It’s time for the Review of the Week. Yet again we are going to look at something fairly rare, a cave exploration game called Spelunker (1985). Enjoy!
Spelunker by Tim Martin
Control a lone miner on his journey underground in a giant cave to find a mystical world of wonders. Along the way avoid pitfalls and obstacles, bats, worms, traps and collect all the treasure you can find. On top of that there is a time limit based on your oxygen supply – make it to the next checkpoint in time to replenish your oxygen.
The original version of Spelunker was created for the Atari 8-bit computers in 1983. While pirated disk images have made their way around, the game in the original packaging itself is extremely rare.
Journey down through the giant cavern, collecting treasure and avoiding enemies, in enough time to get some more oxygen in this scrolling platformer. There also are certain obstacles that you will need to destroy using dynamite, which can be found around the caves. At first you descend using an elevator, but eventually that ends and you’ll make use of ropes and ladders that are already in place. Don’t stay in any one place too long or a ghost will come down and kill you. There are many varied places in the game as well as obstacles such as the mining cart run with flames and a waterfall area and more. Controlling the game is simple, just use the joystick and two buttons so it is easy to pick up and play. As with all games that involve collecting things, collecting treasure earns you points and with a couple of lives as well as many continues as you have tokens, you can get to the end of the cavern with enough work.
In 1985 Irem (the same makers of R-Type) licensed the game from Broderbund and brought this title to the arcade, with beefed up graphics and gameplay from the Atari 8-bit version. The cavern you explore is much larger and you have to face more enemies and obstacles but this time you have a weapon at your disposal to stun or kill your enemies. Instead of oxygen you have energy, which can be replenished by picking up blue vials. There are also secrets to unlock which is pretty neat, by going far enough over on a screen or climbing all the way up on a rope it may unlock something hidden. Otherwise it plays nearly the same as the Atari version.
The original Atari version of this game looked pretty good on the old 8-bit computers but with the better arcade hardware the graphics improve greatly and for 1985 they are pretty good. The character looks slightly better, lacking the giant mid-section and now sporting a big red nose. The animation is good and there are a lot of colorful objects, characters and areas to find. With a resolution slightly higher than the standard 320X200, it is a good looking game.
There is one music track that is nice to listen too and the sound effects are great, most notably the bass on the explosions, which remind me of the booming sound effects you got on Asteroids.
Overall both versions are fun to play and it’s something different as far as platformers go. It is unfortunate that both versions are also insanely rare, but if you get a chance to try it out, it’s worth a play.
The first screenshot is from Spelunker 2, which looks virtually the same as the first game but is has a green color scheme as opposed to a brown one.