Spelunky is a Roguelike-Platformer hybrid with randomly-generated levels, devised and developed by Arcadia co-creator Derek Yu. The basic premise is simple – you’re an Indiana Jones wannabe, spelunking your way through these caves in order to… well – the goal of the game is never overtly mentioned, but basically you need to make your way to the end of the level, go through a door and on to the next level. Rinse and repeat until the end of the game – an end most of us will never see, because if you’ve played Roguelikes before, you know this description can mean only one thing: it’s fiendishly difficult and incredibly addictive.
Not addictive in the modern sense of item crack and character leveling, but still - something about this game will keep you playing over and over and over again, in what will undoubtedly be another vain attempt to get Spelunky to the end of the levels. Why? Well, for starters there’s the instant gratification of finishing a level or getting further than you have before, rescuing a damsel, or finding a shotgun. And the random nature of the levels will keep you on your toes too – Will there be a snake-pit full of treasures on this level? Will I find a shotgun in a pot somewhere? Although the levels are randomly generated, the generator is intelligent – always giving you a way to the end without it being impassable for Spelunky. And if you do hit a patch you can’t get through, you have ropes and bombs to help you traverse the level.
Full of surprises!
It’s hard to review this game in too much depth because, whilst it appears very simple, there are tons of hidden surprises in Spelunky which I don’t want to spoil. So with that in mind – the first time you play, you’ll be instantly transported back to the video games of your childhood. 8-bit music and pixelated graphics, no save-points, no do-overs, and instant death. Each play will probably last less than 5 minutes. Oh did I forget to mention? You only have one life. You do get 4 hitpoints though – it’s a pity that there’s a ton of different things that will kill you – from dropping too far, to landing on spikes, to the monsters and traps and even more I don’t want to spoil for you. So that’s lots of ways to die, most of them instant and, rather forehead-smackingly, almost always caused by your own impatience and cavalier attitude. The thing is, usually when I die over and over and over again in a game, I get frustrated and quit. However with Spelunky, I think in fact because of the fact that death is usually your own stupid fault, along with the platformer nature of the game and very short play times, it really does not get frustrating as you might expect. The fact that life and death is pretty much in your own hands rather than being wholly at the mercy of the game’s AI makes you feel a little bit smug about every little victory.
Yep, when you first play you’re in for constant, deadly surprises – but the wonderful thing about Spelunky is that once you’ve encountered these unexpected events once, you’ll begin to be able to formulate a way to get around them next time. You’ll start to learn how the monsters are triggered and where best to stand in order to smack them. You’ll figure out how to activate traps without getting impaled by arrows, and so on. And even though you’ll be whipped back to the beginning of the game again and again, the random dungeons mean Spelunky will not wear thin. In effect, you’re not starting the game again – you’re starting a new game each time you play because the risks and rewards will be different each time you enter that tunnel. And that’s what sets this game apart from others that can also be described as “addictive” – it’s wholly down to great game design and the basic human desire to best one’s previous efforts, rather than rewards that take months of grinding to get – only to be obliterated a few weeks later in an expansion.
To bomb or not to bomb?
The more you play Spelunky, the more carefully you will start considering your choices. Should you collect as much treasure as possible, carefully traversing the spikes, pits and monsters along the way, or make your way to the end as directly and in as risk-free a manner as possible? Should you teararse through the level as quickly as you can, or plot a careful course? Should you rescue that damsel, whose kiss will grant you an extra hitpoint but whose bulk stops you from using any other items along the way or keep your hands free? Damn, you’ve found a shopkeeper selling something you really want but you don’t have enough money – should you steal it? (Probably not, you’ll get shot in the face and if you manage to dodge the bullets, the raging proprietor will put out wanted posters for you and all other shopkeepers will try to shoot you in the face too. But if you do pull it off you’ll be grinning from ear to ear!) Should you spend your money in the shop on items to help you out, or save it in the hopes that you’ll meet Tunnel Guy later on, who needs a hefty chunk of dough in order to build tunnels directly from the entrance cave to levels 5 and 9? Making the right decisions gives you that smug feeling again, and making the wrong ones will likely earn you a smack on the forehead at your own hand – and again this decision making which forms such an integral part of Spelunky will keep you playing, trying constantly to best your previous self’s efforts.
And the best part? Spelunky is Free (get it here!). FREE! What more could you possibly want? Well, if the vanilla Spelunky isn’t enough for you, there are also tons of mods available, which have been collated into one handy post on the Mossmouth Forums. Awesomesauce.