Spelunky – Indie Game Review

 

Games like: Spelunker, Rick Dangerous

TL;DR

Time played: 3 hours

What become a joke amongst retro fans especially those of the NES, Spelunker couldn’t have been a bigger misstep. Clunky controls, poor visuals, and a strange falling mechanic drops the title to the “Must miss” bin. Ok maybe that’s just me. I am being a little harsh.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

Games like this pose the perfect opportunity to recreate a title that’s worth its salt. Starting off as a simple freeware, Derek Yu’s creation becomes more than just a simple game. It quickly becomes a sensation taking flight with the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PS Vita along with a remade version for PC. Who knew a story of an unconditional spelunker who explores a series of caves searching for loot, saving damsels in distress, and taking idols from their respective safe points and placing them in your pockets could be so much fun?

I know that very feeling.

I know that very feeling.

Coming from a port to the Xbox 360 and PS3, the controls for Spelunky are on point. You’ll move your unnamed spelunker around with the left stick, jump with A, X will use which ever weapon you have equipped starting off with a standard Indiana Jones whip, holding down the right trigger will make you run giving you a longer distance jump when combined. Y will throw up a rope allowing you to reach higher levels of platforms and you can throw bombs with B. Still with me? OK. Oh, holding down and pressing X will pick up an item or person. The controls feel great. No one movement seems unwarranted and the layout becomes natural extremely quickly. All right. On to the game!

Hidden treasure chests hold the biggest rewards.

Hidden treasure chests hold the biggest rewards.

Spelunky’s graphics are quite charming. Nothing too over done or spectacular that stands out from itself, but very well defined and sort of cute. Hard black lines edge all of the moving pieces on the board and the backgrounds are well designed sprite sheets that are not hard on the eyes. The music has some sort of midi sound to it and all of the tracks have a very familiar feel of inspiration. Once, I had the game loaded up unknowingly and thought the music coming out of my headphones was something from Golden Ax of Sega Genesis fame. Any retro gamer will feel the hands of nostalgia reaching through your computer into your brain.

Yang, the original adventurer. Heed his words.

Yang, the original adventurer. Heed his words.

You begin as Yang, curious adventurer where dusty maps and rumors of treasures have lead him to the underdark of the desert. You stumble upon his journal and follow along as he narrates his adventures with the ever changing caves. No two rooms are ever alike and it’s believed that this power is constructed by the legendary Curse of Olmec (not the Legends of the Hidden Temple Olmec) that is told to trap people inside his cave forever. From here, you’ll go through a small tutorial on the controls and many of the gameplay mechanics that you will be tackling soon. It’s a quick romp through the important aspects of the game and you’ll be wanting more the second the tutorial ends.

There are shops you can purchase items... or steal them if you are feeling bold.

There are shops you can purchase items… or steal them if you are feeling bold.

Spelunky has a very simple premise: reach the end of the cave while collecting as much gold and loot as possible along the way. While this does sound easy, the action is much more difficult. Not only do you have the pain of the ever changing level design, you’ll match wits with bats, snakes, spiders, yetis, man-eating plants, and even ghosts. Topple that with the fear of pitfalls, this game becomes extremely frustrating and demanding. Also you have a set time limit to finish the cave before you are consumed by a large floating specter. You’ll start with four hit points, four bombs, and four climbing ropes. You’ll come across pots, boxes, and treasure chests that can contain more gems, gold, bombs or climbing ropes to add to your inventory. After losing your hit points, you’ll die pushing you back to the main menu; no continues, no checkpoints. Spelunky requires you to play it safe to make it through but also to take some risk to create shortcuts to other caves or buying important items that help you through the game.

You can also buy a jet pack.

You can also buy a jet pack.

Each area is separated by four different levels. When you complete the final level, you’ll be greeted with a man who, with the donation of just a few bombs, will open up a shortcut to the next world. But trust me, I’ve been playing this game for a while and I only made it to the next world once. Now, granted, I’m not the best gamer and I’m sure as hell not the best Spelunky-er, but more often than not I feel like I’m dying due to things out of my control. Sure, sometimes I don’t take my time and just drop down and fall too far to lose a hit point. Sure, sometimes I’ll whip open a pot without thinking and get attacked by a snake or a spider losing another hit point. But then there’s other times where I’ll get hit by an enemy, fall backwards, and right on top an area of spikes giving me an instant death. I don’t know if it’s me or if the “random” level design is still being moved to the point where certain things will always be side by side or one after another. Either way, Spelunky creates an amazing challenge.

The Tunnel Man will create short cuts to other caves.

The Tunnel Man will create short cuts to other caves.

One addition for continued gameplay is the Daily Challenge. A cave that is randomly created at the start of every new day (in real life, not game life), the Daily Challenge will give you a chance to make a one time attempt through collecting as much gold as possible in the quickest time. This final score is loaded to a giant leaderboard with other adventures and you can try your wits against the best. Or maybe just challenge your friends to see who reigns supreme amongst your circle. Death Match is another option that can have you and three friends fight to the death in a closed off arena. It’s like a Bomberman style game (or Super Mario War for those old school indie fans) that allows you to set the number of hit points, bombs, and climbing ropes. Multiple arenas to choose from and you can even play by yourself against A.I. combatants. Perfect for the longevity of a title that creates this much fun.

Every... single... bone.

Every… single… bone.

Spelunky is an action platformer where you’ll be throwing bombs, climbing ropes, collecting loot, and saving damsels in an ever changing series of caves. Perfect controls and a simple yet attractive graphical look, Spelunky will have you playing over and over, day after day with the Daily Challenge, and engaging multiplayer modes. If you took every bad cave explorer game from days past, made them great, you’d have Spelunky.

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