Spelunky hates you. A lot. It isn't a friendly game and it isn't afraid to kill you over, and over again, until you learn the ins and outs...
With this punishing platformer making it's way over to PC, I have finally been able to experience it, along with all the accompanying challenges. The focus of Spelunky is a 'roguelike' in the fact that when you die, that's it, gotta start all over again from the top. As the name would suggest, you spelunk your way down through the caves, to the jungle and beyond. There's a surprising amount to see, and it's made all the more satisfying to do so when you consider how difficult it is to make it through all 4 sub-levels without dying. Of course you're not going to see most of it on your first runs, nay, your first 100 runs; due to the trial and error nature of the game. It's going to take a long time to see all the game has to offer, that's down to your own inexperience and that some events are random, as are the levels themselves.
These events range from having a dark level, where you must carry around a torch to light the way, to a jungle area becoming infested with the undead. None of them sound good, but as you encounter the situations more, you'll discover the various ways to take advantage of them. That's the beauty of Spelunky; past the initial tutorial (only teaching you the basic mechanics) nothing is explained, it's all left for you to discover, for better or worse. I won't lie, it leads to some increasingly frustrating deaths that you simply can't see coming, it wasn't common enough to force me to rage quit, but it's there. For the majority of the time, it comes down to close observation and being constantly aware of your surroundings. Spiders will fall from the ceiling, arrow traps need to be set off by throwing other objects, and any skulls on the ground have a chance to rise as skeletons. It'll take a long time to train yourself to look out for all of this, but I can guarantee that after 35 hours of playtime (or so Steam tells me) it's extremely gratifying.
With this being the PC version, there are keyboard controls that are fully rebindable! That's definitely a plus, however, a controller is still the way to go with Spelunky. The precision movement required in the game is vital to success, and with your two modes of movement being: slow walk, and insane (but very precise) running, digital controls don't cut it. Analouge movement works perfectly, and when you master the running speed you'll be zooming about the stages with total disregard for your safety. At least that's what I did, then I learned to have a mix of both caution when necessary, and ludicrous speed the rest of the time.
A fine balance, one that can rarely be achieved in the co-optional (local only) multiplayer. The problem here is that one person has a flag, symbolising that they are the one deciding the movement of the screen. It centres on them, and if you're scrolled off for too long then you're dead. Fun! This opens up so many opportunities to annoy your friends, which is amplified when all the players can kill each other by throwing rocks, or a multitude of other horrible things. A full 4 player co-op simply isn't possible in my experience, with 2 players it may be manageable, but you gain no benefit. In a few ways this comes as a disappointment, although it's clearly not the main focus, it merely exists as a mode to screw around with. So in that sense... it succeeds.
Furthermore, there's even a multiplayer deathmatch mode, and yes, it's even more hectic than co-op. Fast-paced action, with battles rarely going past 2 minutes, you are forced to use the mechanics you've learnt in a new way. Throwing bombs to knock people into spikes, using ropes as a weapon is hilarious, as is going mental with all of the other items in the game. It's a lovely, frantic break from the main game with friends. Although I can't help but feel that it would have benefited greatly from randomly generated arenas; it only has 64 levels, that sounds like plenty until you see only 8, with the necessity to unlock the remaining 56.
Finally, a significant addition to the Steam version is the Daily Challenge mode. Such a small change adds a lot to keep you coming back. Essentially it's a single level seed that everyone can only play once, then your score (amount of money) is put on a leaderboard with a ton of competition. The longevity this adds for competitive players is immense, keeping you coming back every day to see how much money you can collect, training up beforehand as well.
Spelunky may hate you, but you'll love it if you don't mind trial and error, you get better and better until you begin to go for certain goals like the 'Speedlunky' achievement. You could watch some videos before playing it to avoid some of the cheaper deaths that may annoy you, but that deprives you of certain moments of amusing, unknown deaths. I'm holding back and not saying a lot of the more in depth aspects of the game, for your sake, it must be experienced first hand. It may not be for you, but Spelunky isn't trying to be that game for everyone, and that's absolutely fantastic.
9/10 – For more info please watch my 'Look At' video above!
About BenBeatsGame One of us since 12:32 PM on 04.30.2012
My name is Ben, I'm an aspiring journalist from the UK. I run a YouTube and TwitchTV channel by the name of BEN BEATS GAME. I attempt to beat at least one game every single week so it never gets boring!