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a game by Brøderbund
Genre: Arcade Classics
Platform: NESNES
User Rating: 7.0/10 - 2 votes
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See also: 2D Platformer Games, Kusoge Games

Spelunker, unlike many of the games available for the Nintendo Entertainment System, has been with us for quite some time--years, in fact. It was a popular game on many home computer systems long before there even was a Nintendo. It has fascinated and amused thousands and thousands of people with its hidden caves and treasures. If you've recently purchased a copy of Spelunker-- either for your Nintendo or some other game system--let me welcome you to the fold of those of us who have long been hooked on this game. And let me also warn you that once you get started with Spelunker, you may find it hard to break away.

Let me also warn you that although Spelunker is great fun, it can be as frustrating as hunting grizzly bears with a stick. Spelunker requires a skillful hand on the controller pad or joystick--and a willingness to practice each level until you can slip past even the most difficult puzzles. On the other hand, due to the fact that Spelunker actually has only four levels, there's a good chance that you will be able to "complete" the game within a reasonable amount of time.

Those of you who are alert undoubtedly noticed the quotes in the last sentence. The quotes are there because Spelunker makes up for its lack of length by sending you back to the beginning once you've made it to the end of the game. Of course, things get tougher the next time through--all the keys are invisible.

But enough of the chatter. If you have a copy of Spelunker, get it cranked up and going. If you don't have a copy of Spelunker, drop this magazine (unless, of course, you're reading it in a store; in which case, buy the magazine first, then bring it home and drop it), run right out and pick up a copy. You'll be glad you did. Not only will you have added another great game to your collection, but you'll also have a good reason to continue reading this article.


As I said before, Spelunker is available in many different versions for many different computers and game machines. This article was written based on the Nintendo version of Spelunker. But before all of you who own Spelunker in a different version go running for the exits, be aware that most of this article will be applicable (I think) to any version of the game. The details may vary a bit, but the maps and the general mechanics of game play remain the same.

I should also say that this article will not by any means lead you every step of the way through your Spelunker gaming. There are really only a few areas (ten that I've chosen) where you might need some hints; the rest of the game can be solved easily using the basic skills you will learn as you play. In addition, everyone thinks differently, so we all come up with different solutions to the same problems. In other words, though my play techniques work for me, you may have found some better ways to do some of the things presented here. That's okay. It's a free country.

The basic stuff

Don't ever fall. Spelunker is unforgiving of even the smallest of stumbles. Though many climbing games let you fall at least the height of your on-screen character, Spelunker will bring down the ax if you even hiccup while off the ground. Nothing more to be said on that subject. Don't fall. Period.

All of us who have spent time with Spelunker (and I think it would be safe to assume that includes most everyone reading this) share one feeling. We all hate ropes! Spelunker is loaded with ropes, and players find themselves always having to leap on to or jump off of them--and not always with the greatest of success. Let me say it right out front and get it out of the way: No matter how much you practice, no matter how many hours you spend cursing in front of the TV, no matter how hard you pound on your controller pad or scream at the dog for crossing in front of you--no matter what you do, you are going to lose lives to the ropes.

Don't get me wrong. Practice will help you get better at handling Spelunker's myriad ropes; it just won't ever result in a 100% success rate. Why? Because, in order to make a suecessful leap from a rope, you have to hit two buttons--the arrow pad and the jump button--at exactly the same moment. If one button gets depressed even a millisecond before the other, sayonara, sucker. If you want, you can write threatening letters to the sadistic beast that was responsible for programming the jump-from-the-rope part of the game, but nothing will change the fact that the precision required to make it through a game without falling from a rope is almost beyond human capabilities. Accept it. Get used to it. Live with it.

You beginners may find that leaping onto a rope is also a little tricky. It really isn't. You just have to make sure that, once you're in the air, you take your finger off the arrow pad (or release the joystick). Once you've got your player headed for the rope, there's nothing else you have to do. He'll grab it when he gets there. I promise.

One more rope hint: Many times you'll find that you need to jump from the rope onto a platform which has a "bounce bump" or close to the edge. If you hit the bump, you may just get thrown back to the rope--on the other hand, you may go plummeting into oblivion (Sayonara, sucker, again). Just remember that the farther down the rope you are relative to the platform, the closer to the platform's edge you'll land when you jump.

Now let's talk about the ghost. Veteran Spelunker players feel about as good about the ghost as they do about the ropes. All I can say is that the instant you hear the "ghost music," get yourself off any ropes, elevators or any location that doesn't fit the definition "good solid ground," because the ground is the only place your gun will work. Also, keep in mind that you don't actually have to aim at the ghost; just fire the gun at the side of the screen he's approaching from. That'll do the trick. Here's a handy thing to know: If you should try to jump over a pit and find yourself half in and half out, death isn't necessarily tap-dancing on your doormat. You may still be able to get out. First try leaping up and toward the closest edge of the pit a few times. If that doesn't work, you might be able to get out by leaping back the way you came. If not--well, hey, at least you tried, right?

