There are few games out in the gaming world like Spelunky. A game who´s mere existence seems to be to frustrate the player into either throwing the controller down in disgust or saying “oh man, I was so close just one more time and I should get the hang of it.” Regardless of how someone views Spelunky there is no denying that it is a truly rewarding experience. Every time a player runs out of hearts they will wonder “what did I do wrong?” And then want to go back through another randomly generated masterpiece to collect all the crystals, save the fair maiden, or just get to the bottom of the level without perishing. Spelunky is a rather difficult game, but it still has the charming sensibility of a wondrous platformer awaiting for someone to dare and traverse through its passages. Even if someone reading this review does not enjoy this type of game, they will be hard pressed to dislike Spelunky.
Spelunky is developed by Derek Yu, and is a HD remake of a 2008 free PC title by the same name. Spelunky is a rouge-like title that considers death permanent, meaning that when players die they will go all the way back to the beginning of the game because there are no save points. Spelunky never feels cheap because the levels are randomly generated so there is always something new to learn about how the game operates. Anytime a player dies it will be at their own hand. There is nothing about the control scheme or the way the levels are designed that makes the player fail on purpose. Spelunky encourages the player to think about each of their movements progressing slowly beyond each nook and cranny. It does not take long for players to realize that bombing through large portions of the level can bring their own set of disasters as well. So, it might behoove anyone playing to tread carefully and not be so quick to open pots and go right after enemies. Throwing things might be your best friend in this game.
The best thing about Spelunky is that there is no set way one has to get to the bottom of a level. Players can go from one end to the other killing enemies with your trusty whip and looting every gem and piece of gold in your way, if you happen to have enough bombs you can play Bomberman and blast through to the end, or just try to beat the game and get to the bottom without worrying about anything but the bare necessities. However, knowing that the game´s penalty of death is severe may end those speedy players plight rather unceremoniously. More methodical players should also be aware that they have to be diligent about their progress because a big bad ghost will appear once a player spends longer than a minute and 30 seconds in a given level and scare you to death.
Anyone thinking about paying the money to buy this game needs to know Spelunky tries to teach players how to play through tremendous amounts of death, it does not try to be hard just to be difficult on purpose. It may test the patience of many a gamer but it gives players total satisfaction when you get to the end of a level. I should also note that it is quite possible to finish the game in 30 minutes if you are experienced in this type of game. Personally, I have not made it past world three, but I know others that have beat the game fairly quickly. I just thought I would be honest with people since, you know, $15 dollars isn´t chump change for many people in the world we live in nowadays.
The level design in Spelunky still feels hand made even though the levels are randomly generated. All of the enemies, booby traps, and gems seem strategically placed and all work together as a cohesive system to work against and for the player. The graphics themselves are hand drawn and take the place of the 8-bit pixel art in the PC original. As I mentioned in the open, anything in the world can be thrown or used to your advantage. So, instead of opening that pot you might want to hold onto it and use it to get by that nasty arrow trap. There is even a dog and a girl that your Spelunker gets to save, which can gain you an extra life. Of course, I found it just as useful to use them as cover from arrows and as a weapon against venomous snakes. There is also the question of greed vs. safety; going for that one beautiful gem instead of going right through the exit may cost you big time.
If players do happen to get past the first mining world they will arrive at the jungle world, (which took me bout 50 deaths only to literally get killed by a jumping frog five seconds into the first jungle level. Then it only took me five more deaths to reach the jungle world again because I had gained a lot of knowledge dieing.) Each world has their own enemies and follies to figure out, which makes going to a new world exciting yet scary because the traps and enemies get more dangerous the further a player progresses. There is a special man who attempts to gather items from you to make save points, but do not rely on that because you may have to get through the entire second world, if not even further, before he completes the save point.
You are not totally alone in this endeavor there is a shopkeeper who randomly shows up in certain levels to give you refreshments on ropes and bombs, he also offers special items to help players climb, capes to keep players from falling down to their death, and various other things. One of the funniest things in the entire game is attempting to steal an item from him only to watch him go after you with a shotgun like a crazy person, or if you are successful, he will wait for you at a random exit making you regret that hasty decision.
Really that is the best way to sum up Spelunky a game of trial and error, which can frustrate as much as it can reward. The newly remade graphics, the dungeon crawling almost rpg style soundtrack, and the wonderful yet challenging platformer gameplay all come together to make a great game. The only issue I had was that I found the added-on local co-op and deathmatch modes to be a real waste of time because there is no online play for them. Even though the A.I. plays decent enough it still does not feel quite right. The co-op could have brought a deeper dimension to Spelunky´s gameplay if you could have found some smart players online to help you through the levels. Instead, most of the time the A.I. just gets itself into trouble and wind up being more of a hindrance then help. If you can find local friends to play with you, it could take days for friends to learn to play the game as you have, so it almost seems like they could have omitted the mode entirely. Aside from that small little quip, the singleplayer campaign is well worth the price tag.
Final Thoughts: Spelunky is not for everybody out there but for those that are willing to try something new and have the patience to learn its compelling nuisances they will find an experience that is more rewarding and addicting than almost any other game out on the market today. In life, sometimes taking a chance on something unknown might be the best decision you make. Spelunky might just be the gaming equivalent of that.