On the surface, Spelunky appears to be a side-scrolling platformer where instead of going from left to right, you descend vertically. And in a way, that’s all it is. But this, combined with a multitude of rogue-like elements, makes it a ridiculously fun and addictive experience.
You begin the game by choosing from a plethora of cartoonish, quirky characters, with the stereotypical Indiana Jones-esque protagonist being one of these. Your character choice does nothing in terms of gameplay and is purely for aesthetic differences, but it’s a nice addition regardless. After this, you can then breeze through a quick tutorial introducing you to the mechanics, and then you’re on your own. You begin in the mines, and must embark through four areas to progress to the next zone. You continue through the various locales in this manner until you finally come across the mythical statue Olmec, who serves as the one and only boss within the game.
If you think Spelunky sounds like a quick time-killer however, think again. Being in the genre of ‘rogue-like’ games, you can expect a fiendish level of difficulty to be present. This not only means you will die very quickly if you take a wrong step into some spikes or enemies, but also that death is permanent. Very similar to games such as The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky challenges you to defeat its fairly megre selection of levels in a single run. This very rapidly grows into a fairly mammoth task, and will have you trying time and time again to master that one jump.
Don’t be fooled though, you cannot simply memorise how to beat each stage. Every single time you spawn in the mines (or other areas once you unlock them), the map is randomly generated. This means that enemies, traps, allies, and most importantly, the exit, are all placed at random locations within the level. This adds an incredible amount of replayability to an initially simple game, and will have you coming back for more long after you beat the final boss.
In terms of gameplay, Spelunky is brilliant in its simplicity. You are equipped with your trusty whip and a handful of bombs and ropes. The former can be used to defeat enemies, whilst the latter will allow you to traverse the caves and other zones with ease once you master their usage. You have to be mindful though, as you have limited supplies of either, meaning wastefulness will almost certainly see you trapped down a hole from which you can’t escape. A merchant is also located within each level, and will be willing to sell you a vast variety of items as long as you have the appropriate funds. Of course, you can simply try to steal his wares if you like, but this will cause all merchants on your playthrough to try and hunt you down with their shotguns. It’s certainly a viable playstyle, but one which only the most experienced Spelunky players will be able to put to proper use.
Visually, Spelunky is a very charming experience. Its graphics are considerably cartoon-y in their appearance, but hold a certain unique flavour to them which makes the game stand apart from so many others which have tried this similar look. All of the enemies share this look too, and the in-game guide to all the enemies and items you’ve encountered is fun to look through, even if just so you can admire the detail that has been put in to everything. The music in the game, while not outstanding, also feels very at home within this world. It’s atmospheric without compromising the accessible nature of the game, and just makes it a very enjoyable experience.
Overall, Spelunky is just a lot of fun to play. It’s highly addictive, entertaining, and devilishly challenging. The challenge never feels unfair however, and most deaths are 100% down to you as a player rather than a fault of the game – which cannot be said for other games attempting the ‘rogue-like’ feel. The procedurally generated environments provide hours of fun, and make the game a real time-sink, especially as you get successful enough to near the end. Regardless of whether you’re a quick-pick-up-and-play style of gamer, or a more hardcore fan of challenge, I cannot recommend Spelunky enough.
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