Games

I Was Ready for 'Spelunky 2,' And Then 'Hades' Showed Up

A tremendous mashup of hard-as-nails action and innovative storytelling in a package that, normally, would turn a lot of people off.
September 30, 2020, 1:53pm
A screen shot from the video game Hades.
Screen shot courtesy of Supergiant Games

I've spent much of the past few years wondering when Spelunky 2 would come out. It's a sequel to one of my all-time favorites, an experience I've argued is the closest approximations I can make to a perfect game. Who wouldn't want a sequel to that? Don't video games usually get even better the second time around, lessons learned and all that?

Then came Hades at the same time as Spelunky 2, and it's like Spelunky 2 never existed.

Hades is magic, a culmination of everything developer Supergiant Games has been chasing since 2011's Bastion. I also liked Transistor and Pyre for different reasons, but Hades is on another level—a mixture of excellent action, excellent story, excellent everything. All I think about these days is another run at Hades, and wondering what might happen along the way because there's so much to discover, so much unknown, and seemingly limitless potential.

It also had the advantage of, at least for me, coming out nowhere. I know that it's been early access for a while, but I purposely avoid games in early access, and given my mixed response to Supergiant's takes on action, it wasn't on my radar. The surprise element has contributed to why Hades has knocked me off my damn feet and left my heart scrambling.

I am sure Spelunky 2 is full of wonderful secrets, but it is not, on the surface, surprising. It is more Spelunky, with new traps and tricks for you to navigate. That's fine. Spelunky 2 never promised to be anything more, but it's also why I approached it with such trepidation, as it became more and more clear Spelunky 2 was careful refinement, not revelation. I wasn't sure if I wanted to climb that particular mountain again, and so far, that still remains unclear.

But it's also true that:

  1. All of my friends are playing Hades right now. I cannot log onto Slack, Twitter, or Discord without people chatting about their runs, strategies, and painful losses. It has become the game of the moment for the people in my circle, and that's really fun.
  2. Does a roguelike really exist if it's not on Switch? The ability to start playing Hades wherever I want, whenever I want, helps blunt the frustration of starting a new run.

These two things have been pulling at me hard.

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Hades arrives at a different point in my life, compared to when I played Spelunky. It's not the case that I'm suddenly afraid to play hard games, but with two kids, I do value my time differently. Spelunky 2, like its predecessor, demands perfection at every turn, and the reward of a good run is a combination of skill and luck, with the latter disappearing the more time you invest into the game and you're able to corral the "randomness" under your control.

The cold and disinterested reaction to players is part of Spelunky's appeal. You live, you die, and nothing about the game meaningfully changes when the next run begins. You do not have more health or new weapons, only additional knowledge of what you've experienced.

There is a profound satisfaction in mastering Spelunky, knowing how much effort it takes.

Death in Hades, on the other hand, is treated with a warm embrace. In failure, the game offers an embrace, pats you on the back, and encourages you to get back out there, tiger. It's also fundamentally different from Spelunky in that it provides upgrades (and even a difficulty slider) to make progress easier, but even if those things were absent, even if Hades stripped away every one of those systems, its response to death, its aesthetic tone, feels like support.

The culmination of this work is a game that feels like it was by people who understand the appeal of roguelikes and rather than sand off the edges, found ways to bring more people along for the ride. Spelunky, by contrast, is happy to leave folks behind. You need to earn it.

I've seen so many friends and colleagues not just willing to try Hades, but finishing it, too. That's such a significant achievement for a game like this, and suggests a delicate balance, because as someone who personally prides themselves on being good at these types of games, at no point have I felt like Hades sacrifices its design for accessibility. It does both.

Which brings me back to Spelunky 2, a game I have not touched in weeks, outside of the time spent playing co-op during our recent Savepoint charity stream. (Which was really fun!)

Spelunky 2 is game in conversation with itself, while Hades is in conversation with the broader culture. Neither approach is inherently better than the other, but viewed through that lens, it's less surprising that I'm choosing to spend my time with one over the other. These games are vibing in similar directions, albeit at pointedly different frequencies, and right now, Hades is the one that I'm taken by, and expect to be taken by for some time.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).