Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Spelunky (PC)

Spelunky HD PC title screen logo
I can't tell if that's Indiana Jones wearing a clown nose or a clown doing cosplay.

Today I'm having a quick go of the PC port of the Xbox Live Arcade port of PC platformer Spelunky, as it was requested of me. I think I even heard the guy cackling manically as I accepted the gift on Steam, his laughter echoing through my mind. Not that I'm not grateful, it's just... well, that's a bit creepy.

Spelunky has a bit of a reputation for being soul crushingly difficult and unrelenting in its cruelness, and I have a bit of reputation for being crap at games, so I'm expecting this post to end with me whining about it being too challenging and not having saves, but accepting that other people look for different experiences from their games than I do and that I should be celebrating variety rather than complaining when things don't entertain me personally.

Actually now I've said all that I guess I won't even need to write a conclusion, so that'll save me a job later.

(Click on the pics if you want to see the original sized screenshot. Unless they've obviously been cropped, in which case you're out of luck.)

Spelunky characters
The game begins by a offering a choice of three game modes: Adventure, Daily Challenge... and Deathmatch. It seems that I can play the Adventure mode in 4 player co-op as well, but weirdly for a game made in the 21st century it only supports local multiplayer.

I've always thought that more PC games should support getting a few players around the same monitor (I used to play 4 player GoldenEye on a 14" CRT, I think I can handle split-screen on modern sized PC screen), but it seems weird that they'd leave out online play at a time where publishers are eager to stamp out any trace of offline gameplay from the world.

Spelunky damsel male female dog
Whoa, the game has damsel options? Throwing out all conventional definitions of the word, I can choose to be rescuing girls, guys, dogs or a random mix of all three. That is honestly genius, completely neutralising any unintentional appearance of sexism (well, as much as it can while having the bloke dressed in briefs and a bow-tie.)

Cat fans are once again out of luck though.

Spelunky Yang fighting a snake
Wow, the game has completely disregarded my choice of hero and has started me off playing as this guy instead for the tutorial. Yang was an explorer who found an interesting looking cave in the desert and decided to go inside in search of wealth and damsels in distress. I don't know why there are damsels in there, there just are.

An indeterminate amount of time later, my character boldly descends into the very same cave and finds Yang's journal near the entrance. Flicking through the diary, he finds that it explains the basic game mechanics and begins replaying Yang's early adventures in his head.

Funny how these adventurers all seem to favour the whip as their weapon of choice. That's Indiana Jones's gimmick mate, find your own.

Damn, I can tell you right away that if this game is going to be challenging, it's not going to be due to awkward controls. The character gets around the level with speed and grace and he even automatically latches onto ledges.

I think I'll be giving Spelunky an A+ for handling and it's totally not premature for me to make that kind of judgement on the first first jump in the game.

Spelunky (2009)
Here's a shot of the original 2009 game for comparison. The remake seems to be fundamentally the same game, just with redrawn graphics and new music. Honestly though I think I prefer the original game's chiptune cave music, because it's fairly awesome: Cave theme youtube link.

Hey wait a second, I can crawl over the edge to do a flip hang and take a little height off my fall? Why didn't nuSpelunky mention that, huh? Is it trying to get me killed with falling damage and blind jumps?

The game didn't mention that I could walk through spikes entirely unharmed either, which seems like something worth pointing out.

I have managed to lose a couple of hearts through other means though. The first when I accidentally walked into a snake, and the second when the snake then walked into me again while I was still stunned. I'm starting to get an idea why the game could be considered difficult.

Well those signs are pretty clear: down and 'B' drops a bomb at my feet, while pressing 'Y' shoots a rope arrow up to grapple onto the scenery. So why the fuck did I just press 'B' under the 'Y' sign and nearly blow myself up?

Though this might actually work out for me, as it seems I could use a second bomb to tunnel myself a shortcut through to that cave on the bottom right, plus it'll blast a bit of gold ore out of the rock for me to collect as well. I don't know if the money even does anything yet, but I crave it.

... the fuck? I'm blasting rock deep in an ancient mine somewhere in the middle of a desert, who the hell could be terrorised by that? I'm a little concerned about how the music's switched to panic mode, like there's something I should be running from right about now.

