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Spelunky – A lesson in why unforgiving co-op is just as amazing today as it was twelve years ago.

Spelunky Game Review

By: Xeawn

(c) Dragon House Studios

XBLA Exclusive

Co-op is dead. I don’t mean to be negative but it is. True co-op anyways. Now adays the only co-op you can get is generally in a shooter and is generally online only. Every rare so often a fantasy game will come along with some form of co-op, but in this generation of gaming it seems that everyone has the obsession with either generic sports game, generic shooter, or open world fantasy game that really wants to be Morrowind or Zelda.

Oh yeah, then there’s “action game that will inevitably be called a ripoff of action game that came out before it that was really a rip off of action game that came out in like 98 but no one remembers that one”.

Every rare so often a studio, generally an indie one, will remind us all that co-op is fun, and so are games that don’t hold your hand and go tiptoe through the tulips with you (after watching Insidious that song has leapt to number one on my list of sounds to make you break out the Holy Water). Yes, it seems that indie studios exist to remind big companies that are afraid to take risks on innovative titles (more on this in another article) that we like things that are colorful, fun, punishing and most of all try really hard to kill us every step of the way.

On handhelds of course there’s co-op galore, but, no one in the tri-state area plays Raid style games (again, another article), so we’re just gonna talk consoles.

Ah, but out of the darkness emerges…SPELUNKY! Spelunky is an amazing game that I personally compare to 2D Dark Souls. It’s very fun, it will make “one more level” become “fifty more retries” and “five more minutes” become “ten more hours”. And most of all, it hates you ever so much.

Spelunky is an XBLA title from the mind of Derek Yu, a talented developer with far more patience than I tend to have. It’s exclusive to the XBLA but don’t let that stop you; it’s literally just under two hundred megabytes.

Spelunky’s story and premise can be described in a few words. There’s an ever changing set of dungeons at the bottom of which is a sacred treasure and I want it. That’s literally it.

You play as Spelunky Man or any of his different colored/gendered pals (one of which is Samual L. Jackson from the marvel movie fame…well, not really, but he looks like him) that all play the same (which is fine because you aren’t punished for picking your favorite avatar) and you have to get money, save cute girls/chippendale dancers/pugs (whichever is your fancy), evade monsters and traps and get to the end.

The exploration is like Metroid, the combat is like Castlevania if your whip was like two inches long, and the mobility is like Super Mario World. You begin in your standard underground mines that have traps like skeleton statues that spit arrows at you and foes that range from green snakes and small spiders to killer bees and gigantic spiders, and of course money money money!

Over your time with the game you’ll go from the caves to the jungle to an ice cavern to a temple to I don’t know where because I keep dying and you only get one life.

That’s right, you only get one life. It just got real!

In Spelunky you have 4 hearts and if you play by yourself 4 bombs and 4 ropes to start with. And a whip. You use bombs to make new paths or kill things many times your size, you use ropes to climb to areas you can’t reach/trapped yourself in, and you use your whip to whip things. Hidden somewhere in every level is a damsel/chippendale dancer/pug waiting to be rescued. If you carry the useless whelp back to the exit and toss em on through, they’ll give you a kiss/kiss/lick on the cheek which gives you one extra heart. You can also find kissing booths where for $8,000 gold they’ll give you a kiss in the level, but those are random.

Apparently Spelunky Guy is really desparate.

This is all well and good, but if you have say, 12 hearts and you fall too far/land on spikes/get impaled by a tiki statue/get eaten by a venus flytrap/get zapped by a ufo/get frozen by a wooly mammoth and subsequently crushed/get eaten by piranhas then that’s all she wrote! Also, I didn’t make up any of those ways to die, and there are many, many more.

If you die, you are a victim of the town that consumes all, er, the maze. You get revived back at the start and have to do it all over again. YAAAAY! Ah, but every cloud of spikes and death has a semi-bronze lining.

If you can clear the area that you’re in, Samuel L. Jackson will appear and want stuff from you. First it’s a bomb, then a rope, then a lot of money. If you meet him, die, beat that same group of four and meet him again, then die again, then do it one more time he’ll make a shortcut to the next level. The dying is necessary because for very logical reasons he can’t get to the next set of four stages without the items he needs from you.

The shortcuts mean your time won’t be stored on the leader board, but I don’t think you’ll really care after dying on the first level twenty or so times. Each shortcut will take you to the subsequent world and let you start from there.

So, let’s talk graphics, music and how well it plays. The graphics are adorable and also terrifying. Your little spelunker is cute as a button and ready to take on the world, which is good because he or she aint’ leavin’ till they find the treasure and are free from this place’s curse. Everything is colorful and vibrant as well as dark and foreboding when it comes to certain enemies. The animations are nice and everything fits. I feel joy when I find a maiden that can give me just a little extra life, and I feel a mixture of fear and excitement when I hear the tell tale buzzing of the queen bee (the size of twelve of you) or spot a gigant killer spider (roughly the same-ish size).

The music will get stuck in your head because you’ll play the game for eight hours straight and not realize that you did. Aside from that, it varies from forgettable to fun to cool to really annoying. All and all it’s a great fit for the game, but prolonged Spelunky time left me muting the TV set (which made finding the maidens going “Halp! Halp!” really hard) and turning on my MP3 player.

How does it play? Like a dream! A nightmare filled dream! Everything is tight. The walking is sensible the running is great, the long jump is even better. The whip has a bit of a startup time to it, so you’ve got to take that into account. My only big complaint is the game is hypersensitive to your every touch. This is because you will many times find yourself standing above a trap that you need to drop a rock down to trigger so it won’t kill you, or a trap that you need to land on just right to avoid death. Of course, the downside is you will at times shuffle your way to an untimely demise in the process.

You always only get one screen’s width and height to look at, which means that if you don’t take advantage of the pan up and pan down features you will drop/run to your death many a time. Of course there are times, especially in the ice caves, that you’ll just have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best at the bottom!

There are numerous powerups that make the game world easier to deal with. You can get shotguns, gloves to let you climb any surface, a cape to float down gently, a parachute to save you once from a fall too high, a gun that shoots spider webs, a freeze ray, a camera that stuns enemies (more useful than it sounds/initially seemed to be), spiked boots to kill any enemy in one stomp (super useful against the killer spiders, queen bees, gigant frogs that spit smaller frogs, etc.), a pitchers mit to throw things farther, a jet pack, more ropes, more bombs etcetera etcetera ad nausium.

My favorite powerup of all is the boomerang. Sokka clearly had the right idea!

Every time you go to a stage it’s randomly generated, so the gameplay always feels fresh. Even if you get the same random map more than once, the layout of enemies, treasure, dames and exit is always different. This means that you must always stay on your toes, which is a great thing!

Speaking of stages, randomly you’ll get a terrifying message. You might be in the ice caves and see the words “It smells like the 4th of July…” and it will be filled with UFO’s that will blast you. You might be in the mines and see “My skin is crawling…” and the level will have a crud ton of killer spiders. You might see “The dead are restless…” and suddenly be fighting zombies and vampires (protip: bomb the grave that says ASH and you might get a shotgun! Er um, boomstick!). You might see “I can’t see a thing…” and have to do the entire maze with a small circle of light around your torch while the rest of the stage is pitch black!

All of these things serve to make Spelunky a challenging and amazing experience. The game also features four player offline (no online, and while it is annoying I can see why) co-op, a ton of characters to unlock (you can get one per world randomly. You might have to do the world like a hundred or so times. Believe me, that’s not as long as it sounds. There are also a few special ones that you find under special conditions) and lots of unforgiving fun!

Pretty much if you don’t own this game you need to go buy it right now. And yes, it’s fun and do-able without friends. With friends it’s both easier and harder. You can stun each other with your whips, kill each other with your guns, basically there is no friendly fire toggle. Even a rope tossed up with a friend too close will result in loss of health (and possibly friendship)! Also, your resources are spread between players, so in two players you each have two bombs and two whips, etcetera on down the line.

Spelunky is amazing and I love it. It’s really rare for a new game to come out and make me enjoy it so much that I can’t put it down. Really in the last several months only this, Dokuro and Sleeping Dogs has had that effect. Seriously, go buy this game. Spend $15 and buy this game. Now. Or you’ll make a puppy cry.

I leave you with this: The World According To Spelunky!

1) Monkeys are thieving jerks
2) Queen Bees are stupid and won’t leave a small space that they can’t reach you in
3) Shopkeepers hold a grudge…always…
4) If you have a boomerang, the world is your oyster.
5) The guy running the kissing booth gets really, really, REALLY upset if you liberate the girls from the booth
6) Khali has a neverending source of spiders for you if you muck up her shrine.
7) There is almost always a way to fall safely
8) The exit is never somewhere that you have to use bombs or a rope to get to unless you do that to yourself
9) Never stay in the same level for more than two minutes and thirty seconds…
10) Go ahead guy, grab that golden skull! It’s legit 😀
11) Invest in the grabby gloves as soon as possible
12) Don’t be afraid of killer spiders! With a well placed bomb……
13) You will die, a lot. Don’t get upset, that’s how you will learn!
14) Sometimes you just have to cut your losses…
15) Isn’t it strange how in most classic games you die even for walking into a spike?
16) Down+x will save your life some day…
17) I tend to feel safer if I always carry a rock…or a skull…or a broken arrow…
18) The one universal rule of the shop keep is that everything that messes with his store is your fault…even if it isn’t…

Hope you all enjoyed the review! I’ll be migrating more from the old site in the days to come.


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