By: Casey Curran
Do not let Spelunky‘s appearance deceive you. Despite looking like an Indiana Jones for kids adventure, this is a game as brutal and unforgiving as Dark Souls. Playing Spelunky means a number of things. You risk spending hours playing and not making any progress. You have to take things slow and be cautious of your surroundings, yet always ready to react to an enemy or trap. Most importantly, however, playing Spelunky means you will die. A lot.
Spelunky uses a very simple control setup that works quite well. Running and jumping feel very responsive while sprinting is fast enough that you need to be careful but not so fast that you go out of control when needing to jump over a farther ledge. The physics have an old-school feel to them where there is no pause between switching directions (unless you’re sprinting) or jumping; the characters just do them instantly.
There are a few nitpicks, however. Picking up items close to each other is more difficult than it should be and can make you grab the wrong thing. If this is the difference between a gun and a booby trap, it can result in screwing yourself over. Bombs are also more difficult to throw accurately than they should be, and since they are so scarce this can get annoying.
I have never seen a game outside modern Sonic titles that loves the Sega Genesis era as much as Spelunky. The game benefits from higher processing power than the Genesis, but the style to the backgrounds, character models and weapons would be right at home on the system. The game’s visual style is very kid friendly and knows what to make pop out and what traps should be blended in to keep you on your toes.
The music is reminiscent of the Genesis era as well, with most of the tracks reminding me of a specific game from the console such as Ecco the Dolphin. Sound effects all have an old school but higher quality feel to them. Old school in general is the name of the game here and while it will not wow gamers, it works extremely well.
Spelunky is one hell of a tough game. It’s littered with enemies and traps just waiting to kill you with few attacks at your disposal to take them out and not much health to endure their assault. Health is also extremely hard to come by, with no health pick-ups existing inside levels and only being rewarded for saving the woman/man/dog (you choose which) trapped inside the level.
Thankfully the game limits the amount of health you can carry to 99. Considering that it starts you out with four, this is basically unlimited health. In the hours I spent playing the game, I never went above six hit points as this is incredibly challenging. The challenge is only amplified by the fact that the levels never repeat themselves, instead randomly generating every time you get a game over.
This setup creates a game with old school difficulty without the ability to memorize a level’s layout, something usually key to beating an older game. This combines well with the game’s nonlinear nature as it emphasizes exploration and finding the best route out of the level. A supply of bombs, which can blow up any wall, and ropes ,which give you something to climb when you cannot jump high enough, add an extra layer of depth when there are too many enemies in the way of the “main” path.
There is also gold and shops scattered around that offer many useful upgrades. These can be weapons, ranging from shotguns to freeze rays, spring boots to make you jump higher, and climbing gloves that let you grab any wall like you would a ledge. Getting enough gold is vital because one item or an extra bomb can mean all the difference between getting through a level unscratched and failing.
The game’s challenge is based on paying attention and figuring out the best way to approach a problem. For example, the game is littered with stones that shoot arrows taking two hit points. These are made so you really have to pay attention to avoid getting hurt. Once you do so, you have to either throw something to get hit by the arrow or find another path. Just know that getting a game over means losing everything.
This creates a scenario where the only real way to advance in Spelunky is to actually get better at it. The game will not forgive you for making a mistake. It makes you start over if you die. It will give you a sense of empowerment thanks to all your upgrades then crush you when you lose them all upon death. Yet that feeling where you are doing everything right and getting through levels like a pro is incredible because of this.
However, there were still some issues. The randomly generated levels will occasionally produce one where it is unreasonably difficult and even taking the “right” option will still end up with you taking damage. There were even some instances where making a mistake could set the shop keeper against you for the rest of the game, ruining your chance of progress. In another game, this would just be a minor inconvenience. Spelunky, however, has the same issues as the Souls games where the tiniest flaw causes much frustration as it can make you lose all your items and progress for not doing anything wrong.
Also on the downside, the Vita version only supports local online play. This means that if you want to play this game co-op, your friends will each need a Vita of their own with this game downloaded. For many, that relegates the co-op to something they’ll never use, so just be aware you may not be able to experience all of its features.
Spelunky‘s structure is perfect for the PlayStation Vita. It encourages short bursts and gameplay that demands repeated plays to master. If you are looking for a game that will keep you occupied often and challenge you every time, then I highly recommend it.