Have you ever had all of the confidence in the world in your ability only to have it ripped, viciously from your grasp, leaving bloody stubs where your previously eager fingers used to be? This happens again and again until your hands are reduced to no more than stubs. But you don’t give up. You learn from each and every mistake and go on until you finally conquer the mysteries that lie in wait. Spelunky, the newest XBLA title from small developer Mossmouth and creator Derek Yu, will make you feel that feeling. The feeling of a hardship earned. True satisfaction awaits at the end of the cave, but you’ll have to earn it.
Stemming from a 2008 PC indie title of the same name, Spelunky earned a following large enough to create intrest in an HD, XBLA sequel. It holds itself as one of those games that is not embarrassing to label as hard. Luckily, it is the type of hard that is fair. In Super Meat Boy fashion, every mistake you make is your fault, not the games. Mastering the precise platforming, amongst other things, is key to success in Spelunky. All the while, you are trying to discover the ancient secrets held within a mysterious cave where the game takes place. The catch is, you never have time to prepare or master each of the games mere 16 levels. Upon death, the levels are shuffled, so no two playthroughs are the same. Taking the hint of 2011 indie game The Binding of Isaac, and many games in the past, Spelunky will take you for a wild ride that is fun and fresh every time you play.
As if my mention of The Binding of Isaac wasn’t clear enough, Spelunky falls into the category of “Rogue-Likes”. Meaning that on top of its grueling difficulty, permanent death is a huge motivator in playing as safely as you can in Spelunky. Using simple jumping, whipping and the placing of bombs and ropes, players must collect treasure, save damsels and defeat enemies and rank up the best high score.
In fact, that could be seen as a major gripe with Spelunky. If not for its insane charm, replay-ability, and addicting challenge, Spelunky could be taken in as nothing more than a score grabbing romp with no real substance. But with high-scores comparing against friends and the world leaderboards, the glory overflows when you get to share the news that you made it to the temple AND gather 100,000 points in one run.
In comparison to the PC version from which this gem stems, the graphics are given a huge improvement with sleek, cartoony visuals. The main character of Spelunky himself is reborn with a mario-esque look about him as he transforms from 8-bit abomination to creative, and iconic, indie character. The bright pop-art style of Spelunky makes the game feel welcoming, and adds a flavor that adorns any sense of despair that comes along with this game’s challenging bravado. The updated soundtrack is filled with jazzy ensembles that sometimes feel out of place, but aid in the games soft demeanor.
To even further the game’s appeal, this new version adds two multiplayer modes. One is a super smooth co-op mode which allows two players to play the game as a team. This mode is both torturous, and extremely satisfying, as you and a friend fight over who gets the best goods. Dying players also join in as ghosts until revived, which allows them to actually manipulate the environment around them.
The alternative is a deathmatch mode. The less interesting of the two modes, this allows up to four local players to fight to the death for a glorious 5 or so seconds. The matches end very quickly and tend to be overly chaotic and sort of uninteresting. This multiplayer mode is definitely not a selling point for this otherwise top tier game.
At $15, Spelunky asks for a pretty steep favor for a game of its type. But considering it offers great presentation, spot on gameplay, and a ridiculously addicting challenge, it is well worth it for anyone considering taking the plunge. If you don’t mind hectic difficulty, and captivating rogue-likes, Spelunky is definitely a top tier example of the genre. If you’ve got what it takes, flip on your Xbox 360, give this game a download, and discover the secrets that lay at the end of the cave.