With its kid-friendly graphics and run-and-jump gameplay, Spelunky would be an easy game for hardcore gamers to dismiss. Fortunately, just beneath the cartoony exterior lies one of the most challenging and original games of the year. For gamers willing to accept a high frustration threshold, Spelunky has more than enough entertainment available. With that said, for those of you not used to grinding through a level tens, if not hundreds of times, Spelunky might be an exercise in futility.
Featuring an Indiana Jones-style protagonist, Spelunky uses old school gameplay in a way rarely seen on a console. The twist is that each and every level is different from the last time you played it. The enemies will change, the tunnels will shift, and the traps will move. While the challenges retain the same attributes from one stage to the next (a bat will always fly in the same fashion), where they are placed and staged drastically shifts. This core gameplay element eliminates walkthroughs, challenging the player to truly learn how the game plays. It’s like walking back into an arcade in the 1980s, where gamers had to teach themselves how to problem solve without the internet to cheat off of.
The core idea behind Spelunky is simple: direct the protagonist from the original spawn down to the exit at the bottom. Along the way enemies, gold, jewels, spikes, and damsels in distress are distractions worth exploring. Each player starts with four hearts and damage caused by enemies or traps will hammer away at this health very quickly. The only way to gain hearts is to find damsels and transport them to the exit.
Maintaining health, and gaining health by saving damsels, is the cornerstone of a successful playthrough. Unlike most modern games, Spelunky makes survival incredibly hard. For one, health is precious in this game. By making hearts only attainable at the exit, players have to be conservative and quick at the same time. At first, dying will become a regularity. For the impatient, this might be when to check out. Fortunately, with enough perseverance, strategies become apparent and progress is attainable.
The game consists of four stages, each with four separate levels. At first, this will appear to be relatively short. However, the challenging gameplay means getting past a stage can take 20-30 playthroughs or more. There’s a lot to discover while playing Spelunky, and hidden stages and stores make even the 30th playthrough a new experience.
Spelunky is an acquired taste that will not appeal to some gamers. I’ve been told by the members of my household that Spelunky’s repetitive nature makes the game very boring to just watch. However, those of you willing to invest some serious time and patience into this game will reap the benefits of a smartly crafted indie game. If you enjoyed games like Limbo, Braid, and Super Meat Boy; I highly recommend you give Spelunky several hours of your life.
CraveOnline received one copy of Spelunky for the Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played 7-8 hours of the single player. We did not play any of the multiplayer component for this review.