet of Destiny/Qilin section of a run and using the jetpack to ascend past Tiamat to The Sunken City.
While the levels were designed with a flexible approach to these sorts of exploits, Yu mentioned that the team didn't have specifics in mind. "A lot of Spelunky is designed that way... the expectation is that players will be able to do things with the game that we can't predict and that's a good thing. It makes Spelunky's world feel like a real place where players can genuinely discover something new—not everything is placed there by the devs for them to find."
Lollipop Robot, who specialises in game testing and QA, was also brought in to test Spelunky 2's levels. The team would highlight exploits, then it was back to the Spelunky devs to find ways to "remove them while keeping the sequence open-ended". In our interview, Yu went on to say that he tries "to avoid 'hard lock outs' that prevent players from finding their own solutions because it feels artificial to [him]."
So, almost five months on, are there any secrets left to find? "There are maybe some obscure thematic links that players haven't found, but only as far as I know", says Yu. "Otherwise, I think we're fully in the territory of 'the players know at least as much as the developers about the game'.