Ever played a game you can't decide if you hate or love but keep playing it anyway to try and make up your mind only to find you've been playing for hours and still don't know if you like it or not? That is pretty much Spelunky in a nutshell. This 2D platformer will test your patience with extreme difficulty and occasional frustration, but offers a satisfying sense of progression that keeps you coming back because you always feel like you can go just a bit further and play a bit better. For fans of challenging 2D platformers on XBLA
, Spelunky is worth a look.
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Developer: Mossmouth
- ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
- Genre: 2D Platforming
- Pros: Nice art style, great music; amazingly precise controls; satisfying sense of progression
- Cons: Dying every few seconds ... ; price
Spelunky is pretty simple, really. You are an explorer who runs around caves looking for treasure on their way to the exit. Along the way you'll find enemies like spiders or animals, traps such as spikes or arrows, a lot of treasure, and some damsel in distress (or a pug if you want ...) to rescue. The treasure you collect lets you buy items such as extra ropes (to climb up or down from high places), extra bombs (to blow holes in the walls and floor), or even other weapons or items to help you get through the levels easier (new boots that let you jump higher, guns, etc.). You also find these items by beating enemies or opening treasure chests.
You start the game in regular caves, then move onto a jungle, and then eventually ice caves and more. When you beat each section a couple of times (and by giving another explorer certain items) you'll unlock shortcuts to each of the sections so you don't have to start over from the beginning. The crazy thing about Spelunky is that it actually is a really short game if you know what you are doing. Expert players can beat the entire thing in 10 minutes or so. When you first start out, however, you might spend hours on just the cave section before you even see the jungle.
The most important part of the equation is that the levels are totally randomly generated so you'll never play the same level layout twice. The more you play, however, the better you get at using your items or figuring out enemy behaviors so it becomes a lot easier to work your way through each level. Each area (cave, jungle, etc.) adds new traps and enemy types, so the game is always changing. It is absolutely fascinating to experience. Spelunky is a game that is easy if you take your time and plan your jumps accordingly, but if you take too long a ghost comes out that floats through walls and can kill you instantly, so you can't exactly go slow here. It becomes a sort of calculated panic as you have to think fast about the path you want to take through a level, but it mostly becomes a series of lucky leaps of faith. It is fun.
It can also be really frustrating because you will die a lot. I mean a lot. Everything is out to get you and the game doesn't want you to make progress. The deaths can be pretty funny a lot of the time, and the levels aren't exactly huge so it isn't like you lose a lot of progress, but constant failure does wear on you after a while. The game does have a nice sense of progression, though. Not necessarily because you get a bunch of new items or anything (and you lose it all when you die anyway) but because you can really feel the improvement in your skills each time you die and start over again. You get dramatically better at the game the more you play it, which makes it all very satisfying.
XBLA Version vs. PC
The Xbox Live Arcade version costs 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), which is dramatically more than the cost of the PC version that people have been playing for FREE for years, but it does pack some improvements. The graphics and music are significantly enhanced and upgraded for the XBLA version. The XBLA version also boasts cooperative multiplayer as well as a pretty hilarious deathmatch mode. The controls are also absolutely perfect and precise with the Xbox 360 controller, so no blaming deaths on bad controls here. It does kind of suck to have to pay for something you can get for free on PC, but the XBLA version is definitely the best version out there.
If you like Dark Souls'
brand of crushing difficulty that slaps you down with one hand while helping you up and encouraging you to move forward with the other, Spelunky is just the 2D platformer for you. It is challenging, but always fair and usually a lot of fun. Try the demo and see if the concept gels with you before spending your MS Points, but Spelunky is definitely worth a look.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy