Thursday, August 9, 2012

Spelunky XBLA Review

20 ways to die in Spelunky:

  • Fall on spikes!
  • Get hit by an arrow trap
  • Eaten by vampire
  • Stabbed to death by hornet
  • Roughly caressed by a skeleton
  • Throw a rock at anything and it bounces off wall and hits you in face, killing you. 
  • Fall on more spikes!
  • Greatly misjudge a fall and meet the ground too hard, dead. 
  • Grab golden idol, smashed by boulder that is triggered. 
  • Eaten by piranhas
  • Land on top of a man eating plant, instant death. 
  • Get hit by measly bat and get knocked into some goddamn spikes!
  • Anger shopkeeper for any number of reasons, shot in the face with shotgun. 
  • Jump for a climbing robe over a chasm, miss, fall to your death. 
  • Finally make it to ice level, slip on ice, fall into the abyss
  • Hit UFO and it explodes, killing you. 
  • Beaten to death, and likely eaten, by a vampire. 
  • Try to cross vines in Jungle, fall on the giant pit of spikes below; goddamn spikes!
  • The giant spider descends upon you in the mines, try to fight it with only your whip, dead.  
  • You take too much time in any level, the ghost comes, it touches you slightly, very dead.
There are so many ways to die in Spelunky and as frustrating at it is, it is so very fun. I've earned fifty deaths in the XBLA version of this rogue-like platformer and I still love it. If you are a PC Gamer you may have played the free PC version at some point or another, which can now be played in your browser, and the developers are still updating that. Derek Yu is still the main developer, but he also has two other people working with him on the game. The Xbox Live Arcade version does have a bit different than the PC version and let me spend a paragraph explaining some of those differences, but before I go into that, a quick explanation for those who don't know of Spelunky.

Spelunky is a game that harnesses the idea of being Indiana Jones and exploring a dangerous treasure filled world of snakes, spiders, skeletons, hornets, frogs, snowmen and so much more. You start in the mines and you make your way further and further down, eventually reaching the jungle, then the ice caverns, then the temple. Each time you enter a level it is randomly generated so every time you go through an area it feels unique. When you die, which is very easy to do and you will die a lot, you start over from the beginning with nothing other than four bombs and four ropes, which you always start with. Each time you enter a new section, like the jungle or ice caverns, there is a man who approaches you and asks for some supplies. If you give him enough supplies you can unlock shortcuts to each area, but the supplies get harder to obtain as you get farther down and you can only give him one thing per playthrough, so you can't instantly unlock a shortcut even if you have tons of money, bombs, ropes and whatever else. It is a painfully hard game, but the challenge is immensely enjoyable in the same way that people enjoy games like Dark Souls or Dwarf Fortress. Now onto the differences between the PC version and the XBLA version.

The PC version of Spelunky is free, while the XBLA version costs $15, and you may ask yourself why you might pay for something that is essentially the same game, well let me show you why.
The XBLA version of Spelunky
-Completely revamped graphics for everything
-New monsters
-New items
-New music
-New character models
-A few entirely new areas
-Local 2-4 player multiplayer co-op and deathmatch

That may not be enough for some people, but for me it is more than enough to justify playing one of my favorite games again and on the Xbox 360. Personally I love the new graphics, they are much more detailed and modern looking than the PC version, and I love the smooth controls on the Xbox 360. The gameplay in general is exactly the same as the PC version, but it feels great playing this game on a TV, with some friends and with a controller.

As you go through the world of Spelunky you can randomly encounter coffins, which unlock new characters, and while each character doesn't actually change gameplay it is just one more thing that makes Spelunky even more replayable. As you die dozens of times you will also notice the main hub area change, which is where you choose to whether to start from the beginning or from one of the shortcuts. The game records how many times you have died, how many monsters you have killed, and each item you have found. You can check out much of that in your logbook, but there are little things that visibly change in your hub area, like death tallies on the wall and each new shortcut. As you go through the game numerous times it stays fresh due to each level feeling different every time you go through it. There are rare occurrences that can happen in each section, like bees in the jungle or undead, or snake pits in the mines, plus merchants are randomly generated as well. There are also secret areas to find, like the black market, and just a massive amount of content for such a little game. 

Spelunky is so difficult because each level is designed to challenge, frustrate and ultimately kill you. Little things can kill you instantly, like timing a jump wrong and landing on spikes, or you can have more serious challenges like running out of bombs and the only way to the exit is through a hornets nest. There are so many ways to deal with everything situation that it is really easy to become relaxed, especially when you find yourself a shotgun and some great items, but the game is great at reminding you just how fragile you are. For instance, the first time I got to the temple area I had seven health, which is a lot (you start with four), climbing gloves (so I could climb any wall), a cape (so I could glide slowly down to any area), plenty of rope, plenty of bombs, twenty thousand in gold and it had been one of the best runs I've ever had, but as soon as I got into the temple I met my death quickly due to the unfamiliar situation. I exited the entrance and dropped down the floor only to see a square block go flying at me, which proceeded to smash me into the wall. Nothing, but knowledge could have saved me from that fate and just learning about enemies, areas and items is worth a death. 

When I first started playing Spelunky on XBLA I thought that multiplayer was online and local, but I was disappointed to learn that it is only local. Local multiplayer is plenty of fun, but it is pretty restrictive, especially in adventure mode. There is a deathmatch mode, but it isn't too exciting without at least two other people and adventure mode feels like the main attraction of multiplayer. In adventure mode you can play with three other players and the screen is focused just on the first player, so if you accidently lose other players then you only have a short period of time to find them or they will die. However, death isn't a huge deal in multiplayer.You can find coffins, like the ones in singleplayer, but these coffins will bring back other players and while they are dead they act as ghosts. As ghosts you can set off traps, move objects, disturb enemies and just generally mess with the environment. Multiplayer is pretty good, even without split screen, but it would be even more enjoyable if you could play with friends over Xbox Live.

If you want to check out Spelunky in action and even with Derek Yu, the main developer, then take a look at this video by Rev3Games. It is lovely and it appropriately expresses my own frustration at the games difficulty, but I wouldn't dare make it easier. The video is fairly long, 18 minutes, but skip to six minutes in it if you want to just see the XBLA version being played by Derek.

Last Comments
Spelunky is awesome, that is all. If you like platformers you really need to give it a try and it does have a demo like all XBLA games. If you happen to like platformers and rogue-like games that have permadeath, then Spelunky is especially for you and you should be able to love it so much that it might just justify the outrageous cost of Xbox Live. If you don't have a Xbox 360, do try the free PC version. Sure it isn't as pretty, but it is still impressive and possibly even more challenging due to the controls. Spelunky costs $15 on XBLA and it is one of my favorite games of the year so far. Thanks for checking it out and reading. 
Main Website:

Violent Score: 4.5 (out of 5)
If multiplayer was a little bit better, and online, then this would be a perfect score. 

-Written by Sean Cargle


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