Spelunky is one of my favorite games of this generation. Spend a few hours in it’s dark depths and you will experience a journey of pain, delight, frustration and success. It’s not a game to be taken lightly. It’s not a game to play casually – your thoughts elsewhere – no, when you play Spelunky, you are playing Spelunky, and it’s a hell of a ride.
Spelunky is a 2D action platformer. Your task is to navigate randomized (brilliantly so) caves and dungeons collecting loot and saving damsels (and dogs?) in distress, all the while avoiding devious traps, insanely touchy shopkeepers (oh…just wait) and nasty monsters such as giant spiders and skeletons. The catch, and part of what makes the game so special, is that nothing can be taken lightly. Everything from a simple snake to an arrow trap has the potential to end your run cold. (When you die, you start over from the very beginning.) This creates a constant and mounting feeling of danger and tension in the air, your senses heightened and your decisions calculating. It’s a deceptively simple looking game that is actually a masterclass in game design, and one of the most challenging games of this generation. If you reach the end, you will not hesitate to boast. It’s a game that takes some time to understand, but whose depth will continue to surprise and reward players that stick around for a long, long time.
When you first start playing Spelunky, know one thing: you will die…a lot. Seriously, a whole hell of a lot. Don’t think it’s you, don’t think the game is cheap, just go with the flow. Like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy, Spelunky is designed around death as a learning experience. Part of the game’s brilliance is that nothing will kill you unless you let it. Each time you die, you must ask yourself why and learn from your mistakes. Remember it’s the journey that’s important here, not the end goal. After a time, you will find previously impossible tasks simple and laugh to yourself about that days when you would die twenty times in a five minute span. Experienced players fly through levels with a sort of grace that will boggle the novice’s mind. I advise against looking at speed runs online initially – the best part is figuring out the game yourself. Once you feel sufficiently competent, however, they’re well worth a look. In fact there are parts of Spelunky that can only be discovered by looking them up. For instance, the ‘real’ ending of the game – a hidden level that makes all the others look like child’s play – is virtually impossible to find without a guide. Don’t you worry about all of that just yet though. Just go in knowing that you’re in for a treat. Take it easy at first and start with a mind free of expectation. The more you put in, the more you will be rewarded. Like discovering a new depth of flavor in a fine wine or seeing a new color in the sky for the first time – little by little, Spelunky will reveal itself to you, and you will be helpless to resist.
What I liked:
Insanely challenging but fair gameplay with super-tight controls. Incredible depth and multiple ‘wow’ moments.
What I’d fix:
The game tells you how many times you’ve died, (I’m at about 500) but a detailed list of the culprits would be useful, including short video replays.
Try avoiding angering the shopkeeper. It’s a highly advanced strategy with big payoffs, but makes that game about ten times harder.