Spelunky Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Jul 02, 2012 21:09

Derek Yu’s Spelunky has generally been held up as a gem of indie PC gaming. Its mix of 2D platforming mechanics and roguelike random level generation which tends toward the sadistic side is immediately distinct, easy to learn, and fun. The player takes control of a cave-delving adventurer, armed with a whip, climbing ropes, bombs, and various other items they find along the way in search of treasure, but death often comes quickly. Make no mistake, Spelunky is a hard game and makes no excuses. That is actually the whole point: it is challenging you to learn a little more with each death, to get a little better as a player until you can reach the end of the maze. It requires some patience as a result, but the deep satisfaction you get for overcoming an obstacle that previously defeated you is a fine reward.

Spelunky (Xbox 360)The tutorial does a good job of explaining the basics, and in just a few minutes you should be ready to play for real. What you find next will vary each time you play, as the randomized levels follow some general patterns but otherwise ensure you don’t have the same circumstances twice. Will you run into lots of monsters? Difficult platform arrangements that dig into your stock of climbing ropes? Tons of traps that frustrate your efforts to gather the best treasure on the stage, or even get to the exit? Perhaps, though it’s equally possible that some levels will be very easy and let you stock up to face a harder challenge ahead. You just don’t know, and this curiosity is what drives the game forward.

Some of you may suspect that ’roguelike’ is being used as a synonym for “you are going to die a lot.” This is completely true, as Spelunky doesn’t often pull its punches. It has few qualms about generating a level where a humongous spider resides in a spot that is very tricky to cross safely, and having said arachnid knock you over into an instant-death spike pit trap. Much of the game’s fun lies in learning about these threats and figuring out how to overcome them the next time, which means that a lot of what the player needs to know isn’t disclosed up front; you’re expected to figure it out on your own by expanding upon what you’ve already learned. This would normally be bad design, but given each run in Spelunky is so short to begin with it’s actually fine and helps lend to the aforementioned feeling of triumph; you learned how to beat that problem!

This also leads to some hilarious moments, since one wouldn’t immediately expect a retro-style 2D platformer to have the deep physics you’ll find here. A personal example was an unexpected death when I pulled out a bomb while also holding a torch. That open flame caused an immediate detonation, and all I could do was laugh before starting a whole new set of stages. Enemies also will behave in ways you didn’t expect, and random shops may sell power-ups that improve your existing abilities in strange ways. It supports a similar type of player-driven discovery that the 1990 NES release “River City Ransom” did; it isn’t exactly the same since they’re in different genres, but it’s similar and finding clever ways to use items in tandem is exciting.

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Our Rating for Spelunky Review (XBLA)
9.0 Replay
Levels are randomized each time you play, meaning that the core actions of treasure hunting are unchanged but the specifics of what you find and which strategies to focus on are different. This is a great way to keep players coming back!
6.0 Graphics
This port of Spelunky loses some of its visual charm by replacing the old retro style imagery with something more ’whimsical cartoon’ styled. The game remains pretty easy to understand and play, so this is more a cosmetic issue than one really hurting anyone’s experience.
6.5 Sound
Excellent sound effects (albeit ones far different from the original versions) are backed by fairly simple music tracks that are passable but also forgettable.
9.0 Gameplay
The core controls of running, jumping, flinging bombs, and gathering treasure are easily learned and an excellent tutorial is provided. However, it only teaches you the bare minimum; this appears to be intentional. Spelunky is a game about exploration and gradually learning, which offers a very special satisfaction when you overcome a challenge.
8.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
Local co-op or versus play for up to four is this port’s chief feature over the PC version, and both are a lot of fun. There is no online play, but this is the sort of multiplayer experience that benefits from being right next to your partners/opponents for friendly banter, blaming one another for mistakes, and so on.
8.0 Overall
As a game, Spelunky is amazing despite being so difficult. As a product, this $15 USD XBLA port must compete with the free PC version. Its primary advantage is the addition of multiplayer, and if that’s good enough for you (it easily can be; this is a lot of fun with friends) then it’s an easy purchase.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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