Based on an Indie game that was released for PC in 2008, Spelunky is an action/puzzle platformer with its gameplay roots firmly placed in an old school style with a few quirks that make it stand out from the rest of the pack.
You take on the role of one of several adventurers known as Spelunkers with the goal of getting from the entrance at the top of a randomly generated stage to the exit at the bottom of said stage. Many games boast that they offer you a unique gaming experience but Spelunky truly delivers. The stages are numbered numerically and my stage 1-1 will be different from your stage 1-1. In fact my stage 1-1 now is different to the one I played 10 minutes ago and not just slightly different either.
Spelunky literally makes everything up as it goes along. Every single time you start a stage – even ones you have played before – the game creates it on the fly. This means that you never see the same level twice, causing the replayability level to go through the roof. The traditional run and jump platform gamers may not like the fact the level cannot be memorised but the unknown aspect is part of what makes Spelunky so much fun.
Along the way you can rescue damsels in distress, obtain treasure, collect booby trapped artefacts – which has more than a passing nod for Indiana Jones fans – or just go from entrance to exit. How you decide to play is purely up to you. You can save the blonde damsel taking her from her starting position to the exit or you can throw her at a giant spider. You can follow the created path or you can use the bombs and blow yourself a new path. There is only one constant no matter how you play the game: Don’t die.
Death isn’t a slight nuisance in this game, it is everything and it happens a lot. Randomly placed within the stages are enemies, traps and various other nasty things that all have one goal in mind, to kill you. If any of these succeed it’s back to the beginning for you and I mean right back – Old School. This game simply doesn’t care if you’ve completed 75% and amassed a fortune in gold, one missed leap and it’s all gone.
I believe that the creators of Spelunky, one afternoon, could not decide on whether to play Demon Souls or Paper Mario and from that Spelunky was born. Spelunky is a delicate balance of perfectly timed jumps, sprints and carefully measured steps. Sometimes the most basic of jumps can be rendered impossible because the game has generated a set of spikes and a giant alien in close proximity to where you will land.
No death is unfair though or due to the random generator. You are the only person to blame. Perhaps you rushed a section or mis-timed a jump, the random generator always ensures the level is completable, and because of this the satisfaction you feel when you do conquer a stage is immense. However, this satisfaction is often replaced with the fear as you enter the next randomly generated stage and you will more than likely die and lose everything again.
Every time you die your journal entries- recording your deaths and enemies encountered – survives, but it is your experiences with each enemy which, when combined with Spelunkys outright refusal to make itself easier, that forces you to get that little bit better each time until you rise up and become skilled enough to progress further into the game.
Local co-op and a deathmatch mode are available but Spelunky is meant to be a randomly generated battle between you and your Xbox, played repeatedly so that once you have obtained the correct amount of skill you can conquer that insurmountable mountain. I can’t remember a game that walks that fine line between challenging and frustrating as well as Spelunky.
With this in mind, Spelunky is very much a Marmite game but if you enjoy difficult games and have the patience to give Spelunky your full concentration and plan your every move whilst the randomly generated stages challenge every single part of your decision making process, then there are very few better games available.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 04/07/2012
Disclosure: Spelunky was purchased by SiStevens. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.