What is Spelunky?
What is Spelunky?
Looking around the cave for the first time, everything looks pretty straightforward and simple. You have your trusty whip, you have your bombs and grappling hooks and you are ready to roll. Grabbing some gold along the way you kill a bat and drop down to a platform below, right into the path of an arrow trap. You are knocked backwards under a spider, who jumps down and attacks you while you try to regain consciousness. You die.
The second time you are much more cautious. The cave is different now, nothing is in the same place and to the left of you you see a blonde-haired woman shouting for help. Not without trepidation you make your way over to her, picking up a skull from the skeleton of some unknown previous visitor and throwing it, triggering the arrow trap to let you past. Using one of your ropes, you climb up towards the fair lady and spot another arrow trap. You run towards another skeleton to grab a skull, when suddenly it comes to life. Injured and started, you jump backwards - into the path of the arrow trap, which knocks you straight back into the welcoming arms of your undead assailant. You die.
Spelunky - created by Derek Yu of Aquaria fame - looks like a standard side scrolling platformer, about an archaeologist (obviously an archaeologist as he is dressed like Indiana Jones) with a big red nose who saves ladies and grabs treasure. He has a whip he can use on snakes and spiders, ropes to climb up tall walls and bombs to destroy everything slow enough to get in their way.
Spelunky looks like a standard platformer until you begin your second attempt at it - probably less than twenty seconds after starting your first attempt. Every level in Spelunky is randomly generated, making every run through a different experience. While your first attempt might have had two spiders and a bat between you and a chest, the next attempt might have a giant spider, or an arrow trap, or a caveman. Whatever it has though, the odds of you surviving are very long.
Dying is a very common occurence in Spelunky - and when you die, it is Game Over - no saves, no continues. Until you start learning the ropes (and the bombs, bahahahaha) you will no doubt die a half dozen times before you even see your first shop. As the levels are randomly generated you wonít learn by rote - meaning you will have to actually comprehend the mechanics of the enemies, your tools and the environment before you can start getting anywhere.
The tutorial will help you with some of the key controls and concepts, but most of the gameplay elements will remain a mystery to you until you encounter them. While there are other resources available on the internet to help you discover all of Spelunkyís secrets, a big part of Spelunkyís charm is in learning its tricks and beating it for yourself.
As Junglist explained in the fifteenth episode of the 5 Inch Floppy, there are two different methods of dealing with risk and reward in games. While most games outright reward the player for doing the right thing - through powerups, new weapons or various other bonuses - there has been a resurgence of the old method of risk and reward, where the player is driven to continue playing by their own desire to excel.
Spelunky obviously follows the old method - nothing is gained without giving something up in return. This is most apparent with the tunnel man - who you first meet after beating the fourth level - who lets you bypass previous stages for a price. While to a new player skipping the first four levels is worth it, taking the shortcut means you wonít ever find the Udjat Eye and you wonít ever reach the City of Gold - although when you get to the point where the City of Gold seems attainable, you probably wonít need the shortcuts.
You see your first shop, noticing how nothing seems to be stopping you from walking straight out the door with your new pair of glasses. You are then thrown into a wall as the shopkeeper blasts you with a shotgun. You make a mental note of your poor decision.
When you see your next shop however, instead of thinking ĎIf I canít pay for something Iíll just move oní you think about how you hadnít seen a shop with a Jetpack before. You are only on the second level - it took you a minute to get here and you might not see a shop again for a while. The shopkeeper doesnít start shooting until you are right outside the door - and if you jump at that precise moment, he wonít be able to hit you.
He follows you out, bouncing around and shooting at a furious pace and you die seconds later. You smile however, because you know what you have to do next time.
As is the case with all decent incredibly punishing games, if you are upset when you die in Spelunky you are only really upset with yourself. Itís a phenomenal achievement in a game with randomly generated levels, but everything in the Spelunky universe has a set of recognisable (if not easily so) rules which it follows meticulously. Bombs will always blast the same amount away, frogs will always jump to the spot you were when they triggered and you will always avoid an arrow trap if you are two squares in front of it.
Spelunky takes the roguelike genre - popularised by games like Nethack, A.D.O.M and the Doom roguelike and fits it seamlessly into the side-scrolling platformer genre. While it is brutally difficult, you experience a real rush of pride when you finally make it through one of the sets of levels, or successfully defeat an enemy which previously bested you.
Itís coming soon to the Xbox Live Arcade with new graphics and other new features, but the PC version is 100% free and well worth your time if you are looking for a challenge. Is there another Indie game you'd like to see us cover in What Is? Let us know in the comments - and of course, tell us what you think of Spelunky!
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