More beginner stuff: What if you're riding an elevator up and you want to go down? Simple. Just cross over when the upward-moving and the downward-moving platforms are even. (Actually, you should wait until the platform you're crossing to is slightly below you. If you try to cross to a platform that's even a smidgen above you, you'll fall.)

And while we're on the subject of elevators, when crossing from a platform to an elevator, sometimes you can walk directly on, sometimes you have to jump. Make sure you can tell which is which or you'll find yourself in gravity's clutches.

Here's a jumping hint: You may find yourself trying to get situated just right for a jump. You get into the perfect position, but then when you turn to face the right direction, you accidentally move forward a little, ruining your efforts. Did you know that you can jump just as easily facing backwards as forwards? Yep. It's the truth. Once you're where you want to be, don't worry about which way you're facing. Just jump!

Level 1

Level 1 is more or less a training ground. Finding the proper route through the caves is, with a minor exception or two, just a matter of working your way downward a floor at a time, making sure that you follow each floor to its conclusion. For example, if you look at the map for Level 1, you'll see that the second floor (which starts at the second opening on the left) continues across the entire cave and then meets up with a rope (I hate ropes!) that must be climbed down and then back up again.

Every basic skill that you'll need for the subsequent levels will be learned on Level 1. (Of course, the other levels require that you refine those skills somewhat, but that's what practice is for, eh?) There are three particularly tricky areas marked on the Level 1 map as A, B and C. These are the areas that I found the most difficult in my first experiences with Spelunker, so what I learned is detailed below. You lucky people get to benefit from my mistakes!

A) The first few times you try and get by the bat here, you'll get creamed. You will probably think that the trick is just a matter of timing, that you have to get onto the platform and fire the flare to blind the bat, all the while dodging whatever those things are that the bat keeps dropping. (I really would like to know what those things are. My imagination conjures up some distasteful images.) Actually, though, timing has very little to do with it, and you don't have to dodge at all. Just place yourself on the very bottom of the rope and jump up onto the platform. You'll find yourself standing out of reach of the bat's fire, but the bat won't be out of reach of your flares.

B) Getting from this platform back onto the downside of the elevator is a tricky maneuver. There are a couple of ways of doing it, of course. For instance, you can try to jump completely across and onto the downside of the elevator in a single leap. That's possible, but dangerous. The way that works best for me is to jump onto the upside of the elevator, then quickly cross to the downside when the elevators are even. It's still a dangerous manuever, though. You have to cross over before you hit your head on the ceiling--and you don't have very much time.

C) Getting the mining car past the vertically moving obstructions is the toughest part of Level 1. There are a couple of tricks, but essentially you must practice, practice, practice. The tricks? When you're moving toward the right, you can get past the two center obstructions (the third and fourth) with one movement. Just wait for the first one to rise up, and then breeze right through both. Coming the other way, the first and last pair can be handled in the same way. This method eliminates about half of this area's risk.

Level 2

Level 2 really isn't much trickier than Level 1 except that there are a lot more ropes. (All together now: We hate ropes!) Also, Level 2 has a couple of areas that require you to set a bomb and then scurry up a rope before the bomb blows. Like Level 1, Level 2 is fairly intuitive when it comes to finding the correct route through the caves. There are, however, a couple of places that are nasty to get by. D) In this area you come across your first "enhanced volcano" puzzle. Up until this point, the volcanoes were merely a nuisance. In area D you've got to get over a volcano while managing to avoid a bat right above it. It's tricky, but just a matter of timing.

All you have to do is stand on the ground between the ladder and the volcano, out of range of the bat's "droppings." About a half a second after the volcano finishes erupting, release a flare to blind the bat. It'll take a second or two for the flare to go off and for the bat to start dropping, and during that time the volcano will erupt again. As soon as the volcano has finished, jump over it, making sure you avoid anything the bat may have dropped before you blinded it.

To exit the area, perform the same manuever from the other side. You'll need to practice, but once you get this move down, you'll make it through almost every time. (The unpredictability of the bat's firing can sometimes muck you up.)

E) Area E gives us ten ropes, only one of which reaches the floor. To get to the key under the stairs, you must leap from rope to rope, while avoiding hitting your head on the ceiling. This isn't too hard when you're going from left to right, but coming back the other way requires some careful positioning on the ropes in order to avoid the jagged ceiling. You must make sure you are as far down on the rope as possible before you jump. But be careful that you don't move down so far that you fall off. You should be able to get down far enough so that there's only one "pixel" (a dot on your television screen) of the rope hanging below you. From that position, it's always safe to jump.

Level 3

Level 3 is much more complicated than the first two levels. Though it's still not too hard to find the proper route, it is a little more confusing, and there are a couple of new "vehicles" you need to use. There is one unbearably nasty rope area that I won't go into detail on (you handle it the same way as the one in Level 2), and you can plan.

