Spelunky Review

Grey Carter | 26 Jul 2012 12:00
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In the caves, you'll find all manner of extra items, some of which have to be carried and others which straight up augment your abilities. Spike pits and giant spiders become considerably less worrying when you're wearing a jetpack and armed with a shotgun. The trade-off is that most items cost money, which counts towards your final score. The shops themselves are random. Sometimes you'll come across shops that sell only bombs or ropes. Occasionally, you'll come across slightly less reputable establishments that offer gambling, AI slaves or "kisses."

You start Spelunky with only 4 HP, and, excluding a few exceedingly rare items, kisses are the only way to restore or increase your health. You'll acquire most of your smooches from the "damsels" hidden through the game. The damsels - you can choose whether they're curvaceous blonde women, hunky guys or bug-eyed pugs in the options menu - restore one health point if you can get them to the end of the level. To pick them up, however, you have to drop whatever you might be carrying, yet another risk-versus-reward decision.

With its focus on player choice and skills set, you'd think Spelunky would be a stressful in the extreme, and in some ways it is. When you're on level 12 with everything riding on a jump across a bottomless pit, the pressure is almost unbearable. But it's also quite a relaxing game, in an odd kind of way. Spelunky's punishing set up means the consequences to your decisions are huge - an item missed could be the difference between success and failure - but also transient. I tend to agonize over in-game decisions ("Which route should I take?" "Which class should I be?" "Which Pokemon should I start with?" "Which of these aliens should I molest?" etc) but I found myself making snap decisions in Spelunky and not regretting them in the slightest, even when they turned out to be absolutely wrong. The fact every decision is made under a time limit - spend too long in a level and it spawns an indestructible ghost that can kill you with one touch - helps, but it's mostly down to the fact that having to restart Spelunky rarely feels like a chore. It's just that much fun. Every run through Spelunky plays out almost like a campfire story, with its own ups and downs, triumphs and inevitable defeats. I died plenty of times in Spelunky without achieving anything tangible, but I didn't feel like any of my time was wasted.

The game features up to four-player local co-op, it's frantic fun for the first few levels, but there's a delicate balance to the single player that's lost when you've got four people throwing bombs all over the place. It's still really good fun, but the punishing nature of the game makes keeping a four-player group from turning into a four-player brawl difficult. The deathmatch mode is a fun, but shallow diversion. Spelunky is a game best enjoyed alone.

In the early hours of the morning.

Bottom line: Spelunky is a demanding platformer that manages to be both progressive and nostalgic at the same time. The enjoyment you'll get out of the title is limited only by your tolerance for frustration.

Recommendation: A must buy for Xbox owners , though there is a less visually impressive version of the game available for free on PC.

Game: Spelunky
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Derek Yu / Andy Hull
Publisher: Independent
Platform(s): PC, XBLA

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