As I get older, my favourite kind of game is probably the inscrutable platformer you used to get on home computers back when I was a kid in the 1980s. Jet Set Willy. Gumshoe. Booty. The settings were often reduced to a spectral gantry propped against a plain black backdrop, the themes were obscure and presumably highly personal, and death was frequently cheap. But these games transported me further beyond the screen than any have since. Their mystery is palpable. They are magic.
And now I’m playing Spelunker HD Deluxe on the Switch. It’s a game with DNA from that era, updated in certain aspects, wonderfully, maddeningly antique in others. And to me, at least, it’s magic, too. It’s fussy and weird and you can die by walking off a ladder the wrong way; it is emphatically not the game you would recommend to just anybody. But I think I love it.
I’ve wanted to play Spelunker for years, because I love Spelunky so much. Both are games about descending into the darkness of caves. Both are games that involve ropes and bombs and pursuing ghosts. But Spelunky, as you probably know, is a perfect clockwork thing in which every consequence to every action can be learned and understood and – theoretically – foreseen in future runs. It’s a glitchless wonder, in which you do not die from walking off a ladder the wrong way. Spelunker is much older and much odder. But you can see the bright flicker of brilliance within it. I believe that.