Spelunky is not a game for the faint of heart. In spite of its cutesy exterior that resembles a charming, NES era game, Spelunky will destroy you if it ever gets the chance. Going by how disarmingly deceptive the game really is, I wager it will get several in the first couple of hours, before you finally begin to catch on, and see through its act.
What is Spelunky? Think of it as an NES era Indiana Jones game. With the requisite difficulty level to boot. Think of it as the prequel game to Temple Run, only infinitely more addictive, infinitely deeper, infinitely more frustrating, infinitely more rewarding.
The entire premise of the game is so simple as to belie how brutal it can really get: you’re an explorer. You’re in a cave. There’s an idol. Get to the idol, retrieve it. Above all, do not die.
Death is a recurring theme in Spelunky. It doesn’t explore the philosophical or metaphysical implications of death, oh no. No, it explores just how much a player is willing to put up with a brutally unforgiving difficulty level, making Spelunky the first game to actually make death mean something in game since From Software’s breakthrough titles Demons Souls and Dark Souls.
Everytime you die- and you will die a lot- you restart. Right from the beginning of the game. All the progress you made is gone. All the items you got, your power ups, your loot, all of it gone, recalling the eras of flash memory NES cartridges, when people would leave their systems on for weeks at end to ensure they didn’t their progress. Saving the game was a luxury back then. In Spelunky, it isn’t even an option.
There are spiked traps, there are piranhas, ravines and pits, there are all manner of gruesome deaths planned for your adventurer, as he leads the damsel in distress in tow through a rather damning world. Four caves per world. Each cave randomly generated. It’s a bitch.
However, as often as you do fail, if you stick with it, it begins to fall into place. Soon, you know just how far you can jump. You know how close you can get to the edge of the ravine without falling. You know what gems are worth getting to, you begin to compute risk and reward scenarios on the fly. You get to know the rules of the game, and each time, Spelunky challenges you that much more. It can be unforgiving, it can be unbelievably difficult, but it is never unfair. And that, above all, keeps you returning.
You’re helped along the way by the cash that you collect. There’s an in game shop, but honestly, after a few hours with Spelunky, you’re probably going to give a sad, knowing smile at the prospect of using your cash to unlock things at the shop. None of it means anything, after all. A single miscalculation will lead you to your death. Which will send you right back to the beginning of the game. What’s the point? It’s probably best to make do with what you have, and ensure that you don’t get too attached or invested in your current game.
Of course, if you do decide to buy power ups from the store, you’ll find them helpful. They don’t do the difficulty of the game any favors, but they make it more manageable. Or maybe that’s just a psychological illusion designed to keep you ensnared. I wouldn’t put it past this game.
What doesn’t make the game easy is the four player co-op mode. Co-op in platformers has become increasingly common since New Super Mario Bros blazed the trail, and the adage that held true in that game holds true now: your friends are all jerks, and they will inhibit your progress at every opportunity available.
Eventually, you get it. You get all of it. And then, all of a sudden, the game falls before you. It’s all in place. Spelunky is easy. Speedruns of less than half an hour are suddenly doable.
You only need to give the game a hundred or so hours of your life before then.
And you will. Because the game is just that good.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Incredible risk/reward design, addictive, great difficulty level, death is meaningful in game design again, co-op mode, the game is hard but never unfair
The game requires immense patience before you 'get' it
Brutal, frustrating, but never unfair, the immensely satisfying Spelunky is unhesitatingly recommended as a must have for all Xbox 360 owners.