With every trendy indie fan on the planet losing their minds over Spelunky it would be easy to believe that it’s the most earth shatteringly inventive game ever made and that it redefines the way we think about game design. Well, it isn’t and it doesn’t. But it is still a great game. First released as a freeware PC title in 2008 and now lovingly remade on Xbox with shiny new graphics, better music and added extras like new characters and a multiplayer mode, Spelunky is a very clever blend of retro platformer and Roguelike. Every level is randomly generated. There are no extra lives. And the aim is, simply, to get to the end without dying.
It’s the Roguelike element that makes Spelunky more than just another indie platformer. There are tons of elements to any stage – enemies, of course, plus traps, treasure, rocks you can pick up and throw, damsels to rescue, and shops to buy weird power-ups from. Each is fun in isolation but even better when they come together. The entire fun of Spelunky is its playful experimentation, the way you can interact with the wolrd just to see what happens, so we wouldn’t want to spoil the experience by revealing those surprises. Suffice to say that you can play Spelunky over and over and over again without seeing everything that’s possible and almost every playthrough will elicit a grin as familiar elements work together to do something unexpected.
It’s this that makes the single life mechanic so vital. Without it, most players would just breeze through Spelunky and only see a fraction of its possibilities. But constantly starting from scratch, ever aware of the ease with which you could die, forces you to play with trepidation, taking your time and learning all the ways to exploit the world around you. Of course, this is a fundamental trait of the Roguelike genre, but it’s given a new twist in Spelunky by taking what is usually a set of mechanic reserved for the turn-based RPG and transplanting them into a realtime platformer. This brings a whole new level of excitement to the game. Just trying throwing a bomb into a crowded room for example then sit back and see what chaos ensues… But it can also make the game more frustrating. The turn based nature of traditional Roguelikes encourages a throughtful pace of play but in Spelunky you often have to rush, which creates panic and leads to fatal mistakes.
We’ve sworn at the screen more times while playing Spelunky than practically any other game. So we wouldn’t recommend this to anyone with anger management issues or a heart condition. But, by the same token, it’s also afflicted us with chronic one-more-go syndrome. So we would recommend it to anyone who loves videogames. Which is surely all of you…