Review by ErinIsADrunk
"With fate guiding my every move into death. Over and over again."
Spelunky is a 2D platformer developed by Mossmouth for XBLA. In Spelunky, you take on the role a spelunker who stumbles upon a mysterious mine full of treasure and follows his adventure as he tries to escape with all the riches it has to offer. It takes some cues from the roguelike genre in that death is permanent and there is a lot of death to had in Spelunky as you try to make your way through the four different tile sets trying to escape with the ultimate treasure.
A key component of Spelunky is the completely randomized dungeons. Since death is such a permanent part of Spelunky, the game provides randomized levels make sure you never feel like you are going through the same level twice, which eases frustration and prevents the player from getting stuck on specific parts for long periods of time. Spelunky is not so much about memorizing sections after you die then brute forcing your way through. Instead, Spelunky wants you to examine each death, which usually occur as a result of carelessness, and apply the knowledge you learned from the last death in order to improve the next run. Death is meant to be as much a learning tool as it is a punishment. Spelunky asks you as a player to examine your playing habits and adjust. They give you all the tools you need to learn and excite in the form of some really tight controls. Your Spelunker's movements feel almost like an extension of your mind, which can be problematic when something goes wrong and you enviably end up dead in a pit of spikes because your mind is not up to speed.
To help you along the way and make the game a little easier, Spelunky provides various items throughout the game whether from random crates or by purchasing/stealing them from one of the random shopkeepers you will encounter throughout your travels. These items range from offensive-minded weapons such as a shotgun or freeze ray to exploration-minded items like the compass or the cape. Getting some of the more powerful or helpful items provides a real rush and can have you suddenly going from fearing everything to feeling unstoppable. Though this psychology can play against you, if you become over confident and can lead to things like dying just before the end of the game because you weren't paying proper attention and used the shotgun and got kicked back into some lava. These items are also crucial for building the shortcuts that allow players to start from the beginning of a tile set rather than the very beginning of the game.
Because of the nature of death, every little success feels like an exhilarating victory after taking hours of punishment from the game. It is this feeling that makes Spelunky such a brilliantly structured game using the tried and true "carrot on the stick" method of coaxing. After every success, I felt a compulsive need to go onto the next challenge and push myself a little bit further. Finally got all the materials to Tunnel Man to build the next shortcut? Alright, let's head on to the next one! Beat the game using shortcuts and feeling on top of the world? Okay, let's do it again without using any shortcuts! It is this structure that makes Spelunky such an addictive experience even after you've gotten to the end for the first time. The games leadersboard add another level of replayability especially those who are into competing against friends and speedrunning.
Spelunky is full of secrets featuring things such as hidden tile sets that contain hidden characters, special items and even an additional ending for the real hardcore players out there. For those who played the PC version of Spelunky, it is the secrets that they will notice the most difference with the XBLA version of the game as it features the bulk of the new content added for this update.
The other obvious thing players of the PC version will note is that the graphics and music have gotten a little sprucing up. Gone are the cute looking sprites of the PC game replaced with bold, colourful hand-drawn character models that have a Saturday morning cartoon look and are positively beautiful to look at. Environments are more detailed with many small touches that give the game that little bit of extra liveliness, bringing you into the world of Spelunky just a little bit more.
The music is generally speaking, well done, but there isn't really enough of it considering how many times you are going to be playing all the various levels if you are attempting to make it to the end of the game. Music fatigue is something that will set in on your 100th plus run in the game. Although, I mostly tribute this to a lack of different dungeon music that cycles over and over, and not a lack different music in general.
At the end of the day, Spelunky is a finely crafted game that while difficult and occasionally bordering on the abusive, gives a sense of accomplishment that is unlike almost anything I have experienced in recent memory. Accomplishing things in Spelunky after failing miserably and finally learning from your mistakes, really feels like something worth bragging about. This is what kept me coming back to Spelunky after dozens and dozens of hours of playing the same four tile sets over and over again. Spelunky is a game that isn't afraid to let you fail. It does not coddle you, in an attempt to have you live out a power fantasy at every moment, but that is what makes it special and rewarding for anyone who takes the time to explore the mines, jungles, ice caves and temples of Spelunky.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/23/12, Updated 09/04/12
Game Release: Spelunky (US, 07/04/12)
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