F) Here we have a lovely combination: a rock right next to a volcano. You have to plant a bomb on the rock and make it over the volcano before the bomb goes off. Though this puzzle will seem tough the first few times you attempt it, it's really nothing more than timing. Here's how to do it: First, jump over the volcano and run to the rock. The instant the volcano starts to erupt, plant the bomb and run back to the volcano. By the time you get to the volcano, it'll be through erupting. You'll be able to get over it and safely away from the bomb.

G) In area G we have a bat protecting a flight of stairs. As long as the bat is firing at you, you have little chance of getting up the entire flight of stairs. So your first move is to blind the bat with a flare, and then run up the stairs before the bat gets back into action. Getting down the stairs is a little trickier. Counting from left to right, it's the third stair that you have to watch out for. Get on the second stair and wait for the bat to move away from the third. When he does, run past him, down to the bottom of the staircase. Now all you have to do is launch another flare and sneak back to the rope.

H) This'll be short and sweet. Ignore area H. There's nothing there that's worth the effort, risk or time. Riding up and down on the gold platform makes it tough enough to get what you really need (such as the key in the bottom right of the map) without risking your life, grabbing a couple of extra flares or gold pieces.

Level 4

Level 4 is, as you would expect, the most complex in the game. Though it's not difficult to find your way to the end, it will take a little getting used to. The first few times you play through this level, you'll probably not visit every location, and thus will bypass some items. As long as you get the keys, though, you should have little difficulty making your way to the end. You will have built up a good supply of bombs and flares (or at least you should have) by the time you get to this level, so you don't have to worry about grabbing every one.

This level contains some exceptionally tricky jumps, where you need to be in just the right position in order to clear the ceiling overhead and still make it to the platform. There are at least three critical areas that you'll have to practice. Just remember that the higher you are on a rope, the farther you'll jump onto a platform, but the greater chance you have of hitting your head. There are two areas, marked and J on the Level 4 map, that we'll talk about, and both of them require precise jumping.

I) Here you find yourself presented with a key on a narrow platform. That by itself is no big deal; you should be an old pro at jumping from ladders and ropes onto platforms by the time you get to Level 4. The problem is that the key is guarded by a bat, and you need perfect timing to grab the key and get back to the ladder without getting hit. Forget the flares; they won't help you here. There just isn't enough time.

To get the key, position yourself low on the ladder relative to the platform, so that you'll land on the very edge of the platform when you jump. Then, when the bat is to the far right, quickly jump to the platform, get the key and jump back to the ladder. You'll need to practice this a few times.

J) This is the toughest jump in the game and the most frustrating because the end of the game is so close (the pyramid to the left of this area is your goal), that it's always heart-breaking to die here. But die you will--even if you have saved up several lives--until you get the jump just right.

First, at the base of the ladder, walk towards the ladder from the left. The instant your player turns and grabs the ladder, stop. In this position you'll be half on and half off the ladder; that's just what you want. You'll still be able to climb the ladder, but there's less chance of banging your head when you try to jump. Next, you must climb the ladder until you're about three rungs from the top. You'll have to experiment to learn the exact position, but if you're as far to the left as the ladder will allow, you've already won half the battle.

Once in position, jump towards the platform. If you hit your head, you were too high. If you fall off the platform, you were too low. If you still have lives left, readjust your position on the ladder and try again, each time carefully noting your exact position on the ladder so that once you make a successful jump, you'll know how to do it again.

Once you've completed that final jump, all you have to do (assuming you have your keys) is run through the gates and to the door of the pyramid. Hurray! You did it!

When you complete Level 4, there'll be great fanfare. You'll find yourself with a heap of treasure, and you'll watch your score go up and up and up. Finally, you'll be placed back at the beginning of Level 1. It's the same game all over again (you get to keep whatever number of lives you had left over, plus one for completing Level 4), but now all the keys are invisible. The maps accompanying this article will be especially helpful to you at this point.

Game Over

Spelunker is a great game, and once you master each of the four levels (and that won't take as long as you might think), you'll be able to amaze your friends with your cleverness and skill as you nonchalantly run through the caves, grabbing up treasures by the bucketful.

And even though the higher levels are somewhat more difficult, Spelunker is really more a game of endurance than one of escalating difficulty. Each level hones your playing skills for the level to follow so that by the time you're ready to advance, you have the knowledge you need to be successful. If you've never been able to complete a video game before, this one may be the game you'll want to concentrate on. The journey isn't too long and the necessary skills are fairly easy to cultivate. With a little practice, it won't be too long before you'll be looking at the maps accompanying this article and saying, "Wow! I did all that?"

Download Spelunker


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
  • P-200, 32 MB RAM

Snapshots and Media

NES/Famicom/Dendy Screenshots