Well I'm sure it'll make itself known in the fullness of time. Right now I'm getting back to wasting my limited stash of explosives by digging myself into a hole.

I blasted my way down into a bomb warehouse, with a lunatic outside hopping around firing off a shotgun. I guess that's what the terrorist alarm was for.

Fortunately it seems to me that I've been given all the tools I need to solve this situation, as I can lob bombs a fair distance if I choose to using the miracle of object physics. Though the guy's stubbornly refusing to explode so far.

I tried to make a run for it in the end and got a backside full of buckshot. Tutorial failed.


Kevin's General Store? So that guy was a shopkeeper? I can see now why he'd be a little concerned about people tunnelling down through his roof.

Well I'm loaded, he's got reasonably priced bombs, I think we can come to some kind of deal here.

I decided to swipe the idol I saw as well (up on the top left, two screenshots ago), but for some reason Yang couldn't just evaporate it into cash like he did with the gold and gems so now I have to drag it all the way over to the exit at the very bottom of this level.

I found a damsel along the way as well, but Yang can only carry one thing at once so I'll have to make another trip to get her out. Annoyingly.

Seems to have been worth it in the end though for Yang.

You know, I bet she's only after him for his money. Adjusting for inflation, that cash in his pocket would be worth half a million dollars in the present day. She might be a little dismayed though when she finds there's nothing around here to spend it on but bombs.

Alright, now that I've learned the basics I've been given control of my actual character and let loose in the cave system to seek my own fortune.

First thing I'm doing though, is picking up stones and throwing them at spiders. My whip's perfectly capable of taking these creatures out with a single hit, but the thing has barely any range to it. I have to be really careful though, as these stones are powered by physics and can bounce right back to hit me in the face.


Spelunky A terrible chill runs up your spine!
A terrible chill runs up my spine? What does that even mean? Did I run out of time or something?

Never mind. I'm going to throw this stone up into the air at the spider, run backwards before it bounces down and cracks my own skull open, then grab the damsel and run for that exit. Or maybe I'll open that chest on the right and then grab the damsel. Though I suppose I could always try opening the chest by throwing the damsel...

Man this guy's got a lot of upper body strength. Not entirely sure why he has to knock the poor woman out cold before carrying her to safety though. Well I suppose she may have just fainted from the excitement of it all; I'd rather presume that than imagine my hero knocking innocent dogs, women and Chippendales senseless.

Another stage is completed and my hero gets a kiss for his trouble. A magic life-restoring kiss that gives him back a single hit point. It seems that it's very much in my interest to make the effort to hunt down each level's damsel and get them to the exit, as I've already lost half my hitpoints just getting this far.


Crap, I didn't notice that spider hiding on the ceiling until he'd already dropped down onto my head. I really need to pay attention to what I'm doing.

Well thanks a lot you little eight legged freak, it doesn't seem very likely I'll be finishing this game with just this single hit point you've left me. Hang on, just let me turn around and step into range and I'll repay the favour with my whip.

I was too slow and he managed to leap on my head before I could hit him. He smacked me so hard that I flew across into a hole, bounced off a ledge (-1 hit point if I still had any left) and then slipped down a gap at the side where I triggered a dart trap (-2 hit points) and finally came to a rest next to it with a solid thud (-1 hit point). Well at least the trap's disarmed now!

Even if I'd still had all my hearts left before I was hit by the spider I probably still wouldn't have survived that single slip up. Physics can be a right bastard sometimes.

That's it then, my character doesn't have any lives. Game over.

Well I made it up to stage three at least. Though it doesn't matter whether I choose to Continue or Quick Restart, either way it sends me back to the very start of the mines, all my progress wiped. The levels are randomly generated though, so at least my next trip will be different.


I think I've figured out why he knocks the damsels out when he's carrying them. I only have to pick them up once for them to run around like a lunatic every other time I put them down. Plus they've got no respect for the dangers of venomous snakes or live explosives.

Actually I think I may have accidentally whipped him to death before throwing that bomb to blast my way out. Either way, I ain't getting my bonus heart this stage.

Well all the other stuff in here seems awesome, but if there's anything I've learned from playing Faxandu, it's that I'd be an idiot not to take the mattock.

