Spelunky is, in my opinion, the best game by Derek Yu that we will talk about this month. The game, which was also developed by Andy Hull, is a rogue-like platformer, in which you traverse a desert cave as an Indiana Jones-like figure to find fame and fortune. The game has had a fair following and has recently received a remake on Xbox Live that adds hi-def graphics, deathmatch, and four-player co-op. Today though, since this series of articles covers freeware (and I don’t have 15 dollars to spare), we’ll cover the original game.
The main thing that Spelunky gets right is its gameplay. This game is extremely easy to pick up and play due to its intuitive controls (no SHIFT + CTRL here by golly). In this game, you have several tools for getting around the cave. In addition to your trusty whip (which you will always have, even when you pick up one of several weapons, some conventional, like shotguns, and some unconventional, like giant dice), you also have climbing rope (which can help you scale over some obstacles or safely descend a long drop) and bombs (which can kill most opponents or clear obstacles). These tools are easy to use (if a touch difficult to aim in the bomb’s case) and, more importantly, gives you a number of options for getting through the game. For example, you can just try to get through the levels like normal, carefully dropping down from ledges and heading straight for the exit in each level, or you can take your time and use the bombs and ropes to fully explore the levels and find all the secrets.
It’s options like these make Spelunky a new experience each time you load it. The levels are all randomized and have tons of random events to experience but are almost always capable of being defeated if you lose your gear. For example, one of the biggest things you’ll remember about this game are the shopkeepers who sell items and power-ups as well as run kissing booths and dice games. Sure, you can give them your money… or you can steal their wares and kill them for their guns, angering the the shopkeeper union and making you a wanted man. You also can rescue damsels and carry them to the exit, gaining you a heart… or sacrifice them to a dark god for a power-up (or just toss them in front of you to kill enemies or set off traps). Add in a ton of random events, some secret areas like the black market or the city of the gold, some unlockable characters, and a tunnel man who will make shortcuts for you if you pay him enough, and you are guaranteed an almost endless amount of replay value.
Of course, just cause the game gives you lots of ways to get through it doesn’t mean it will be easy but, unlike Eternal Daughter, the difficulty is a lot fairer. The game starts you with only four hearts and one bad encounter with a shopkeeper can take you down in a minute. However, as you learn how each area works and hone your reflexes to get used to enemy patterns, you’ll be able to delve deeper and deeper into the cave, eventually getting to the end and completing the game. There are a few things that will likely surprise you, such as the invincible ghost that comes out if you take too long (similar to Evil Otto from Berzerk) or what happens if you take the golden idol but these are things you learn to deal with and even find ways to use to your advantage.
The game also features some excellent, if a little off-color, humor. In addition to the shopkeepers (try hitting one of the damsels at the kissing booth) and the many disturbing things you can use damsels for (don’t worry, if you feel bad about hitting digital women, you can unlock the damsel and do the same thing to spelunkers), there’s a number of great sight gags and reference jokes that are sure to get a good chuckle. While of course not everyone will find the same things funny, you’ll likely at least find a couple things to laugh at while you play this game.
What Spelunky also does right in addition to everything else is the nostalgic aesthetic it achieves. The retro graphics and the smooth speed everything plays with has the vibe of a game that might have appeared on an amiga back in the day and the active character sprites are cute and funny. The music, which is by George Buzinkai and Jonathan Perry, is also extremely well done and manages to work within the limits of older systems when it comes to its chiptune music, with several tracks being quite catchy. As a final touch, the last boss is even homage to Super Mario Bros. 3.
Overall, Spelunky is a definte must-play and one of the best games Derk Yu ever worked on. While the XBLA version does have superior graphics and four-player co-op (which admittedly does take away a lot of the challenge), you should definitely take the original version for a spin whenever you get the chance. Next week, we take a look at a much more controversial game, a game of violence, lawyers, and harsh satire. A game only one man–one lawyer–could think up.
Download: HERE (Windows only, sorry)