"With the desert stretching behind me,
I paid my Bedouin guide,
And a cold chill took hold of me."
Heart of Darkness Presents:
Ah, finally, my first review. I've been meaning to do one of these for a while, and now I've finally found the time to do so!
Anyway, the game. Spelunky is an indie, platforming, rogue-like game for the PC. You play as the aptly-named Spelunker in a world that feels like a cross between Indiana Jones and Super Mario Bros. You kill enemies (by whipping them or stomping on their heads), collect treasure, and explore the depths of the cave, all while safely getting the Spelunker to each level's exit. You also need to not die.
And, trust me, you will die. A lot.
This isn't due to bad controls, though. The game itself handles very well: use the arrow keys to move, shift to run, Z to jump, X to use your items, and C to cycle through your inventory. You can also use A and S as shortcut keys for your bombs and ropes, respectively, if you don't feel like cycling through your inventory all the time. The game itself subscribes to the "easy to learn, hard to master" school of thought. And, by "hard to master," I mean the game is actively trying to kill you--spikes, traps, and enemies abound in the game's 16 levels.
I sense no danger here...
Don't expect to be unprepared, though--the game offers plenty of upgrades to help your frail Spelunker survive the myriad of hazards inside the cave. These can range from items that will increase your throwing ability to a bomb paste that will allow you to plant bombs wherever you can throw them. You can use the treasure that you find in caves to buy upgrades from the shopkeepers that are sprinkled around the levels, and you can also take the time to rescue the Damsel, who rewards you with another point of health if she exits the level alive. Since you only have four points of easily-lost health, you will want to rescue the Damsel.
However, you will inevitably run out of health. Most of the time, you will have a YASD, or "yet another stupid death." Despite the game being out to kill you in the most gruesome way possible, deaths seem...well, fair. Instead of feeling like it's the game's fault you died on that spike trap, you feel as if you didn't judge the timing right on that jump. Died from a high drop? You should've checked to see how far the drop was before you ran into that chasm. Most of the deaths never feel cheap, which is actually a good thing--this helps to alleviate the rage of each consecutive death and allows for the player to play again in a relatively good mood. Maybe not as good of a mood before you died, but you still won't be ready to hurl your PC through a window anytime soon.
Death in the game is also permanent--meaning you can't carry upgrades between playthroughs. Once you die, your Spelunker is reset back to his weak, whip-wielding self. And don't think that your next run will be better because you know what to expect: like other rogue-likes, all sixteen levels in the game are generated randomly each time you play. There are also no saves at all in Spelunky. Once you die, you start back at level one. Only two things in the game will carry over between playthroughs: your high scores, which also keeps track of how many times you've died, and any money you've given to the Tunnel Man, who asks you for money to dig shortcuts to certain levels.
Spelunky's sixteen levels are also divided up into four "worlds," each with their own separate theme. The cave is the first world--you will be spending a lot of time here. It's fairly basic, but many of the rooms are closed off and will require you to use up your meager supply of bombs and ropes. Once you complete four levels, you move on to the next world, the jungle, which is home to some very steep drops, piranhas, and man-eating plants. The snowy cave houses yetis, springboard traps, and a one-way ticket down a bottomless pit. And the temple is home to lava and Thwomps that will kill you without second thought. Each world also has its own specific "level feelings," which generate pre-determined events such as darkness covering the entire screen or a giant piranha that resides at the bottom of the level. Most levels are also on a timer and will spawn a ghost when the timer runs out. Touching him will kill you instantly, so it's best to not let him show up at all.
Spelunky is a game entirely about choices. What you do in one level will most likely affect your progress in other levels. For instance, you may opt to not pay the shopkeepers in one level, and just steal his items; however, for the rest of the game, every shopkeeper you meet will be hostile and will try to shotgun you in the face. A shopkeeper will also spawn at every level exit, as well, which may bring your progress to a crushing halt. You may also find that using all your bombs and ropes to save the Damsel will prevent you from accessing a horde of high-paying treasure on the next floor.
The three natural states of the Damsel--helpless, panicked, and unconscious.
Overall, the game handles very well, but it does have some flaws. Remember how I said most of the time your deaths would be classified as a YASD? The remainder of the deaths can be chalked up to bugs or just plain horrible level design. Although most bugs have been ironed out since the release of version 1.0, one particularly noticeable bug will cause your Spelunker to take fall damage, even though the height from which he dropped wouldn't be high enough to hurt him normally. This is usually triggered by hitting a ceiling, and a slight miscalculation on a tricky jump right beneath the ceiling can result in a fatal fall that shouldn't have been fatal in the first place.
Spelunky may also randomly generate levels in such a fashion that would render the game unbeatable if you didn't have enough bombs. Simply put, the level design sometimes will not give players a proper exit from a certain part of the level, causing him to make one; without bombs, the player is left stranded, and is only left with two options: to kill himself, or to wait for the ghost to come. Placement of traps and enemies can also result in a cheap kill, such as arrow traps that fire in tight spaces, spike traps that are hidden by a very long drop, or even giant spiders that block off the exit to a level. These generally bad level design choices make a difficult game nearly impossible to play, and may cause some players to get incredibly worked up and throw the Spelunker on a spike trap to end the suffering.
The game's flaws, although annoying, do not detract much from the gameplay experience. Spelunky is still fun, and provides plenty of challenge for those who seek it.
Bottom line: Spelunky is a very strong title for any gamer to have in their arsenal, as it offers a high replay value and many hours of game time.
Recommendation: Get it. It's free. Even if you're completely disappointed with this game, you're only out at most an hour of your life. You can find the game here for download.
Heart of Darkness will take this time to state that he stole his intro from Spelunky's opening screen. As penance, he shall drop himself onto a pile of spikes.