Spelunker Party has all of the ingredients that make a great game – exploration, customisable characters, RPG-like stats, and four player co-op.
Sadly though, the mechanics let all of this go to waste thanks to frustrating player movement and baffling ideas.
The idea of banding together with friends, or heading off solo, to explore caves and mines, all while finding items and adorable pets along the is certainly appealing.
The story is a little weak, but a game like this is more about finding items to buff your tiny Spelunker and change the way the game is played.
But there are problems right from the start. Spelunker Party fails when it comes to basic platforming. Everything feels stiff and unresponsive – falling the equivalent of two feet instantly kills you.
So all that muscle memory you gained in Mario and the like needs forgetting. No dropping off of edges and grabbing ropes, that drop will cause death in mid-air.
There’s an energy gauge at the top of the screen that slowly ticks down, refilling at checkpoints in the cave systems. It’s sort of like a timer but oddly it also decreases when you’re using the hair-dryer weapon to dispatch ghosts or push clouds of fog.
There are pills that are actually weapons, and bombs to be picked up which can be used to stop bats attacking, or blow up sections of walls.
While the latter is pretty standard, the pill weapon must be thrown into the air via awkward button presses that just don’t make much sense.
Finding items and exploring rewards you with a star rating. This in turn levels up your character and equipped items, unlocking stats that speed you up, slow energy depletion, or make you immune to environmental damage.
This is the idea that could suck people in, as there are hundreds of items and combinations on offer.
The exploration, once you’ve got to grip with the controls, is interesting and varied. There are runaway minecarts, swinging ropes, man eating plants, and gouts of steam or fire that must be tackled.
And it’s all delivered with saccharine visuals and cutesy bursts of sound.
It’s a game that very much wants to thrive in a fun, party atmosphere. You’ll find a lot of items hidden behind co-op based switches.
But asking friends to overcome hamfisted controls halts any progress and is likely to suck the enjoyment out of your group.
Spelunker Party does have its moments. The addition of different pets that open up exploration options is great. And finding a rival explorer who tries to hamper your progress adds a moment of glee among the frustrations.
There’s plenty of levels to delve into, and they can all be replayed with new equipment. There are online rankings for those who want to speedrun the maps and rack up high scores as well.
On a console with so many cute platformers and co-op games, it’s hard for Spelunker Party to stand out. And while there are some great features, most of what the game offers is just too hard to enjoy.