Spelunky – Review

Platform | Release Date
XBLA | July 4, 2012
Developed by Mossmouth, LLC
Published by Microsoft Studios

The Pitch:

“Spelunky” is a unique platformer with randomized levels that offer a new and challenging experience each time you play! Journey deep underground and explore fantastic places filled with monsters, traps, and treasure. Fully-destructible environments open up lots of strategies and make it a blast to master the game’s many secrets. You can bring friends along for 4-player cooperative multiplayer and fast-paced deathmatch in 48 different arenas!

Oh fuck you Spelunky. Just kidding, I love yo… GOD DAMMIT.

There’s this ridiculous game genre called “Roguelike” which stems from a game created in 1980. Basically, you play through randomly generated levels until you die, then you have to start everything over from the beginning. Those not familiar with the term can simply take a look at Diablo’s “Hardcore” mode and know exactly how it works. Spelunky is one of these games. You’ve got one life to get as far as you can, and gather as much treasure before making a stupid mistake and having to do it all again.

It gets you angry. Really angry. Particularly when you tread into a new zone for the first time and immediately die because you don’t know how to handle a piranha looking plant, or crack open a jar expecting treasure, but get a faceful of cobra venom instead. With Spelunky, you’re taught the base mechanics and are expected to figure the rest out on your own as you encounter it.

You play as a character inspired by Indiana Jones. Indy, Marion, and that guy with the monkey are all generically represented by selectable avatars. Each of them play exactly the same though; the differences are merely aesthetic. No matter who you choose to play as, you get a short whip, four hearts (life units), four bombs, and four climbing ropes to get as far as possible in the randomized mines.

Between each level, your life remains constant. If you finish a level with one heart remaining, the next level starts with you at this same brink of death. You can regain a single heart by rescuing a damsel found in each level. It’s completely optional, but rescuing her can be a real pain in the ass. You have to physically carry her to the exit. That means setting her down whenever you need to pick something else up. She can die in the process, wander off, or you can even sacrifice her to the Hindu goddess Kali for a special item.

With danger at every turn it’s easy to take your time, but if you’re too careful a ghost will chase you down for being too slow. Too fast and you’ll probably fall on spikes or get eaten by a man-eating plant. Attaining balance, along with perfecting what initially feel to be mushy controls, is key in besting Spelunky’s challenge.

There are a couple things to help you out along the way. After beating a zone enough times, you can open up shortcuts to bypass them entirely. These are best used to become more familiar and proficient with enemies and situations unique to that area as using them will tank your score. You’ll also come across randomized shops where you can buy a whole slew of different things that range from useful to stupid. There’s even a black market that comes up now and then that’ll sell people, which is really the only way you’ll be able to pay for health.

At the time of this writing, I’ve only been good enough to make it to the Ice Caves. This is the third zone overall and each zone only contains 4 levels. It’s a difficult game that requires complete understanding of every enemy, situation, and item at your disposal. The more you play, the better you’ll get. To that end, Spelunky is like any good relationship. It requires patience, understanding, and you’ll get out what you put in.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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