Spelunky (PC)

By Walter Hare

Published on Saturday, September 14, 2013

On my first run through the magic caves of Spelunky, I brashly approached the first pot in my path and thought, “Clearly, this innocuous object holds no malice for me deep within its clay heart!” I smashed it into pieces expecting super special cave goodies, and was instead greeted by the devil yellow eyes of a green snake, who then snapped at me, causing me to fall off the nearby ledge in a daze, bounce off the ground into a pit of spikes, killing me instantly and displaying my pathetic stats for that run.

It’s the sort of death that you can’t keep yourself from laughing after, even as the salty tears of despair slip into your open mouth. And it’s the sort of death which often punctuated my runs, regardless of how successful they were, bringing ends to otherwise perfect displays of supreme platforming. My experience was defined very much by these undramatic, speedy ends, and is the core of what makes Spelunky great.

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Spelunky is almost excessively simple at first glance, but grows more in depth as you delve deeper into its secrets. It’s a colorful, randomly generated 2D platformer that has you descending down a labyrinthian cavern that has apparently been built by Aztecs. Or aliens. Or dracula. Or all three, I’m not sure, but they’re all there trying to kill you, so I figure they all have a reason to hang around.

Much like its spiritual sibling Binding of Isaac, you are initially granted very few tools with which to work. You have your trusty whip, which has the traditional Castlevania style attack delay, some lengths of rope which can be used to climb to otherwise unreachable heights, and bombs. The bombs blow things up, which shows that at least one thing in the world of Spelunky is right and true. You are also given four hit points initially, which can be increased by rescuing a damsel/pug/male stripper in distress, or through less…. ethical means involving a hungry goddess.

You collect cash on the way down, which serves both as a score indicator and a means of acquiring more advanced equipment from the inexplicably present shopkeepers. Items range from machetes to jetpacks and the clearly logical intervals between the two.

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Successfully navigating a Spelunky run is contingent on your ability to adapt to the caverns ever changing list of monsters, traps and secrets with the equipment that becomes available, either in your own salvage efforts, through purchasing or straight up robbery, the latter of which tends to be my preferred method of acquisition. It also means successfully managing a number of randomized “events” such as a complete lack of light or a glut of giant spiders.

Because of all these random elements, it would be easy to assume that Spelunky is unfair and gives you no chance. Occasionally that’s true. At times, I felt like “Life’s Not Fair: The Game” might have been a more appropriate title. However, Spelunky has some of the tightest controls I’ve had the pleasure of using for some time. There’s very little inertia so controlling your starts and stops is precise, in-air momentum works with the same rules as on the ground so it feels consistent, and enemies react in a consistent way to your movements, letting you effectively plan your approach to every situation.Screen 4

With all the items, secrets and monsters waiting to be discovered in Spelunky, I was thirty hours into it before the thought of actually trying to beat the game even began to materialize in my head. I was so content exploring the boundaries of the game, expunging its secrets and being murdered in new, ever more hideous ways that I didn’t care about finishing what might be called the “prime objective” of getting to the bottom floor.

And that’s what’s really special about games that successfully utilize random or procedural level generation; the game’s goals are moot in comparison to the personal goals you establish as you dig deeper in the game. It’s less about beating level ‘x’ than it is about getting there on a perfect run, with ideal equipment or bare-handed. It’s about exclusively using clay pots to kill everything. It’s about discovering new ways of murdering the shit out of the storekeeper.

The one unfortunate part of Spelunky is its lack of online multiplayer. If you’ve got a fellow on site to play coop with you the madness grows even… madder. Which is good in Spelunky’s case. And the deathmatch mode is that special sort of ‘friend-losing’ vicious. But alas, at the moment there is only local multi, a result of Spelunky’s small development team and its having been initially released on console last year.Screen 2

However, Spelunky’s primary experience lies in single player, and it’s an amazing one at that. If you’re not too prone to rage-quits and love tight platforming, you should pick this up. If you are prone to rage, you should still get it, but maybe pick up a case of tranquilizers while you’re at it.

Spelunky is available at your local Steam retailer.


System Requirements

OS: Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / 7 / 8
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz or equivalent processor
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: 3D graphics card
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 200 MB available space
Additional Notes: Xbox 360 controller or other XInput-compatible controller

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