Hey, is that a Dracula cameo down there? I'm gonna go get his autograph.

There was a Mexican in there, another adventurer for my character select screen! I really hope he doesn't hold a grudge about the whole 'smacking him across the face with a mattock hard enough to send him bouncing across the room' incident.

This thing's awesome by the way, cutting right through a square of rock in a single hit. I can just carve my own path right through the walls straight to the exit now, Terraria style.

Hey he's following me around now, I've got an AI sidekick! Grab that boomerang mate, if you want to make yourself useful. Actually better still, jump up there and grab that dog for me.

Oh okay fine, I'll carry the dog, you carry my mattock. And don't you DARE lose it, or else I'll whip yo ass.


He lept on the spikes... why would he do that? Those things are an game over, no matter how many hearts you have.

RIP Mexican spelunker, you lunatic. Guess I'll have to go over there now and very carefully recover my mattock. I ain't taking the long way or wasting bombs when I can just carve my own tunnel to freedom. Sure I lose out on money by not exploring, but money can't buy me hearts.

Oh... FUCK. I think I just learned what happens when Spelunkyguy gets a chill down his spine: this ghost comes out and floats directly towards him with intent to bring his spelunking to an immediate conclusion.

Well going left towards the exit will almost certainly lead to instant death and going back will get me pounced on by a giant spider. Even if I got past the spider, I'm at the bottom right corner of the map so I have nowhere to go except up and that's only going to lead me to a literal dead end.

I am entirely screwed.

Dig you bastard, dig! I've got nowhere to dig to, but if I stand still the ghost will catch me for sure.

He tunnels through to the other side, leaps across the rocks and jumps... right into a sticky web. Crap, I honestly thought I was in with a chance just then.

OH AND HE ESCAPES THE WEB! I am the Spelunky master, the god of ghost evasion. No spectre can catch me!

I've fallen into another web haven't I?


Hello there, Nick Fury. I just escaped a ghost! It was the best thing ever.

Tunnel Man explains that he's digging a shortcut to the next area, but he needs a bomb to destroy a boulder blocking the path. No problem mate, you can have one of mine. Well that ought to make getting back here easier next time, if I don't have to play through four mine stages first.

It's funny, I was thinking of quitting the game after this run earlier as I found the idea of my progress getting entirely wiped each time completely demotivating, but now that I know that I can open up shortcuts I've got my enthusiasm back.


This underground jungle level's giving me more Terraria flashbacks. Even the music sounds similar.

Man, I've thrown like three stones and a very valuable mattock down there and I just don't seem to be able to hit this bloody frog. I don't dare go down there though, not with a single hit point left. I think I'm going to have to stand at the edge of the ledge and whip him when he jumps up.

Well that didn't work. I mistimed my whip attack and the frog gently brushed against my intrepid explorer, killing him instantly. You want to know the really annoying thing about this? I learned afterwards that I CAN JUMP ON ENEMIES TO KILL THEM. Maybe that would've have been worth pointing out in the tutorial d'ya think?

But... I met you at the end of the mines. I gave you a bomb you bastard! Let me back through to the jungle again!

Guess I'm going back through the main door again then. Stage 1-1, from the start.


Well it seems that all the characters play identically, but oh shit this boomerang is awesome! It's like a rock that I can actually ends up where I want it to when I throw it and always returns to me afterwards. I'm sorry damsels, I really want to help you folks out of your bizarre dilemma, but there's no way I'm dropping this thing to carry you to the exit.

I don't have that kind of patience anymore for one thing. I've started to hold the run button down almost constantly now and I keep taking stupid risks because I just want these jungle stages over with already. This stopped being fun the seven thousandth time I had to fight through the mines and now I'm just running off stubbornness. I'm not giving up until I see what's after these jungle levels.


Tunnel man's finally finished the shortcut! And not an hour too soon. It seems I had to complete the all four mine stages three times over before he'd let me skip it for good. Because... I don't know, maybe the game developers just hate us all.

Well okay, I do appreciate that players are supposed to get through the mines faster each run the old fashioned way: through practice and experience. But I got better things to do than bash my head against a game for hours until I've hammered every trick and technique into my skull. Like... write about the game for the internet for instance.


