Games / Indie Games

Spelunky XBLA – A Treasure Trove ofOH GOD WHAT IS THAT.


You start the game and enter the mines. You walk around a bit, learn how to jump, etc. etc., we’ve all played Mario, right? You make another jump down to a lower secti-WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

And that’s when you get shot by an arrow-launching mechanism into a wall, bounce off and slam into a snake, the snake launches you into the air and you ricochet off of the two bats hanging from the ceiling that you never noticed, then are shot down into a collection of spikes. Then you stare at your impaled corpse for a second or two. Welcome to Spelunky!

Spelunky is an independently developed 2D platformer by Derek Yu. The goal of Spelunky is mastering your precision and perception. Every time you make the decision to move anywhere, you are incredibly likely to slip up and end up very injured, or more likely, very dead. The world of Spelunky is an extraordinarily unforgiving one to the person who decides not to look before they leap. An example I’ve used in Dark Souls before is just as apt here; your skill level as a player grows more as you play and learn the workings of the world, and is more important that any statistic that the game provides you. Not that Spelunky has any sort of leveling system or any large of progression between deaths for that matter. After completing a “world” 3 times, and giving specific items to the “Tunnel Man”, you have the option of restarting at the next world from that point on, but you won’t be able to record scores for the leaderboards. It’s a great way for those who won’t play through the entire game at once to have a chance to see all of the content, and there is a lot of content. Being a a genre blending Platformer/Rougelike, however, your goal is to get as far as you can, die, start back from square one, and try to get even farther next time.

Don’t try to memorize the level design either; you can’t blast through Spelunky with sheer muscle memory. Every single time you enter a new level, the entire layout is completely different. Each floor is randomly designed so that you’ll never end up playing the same one twice. You have to rely on your ability to learn how to overcome the design of the mechanics, rather than simply knowing how to jump from point A to B with stunning accuracy on each attempt. As much as I love Super Meat Boy, Super Mario World, and other great platformers, it’s new and exciting to play something that requires a different kind of strategy.

Learning how to interact in the most optimal way with each enemy type, trap, or other obstacle in each unique circumstance is very unique. Every situation you are put in has such an incredible number of variables, you have to always think of the best and most appropriate way to react. Everything in the game has been placed there to murder you in the most brutal way possible. The most important part of Spelunky, and the most admirable, is that despite the incredible amount of events that can happen, the game is fair. Once you’ve died to a trap, the only reason you should die to it again is because you weren’t planning your movements well enough. You screwed up, you know it, and you push yourself back in because you know you won’t make the same mistake this time. Of course you will, but it won’t stop you from trying again and again.

You aren’t totally without help though, as you have access to a variety of different equipment and weapons as you progress. Treasure is scattered through each level, and it adds up to currency with which you can purchase items at randomly occurring shops. There are plenty of items and each can be extremely useful under certain conditions. Being able to stick to any wall you see, or being able to slow your falls will always come in handy. Getting further in the game and racking up all sorts of equipment can make you feel a bit more in control of how the levels play out, but they never give you too much of an edge. And remember, as soon as you die, it’s straight back to the beginning with no help at all.

That soundtrack really digs itself into your mind as you play. There are a surprising number of tracks, which helps the monotony of having to hear one in perpetuity as you die and restart level 1-1 over and over again. The catchy tunes of Spelunky seem to keep begging you to come back for just one more try. And that’s at the very basis of the game, everything about it pulls you in for just one more try, and another, and another, until it’s 3 am and you have no idea where the last 4 hours went, or why you’ve still never made it to level 2-3.

There hasn’t ever really been a game like Spelunky before, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing it forever. It really is hard for it to get old. It’s hard to think of a game with more randomization and variability with crazy things happening every time you play, and if you narrow that down to 2D platformers I’m not sure there’s even any competition. While its easy to get frustrated from a lousy death (that was 100% your fault because you didn’t look slightly more to the left at that lake of pirannhas) it’s also really easy to want to pick it back up again and give it another shot. A single run can last anywhere from over an hour to a couple minutes. I’ll gladly be retuning to Spelunky to give it a few minutes (or more likely hours) of my time for the foreseeable future. There’s a ton to see in the game, and I look forward to getting to all of it.

Except when a stupid frog explodes next to a merchant and I get blown away by his shotgun in his extreme act of rage towards me, because it was somehow my fault that frogs are stupid. Alright, maybe it was my fault. Stupid frogs.

– Zach

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