Spelunky Review: Journey To the Center of Awesome
I love me a hard video game. Dark Souls, Super Ghouls N Ghosts, Battletoads, etc. all appeal to me because while these games can be relentlessly difficult, each death pushes me to try and make it just a little bit further than before. When I saw that the game Spelunky had hit XBLA, I decided to check out the trial. When I realized that the game shares a brutal level of difficulty with the games mentioned previously, I immediately purchased it. Goddamnit, I love Spelunky.
Spelunky is a brutally difficult 2D platformer with an old school feel.
Originally created by Derek Yu as a (still available) freeware game for Windows, Spelunky is a 2D roguelike platformer that tells the story of an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer who explores an ever changing cave system in the hopes of reaching the end. Throughout your travels you’ll rescue damsels (or dudes or dogs!) in distress, find golden idols protected by nefarious traps, and unlock new gear to better help you survive the caves. However, anything and everything will kill you, ranging from bats to arrow traps to giant scorpions. Hell, even shopkeepers won’t think twice about swiftly ending your game should you anger them. But to say that this is all the game is: a 2D platforming romp, wouldn’t be fair to Spelunky as it offers so much more than what’s on the surface.
You start off every new game with four points of health, four bombs, and four ropes (which act as instant ladders, essentially). You also have a trusty bullwhip for protection from the cave’s inhabitants. Along the way to each randomly generated level’s exit is treasure which can be used to purchase new gear from shopkeepers found randomly in the caves. Damsels in distress can be picked up and carried to the level’s exit to replenish one of your hitpoints. Golden idols can be found and taken to the exit for a huge cash reward, but only if you can dodge the giant, level destroying boulder trap. And speaking of level destroying, the environments in Spelunky are completely destructible, allowing you to bomb your way into new areas of the map. Some of the gear you pick up includes spring boots, teleporters, guns, gloves that let you climb up walls, and much more. The way you power up reminds me of a Metroidvania title, allowing you to become a much better explorer as you traverse the levels with ease.
By far, my favorite part of the game is how you have to learn the ropes for yourself. Sure, there is a tutorial level that teaches you the basics, but you’ll learn so much more about Spelunky from trying and dying. For example, the arrow traps that are liberally scattered throughout the levels will shoot an arrow the instant anything gets in front of them. This includes you, enemies, or items you drop in front of them in order to trip the trap. The shopkeepers can be helpful, but any act of aggression towards them will cause them to relentlessly attack you with a shotgun. Sure, they can be killed, but all future shopkeepers will be out looking for you. Hell, you can even sacrifice damsels, golden idols, or even other players at special altars for new items! The randomness of Spelunky is where the game really shines through as you can be assured no two playthroughs will be quite the same, but your knowledge from your countless deaths will help you to be prepared for anything.
I originally thought that I would ignore Spelunky’s multiplayer mode, but was genuinely surprised by the mayhem brought on by three people trying to do good, but ultimately killing their teammates in the process. One character, normally player 1, is designated with a white flag as who the camera follows. This forces the other players to stick close, lest they are killed by a timer for being off screen too long. Dead players will turn into ghosts that can blow air at enemies and items, allowing them to help (or harm) living players to an extent. These players can be revived by finding coffins hidden in the levels, although one player per level can be revived. I originally thought that the single player was worth it alone, yet playing couch co-op has become one of my favorite aspects of the game. Plus, it makes for a GREAT drinking game!
Spelunky is a great game to play with friends… if you don’t mind hating all your friends 30 minutes into playing.
Spelunky is one of the best XBLA titles I have played. Period. On top of tight controls, the game looks great and has a truly memorable soundtrack that sounds like tunes from a classic Genesis/Megadrive game. At 1200 MSP ($15), you are getting one of the deepest, most addicting downloadable games to come out in a long time. So go on and get exploring, either with friends or solo! Just try not to throw your controller, even though it’s really hard hard to resist.
Final Score: 10/10