I was able to play a free early version of Spelunky and I didn't really care for it then. After a lot of features have been added and the visuals have been overhauled, I picked it up on sale and I still don't really understand what everyone is so enthralled by. Something about the Adventure mode doesn't strike me as enjoyable, though every gaming outlet seems unable to stop talking about it. I have managed put about six hours into Spelunky, though only one or two of those hours has been spent in the main game. The rest have been spent in deathmatch.
What does this button do?
I play the PC version of Spelunky and my experience is limited to 1-v-1. I have played with bots and found them cold and unfeeling, sucking all of the joy out the experience. Their A.I. is reasonably competent and can be quite deadly, though one did glitch and perpetually stun-lock me with a camera, forcing me to quit the round. Deathmatch is best experienced with friends.
Here's the facts: deathmatch is not the primary mode for Spelunky and is therefore limited. There are only a few options available to adjust. You can set which items appear in crates, how many rounds a player has to win to be declared victor, how much life each player has, and how many bombs and ropes players start with. You then choose whether you want bots, if dead players return as ghosts which can interact with the environment in a limited capacity, and if sniper targets appear to kill stationary or cautious players. Making changes to these options has a considerable affect on how people play game. For example, having one life and no bombs or rope forces players to use the environment in clever ways. Twenty life and 2 bombs means it's possible to stun-lock your enemy with bombs and win but you don't have enough bombs to be reckless; they are just as valuable as tools in Deathmatch as they are in Adventure. The number of maps is limited by how far you have progressed in the main game. Only made it to the jungle? Well, you'll only have mine and jungle themed maps. There are eight maps per theme and each map has its own quirks that make them interesting to fight in. You can keep the same map every round, or change maps manually or randomly between fights.
Even ropes can be used in combat.
The unique thing about Spelunky's deathmatch is that it requires a good deal of skill but still manages to retain the insanity, randomness, and hilarity that Adventure is known for. I became Captain America by quickly grabbing a shield and deflecting a blast from a ray gun. My opponent chased me across the map whipping at my ankles like a cartoon character. There's a boulder on one map that has never killed my friend but always crushes me, even if I already died from falling in spikes. Spelunky also put me in one of the most intense gunfights I've ever had when both of us had ray guns and were destroying each other's cover. My friend once picked me up and held me against a Tiki Trap while it stabbed me to death. There was one time where I was so confident that I would win because a crate gave me 12 bombs. I hopped up to throw them at a man wearing a turban, which would have been a horribly ironic death, but his crate gave him a ray gun. He shot me before I could release one bomb.
Some frustration arises from being stun-locked and the amount of time stuns last feels inconsistent sometimes. However, stunning is an essential part of the gameplay. You can use it to force your opponent to drop that powerful item and make a mad scramble to pick it up or use it to keep him on the ground while you wait for an item crate to appear.
You just can't reason with a boulder.
Deathmatch is consistently hilarious, immediate, and incredibly entertaining. It may be local-only but the game wouldn't be half as much fun without the company of friends and the joy and laughter that they bring. Online, Spelunky would be frustrating and imbalanced, so be glad that you have a good reason to get your friends together. It really is something special.