Review: Spelunky on XBLA from @mossmouth
Derek Yu originally released Spelunky for free on PC several years ago with very nice ‘retro’ graphics (you can still get it right over here). The game was released yesterday (July 4) on XBLA and I can confirm that the game remains now what it was then: absolutely fantastic.
What’s that? You need more information about that because you’re not some sort of fancy video game hipster? Fine. Spelunky is a 2D platforming game about delving deeper and deeper into a cave to find as much treasure as possible while avoid dying a terrible, terrible death every five seconds. You can defeat enemies by jumping on them, using your trust whip, acquiring additional weapons on the way (a machete that can cut through spider webs, a boomerang, a shotgun, and a lot more). As you venture further and further into the caves, enemies get tougher, you find more treasure, and you buy new equipment, like a compass that points to the exit of the current map. You start the game with bombs (basically the entire game is destructable) and a ropes that are very rope-like in the way that they allow you to climb out of holes or climb up to places you could not otherwise reach, although each of those has limited uses. Each map is procedurally generated, which is what people have come to mean when they say it has roguelike elements (the whole procedurally generated levels with an ever-increasing difficulty thing).
With procedurally generated levels, no two play throughs of Spelunky may never be the same but, if you are me, they do tend to be very short. Spelunky is a game, as much as anything, about patience and planning. You weigh the risk and reward of each action you take. Do you risk getting hit by an enemy in order to obtain that treasure? You only have four health to start the game (although you gain one each time you collect a kiss for rescuing a damsel in distress), but even the most basic enemies can be problematic. Traps are plentiful and you are always under time pressure: An unkillable ghost will spawn if you dilly-dally too long on a given level. The controls are fantastically spot-on. I never felt like I lost because the game didn’t do what I told it to. I have lost because I misjudged a jump or didn’t see a trap coming or underestimated a weak enemy, but not for mechanical reasons. In a game that challenges you to build your skill to deal with increasing challenges, that is a necessity.
Spelunky is a great time, but it can be downright aggravating some times (okay, a lot of the time). It doesn’t help that I am downright awful at it. Traps may be hidden just outside of your line of site, fluke chains of events may lead to your death, and – even if you are the most careful person in the world – it is easy to just not be careful enough. If you don’t risk anything, you don’t get much gold, and I usually go out of my way to get gold. The levels change as you get deeper in the dungeon, new enemies emerge that you have to figure out how to deal with, and some enemies take an awful lot of damage to kill if you don’t have an upgraded weapon. Also, sometimes plain bad luck gets the best of you in Spelunky.
Still, I keep coming back for more. Once you find the rhythm of the game (it took me a couple of hours), it’s a very easy game to say, ‘Well, I’ll see if I can get just a little bit farther or make a little more gold or see what comes next’ again and again until it is some time in the wee hours of the morning. It’s a game that whittles away hours in five minute chunks, which is no small feat in and of itself. There is also the question as to whether you should spend 1200 MS Points on Spelunky on XBLA if you have already played the original version. Well, I can give you four quick reasons why you should go ahead and pick it up: there are co-op and versus modes to deal with, the game looks splendid in HD, Derek Yu deserves to be rewarded for crafting a fine bit of gaming that he has given away to the community for years now, and its an awesome, addictive game. The longer I played it, the better I thought the game was, as I realized the depth that the game had, the amount of hidden things just around the next corner. Spelunky is available from XBLA for 1200 MS Points right now. If you are still on the fence you can download the demo from there as well, although I would note that the continued discovery of new things is a big part of the game for me, which you won’t get to experience in full in the demo.
Score: 8 out of 10