Spelunky Review

I blame the booby traps. I blame poison darts. The snakes, spiders, and scorpions. Also the pools of piranhas, a plunge onto spikes, and shotgun-wielding shopkeepers.

I blame developers Derek Yu and Andy Hull for shifting level design and punishing old-school difficulty.

But, in the end, I know it was my own carelessness that got me killed again and again in Spelunky, the most addictive game of 2013.

If at first you don’t succeed… die, die again

Spelunky is a dungeon crawl platformer, with your Indiana Jones-style hero battling downwards, dodging traps and collecting treasure.

The first priority though is survival.

Spelunky’s levels are thick with booby traps and baddies, while your character has limited health – only one life, no continues, and no save points. You also start out with just a whip (a short-range weapon for dealing with snakes and other creatures), bombs (which can be used to blow up enemies, or to clear a path – more on that later), and rope (to climb to inaccessible areas).

The unforgiving difficulty level means that death is never far off. But each embarrassing defeat in Spelunky is a learning experience. Next time I’ll remember to check for bats hanging from the ceiling, or to trigger a poison dart from a distance. Now click “Quick Restart”! This time I’ll get to the end of the level!

Did I mention this game was addictive?

Going Roguelike

“Just one more go” would be an accurate tagline for Spelunky. Retro platforming, dodging traps, stomping enemies, and stealing treasure is compelling enough – but Spelunky’s defining gameplay hook is the roguelike, randomly-generated levels.

Spelunky Jungle

Randomly generated levels mean endless ways to play (and die) in Spelunky.

To call the levels “random” is a bit inaccurate though. Each cave is deliberately programmed with discernible patterns, and every level throws up choices of combat, treasure-hunting, and exploration.

Beating each level requires wise use of your resources. Rope can be used to climb over obstacles and reach items and treasure, while bombs are the most versatile items available – they can be used to blow-up tougher enemies, and the completely destructible landscape can be altered by a well-placed explosion.

The balance of risk and reward is near perfect in Spelunky. Drop down into a nest of spiders in the hopes of grabbing a load of treasure (and a high-score)? Play it defensively and rescue the damsel-in-distress (or dude-in-distress or pug, if you prefer) for a health boost? Choose your path with care! Even cautious play can result in instant death.

For example: using a mattock I hacked through the cave walls, picking up treasure as I went – and then met instant death, courtesy of a falling block no longer supported by the tunnel I had dug below.

In another playthrough I thought a stationary boulder could be dislodged from the level exit with a bomb. The result? The explosion set the boulder rolling again, bouncing back off a wall, and crushing my Spelunky Guy to death.

Spelunky is undoubtedly challenging – and also completely fair. The mechanics of the game are there to be discovered and understood.

Unintended Consequences

In addition to your stash of rope and bombs, the diverse inventory includes mattocks, machetes, shotguns, parachutes, and Climbing Gloves that enable you to grab onto any surface.

Special items – from fallen enemies or purchased from shopkeepers – add further complexity. Web Guns shoot spider webs to ensnare enemies; spectacles highlight hidden treasure; while teleporters can beam you instantaneously past pits and traps.

Spelunky Mattock

With a mattock you can pick your way through cave walls, unearthing gold nuggets and hard-to-reach treasure. But tunneling takes time, and backtracking may be needed.

From enemies and traps to power-ups and items, each Spelunky run necessitates a well-thought out strategy. But it can all be over in a second – one wrong move can result in a catastrophic (and often hilarious) chain reaction that spells “Game Over”.

Just one more go… this time I’ll make it to the end…

Temple of Doom

2013’s Spelunky is an updated version of the 2008 original, and features enhanced bold, cute graphics. Spelunky Guy’s fedora-and-whip outfit is the most overt reference to the Indiana Jones movies, and the set-pieces – such as Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Golden Idol and rolling boulder trap – are neatly incorporated into the gameplay.

Spelunky Raiders of the Lost Ark Golden Idol

Grab the Golden Idol and dodge the rolling boulder – which will smash through the mine, altering your path to the exit. If only you spoke Hovitos!

The excellent cartoon style also nicely contrasts with the violent deaths you will face, lending Spelunky a certain dark humor.

Special mention must go to Eirik Suhrke’s jazzy, catchy, retro-infused soundtrack that is a perfect complement.

Verdict

Spelunky won the 2012 Independent Games Festival’s Excellence in Design award and it’s easy to see why. Derek Yu and Andy Hull’s platformer is a masterwork of level design – utterly original, challenging, and addictive. Spelunky is about as perfectly formed a video game as you’re likely to play. Deep gameplay and randomly-generated environments ensure Spelunky’s infinite replay value. 74 deaths and counting… maybe this time I’ll reach the end!

Find out more at the official website: http://spelunkyworld.com. Spelunky is available on Steam, GOG, Xbox Live, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita for $15.

Rating

Spelunky Rating

5 Golden Idols out of 5

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