World 3 is a slippery slidey ice world level with frictionless floors! Damn man, I thought people stopped making them back in '93. I love my distorted reflection in the ice though, that's a cool effect. In fact the whole game looks awesome, with very distinctive cartoon art. No retro pixel graphics here.

This level seems to have much less rock around than the earlier stages, which should make it easy for me to clear a path to the exit with a careful application of bombs. First through it'd be nice if I knew where the thing is, or any lower platform for that matter. There's no bottomless pits in this, but a long enough drop will do me some serious damage.

Okay that actually is a bottomless pit. Well, it was a good place for me to turn this off anyway.

Spelunky is a platform game for people who get endless joy out of watching their latest incredible run get cut short by a single mistake causing a series of unfortunate physics driven events leading to their inevitable demise. I'm not that guy though, I like to see some kind of results for my time investment, even if it's just some new gear in the shop like in Super House of Dead Ninjas, or a mansionful of character upgrades like in Rogue Legacy.

Plus the shortcuts to later worlds require increasingly ridiculous payments to Tunnel Man, with one particular shortcut requiring you to carry an item all the way from the mines at the start, meaning you have to play through without skipping worlds to get it to him. Plus if you finish the next world before playing the previous world three times over to unlock its shortcut, Tunnel Man won't have arrived yet so you can't start giving him items! It's asshole game design at its most needlessly cruel.

But besides the player character continually latching onto ledges by accident, not being able to carry an item and a damsel at once, and their total lack of invulnerability when stunned, I'm finding it hard to criticise the actual mechanics of the game. It's got really solid gameplay and most of my fuck ups were entirely my own dumb fault for not paying attention (at least in the mines). Plus the game does have one big redeeming feature for me: the new Daily Challenge mode (only available in the Steam version I'm afraid).

Daily Challenge mode takes away all the repetition by only letting you challenge a certain set of levels once. Ever. All players are given the same randomly generated series of maps to beat and you get just once chance to see how far you can get before you're locked out until the next day and the next random challenge. Players are ranked each day on how much wealth they've acquired, so you're going up against your friends rather than the game.

I've got no interest in trying to finish this any more, I'm not really into iron man mode gameplay, but I can definitely see myself loading up every now and again for a single Daily Challenge run. So it gets a star.

You can download the original low-tech 2009 version of Spelunky entirely free from the official site: Spelunky World.

That's what I think about Spelunky anyway. Feel free to leave a comment if you think I'm being unfair on it though, or if you agree with me, or even if you've never even seen the game before. Your comments are frequently awesome and I could always use a few more of them.


  1. Free game \o/
    This kind of game is interesting. It is really a pain to have one chance to make it from the beginning to the end, and random generated levels means that you will be guided by luck.
    But there is something really charming about this..... every trial is a gamble: you will need all your skills + strategy + luck! Most likely that death awaits you, but its your life in game - you can't give up, and don't want to lose!! And even a loss is experience for the next life kkkkk
    Anyway, games like this are addicting, reminds me of Binding of Isaac XD

  2. You made it way further than me... I refused to buy this game at first because I thought it was overrated. Then it showed up on GOG so I caved... and now I know it's overrated.

    I found the controls awful - the character kept ledge grabbing when I did not want him to, meaning I had to drop down or jump away repeatedly - just disrupted the flow. Then, running is a separate button - to which I have nothing to say except 'analog controller'.

    I probably could still have forgiven all of this - heck, I used to play C64 games with the joystick inverted to move the buttons into a more comfortable position. What became obvious, though, was that Spelunky is just not fun.

    It has no sense of humor - by which I mean it is not playful, free, or liberal, the way a game should be. Is it punishing - sure... but games should not punish exploration, experimentation and inventiveness. Spelunky is the school-marm of games - you have to play it a certain way or it raps you over the fingers (by killing your character and taking away your stuff). Yeah, I spent twelve years in school and another ten at university - I don't need some egotistical designer reprimanding me for jumping around a game level. If I was into that sort of thing, I am fairly certain that there are places that would cater to those sadomasochistic tendencies in far superior ways.


Semi-Random Game Box