Spelunky Review – Rage Inducing Times In The Caves

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What Spelunky Got Right

Hardcore challenge for experienced gamers Easy enough for newcomers to jump in
Bright and inviting presentation Randomly generated levels keeps things fresh

What Spelunky Got Wrong

– Multiplayer seems pointless

When I heard that Spelunky was coming to Xbox Live I was skeptical; did Microsoft’s CoD-centric console have a place for a hardcore platformer with deep exploration mechanics? Now I’ve spent an agonising 7 hours with the game, the answer is surprisingly a resounding yes.

For the uninitiated, Spelunky was originally released as a free game on PC back in 2008, sporting a retro 8-bit art style with tunes to match. It was hardcore, so hardcore in fact that I’ve never actually finished the damn thing since first picking it up in 2011. It’s unforgiving, it’s relentless, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

Players fill the shoes of an explorer seeking out his destiny and fortune. You will navigate a series of mines, caves, forests and more taking as much loot as you can, saving damsels in distress, and ultimately fighting for survival.

Everything and anything can kill you in Spelunky, and half the skill of the game is learning how to recognise the dangers and dealing with them. A player starts with only 4 hearts, which must last them the entirety of a game. From the very beginning you’ll have to deal with traps, snakes, giant spiders and a variety of other crazy obstacles, meaning you’ll need to develop tactics on the fly to survive.

The best thing about Spelunky is that you can’t simply memorise a level because each time you play the game world is randomly generated. That means one level may contain a giant spider, the next time you go through it might contain a golden idol that will trigger an Indiana Jones like boulder dash. This keeps the game fresh on multiple playthroughs, and trust us, you’ll be restarting this quite a few times before you get to the end.

What about the loot? Throughout each area you will find a number of gems, gold and other rarities which can then be spent in shops (also randomly generated) for items and upgrades. Having a parachute available for long drops is extremely handy, and will save your life on many occasions. This opens up another interesting aspect to the gameplay – how much danger are you willing to face in order to score enough loot to buy items and make your life easier? Cost and reward is a big part of Spelunky, and something you will learn to respect the more you play.

The platforming elements are simple enough in the game that anyone who has played Mario will be able to pick up and play. You can run and jump across pits, cling to walls and climb ladders with simple actions. The player is also armed with a small number of bombs and ropes which can be used to reach other areas, or perhaps avoid a particularly dangerous enemy.

If you’re looking for a hardcore platformer that will punish your skills until you are a whimpering shadow of the gamer you used to be, then Spelunky will fit that need.

It’s not so much the mechanics that make Spelunkywork, but more the intense difficulty the game throws at you. The player will face certain death at every turn, and when you somehow manage to survive it becomes an accomplishment, right from that very first level. Each time you play through the game you have a new and exciting story to tell, and that is an addictive feeling.

Much in the same way as Super Meat BoySpelunkyallows the player to quickly restart their game with a simple button press. It doesn’t sound like much, but after dying on Mines 1-3 seven times, it keeps the rage flowing inside you at a tolerable level.

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Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, better go through it.

The developers decided to drop the 8-bit graphics in favour of some awesome hand-drawn art that still captures the spirit of the original, yet makes it pop off the screen. This looks like the Spelunky you know and love, it just looks incredibly slick. The audio has also been updated with a poppy soundtrack the screams retro 80’s, but still stays true to the original.

So what can I fault with the Xbox release of a PC classic? The addition of multiplayer. There are two modes available – adventure which is exactly the same as the single-player portion of the game, or deathmatch which is some kind of crazy Bomberman meets Spelunky mash-up from hell. Both modes support up to four players locally, meaning those lucky enough to have friends and four controllers could jump in on the action.

Playing through the adventure mode was more of a burden with the more people we added in, particularly with those who had never played Spelunky before. Before long players were accidentally whipping each other off ledges, running too far from each other, falling of the screen into an unforseen trap, or having issues when buying items.

Entering a shop while playing multiplayer only allows player one to purchase the items, and then it’s up to them to distribute them to the others. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can cause some fighting depending who has the first controller.

All in all it seems rather pointless as to why they bothered to include a multiplayer component that has relatively low staying power and causes more trouble than it’s worth.

The Final Verdict

If you’re looking for a hardcore platformer that will punish your skills until you are a whimpering shadow of the gamer you used to be, then Spelunky will fit that need. A combination of simple mechanics with challenging enemies, randomly generated experiences and hardcore punishment makes this a perfect fit for those who love a good challenge.