By Anni Simpson on August 21, 2013 at 5:00am
When Player Theory discovered that there’d be a new installation to "Spelunky" I was excited. I like platformers, and I like them more when they’re different or challenging in new and innovative ways. The only thing that made me nervous is being a PC gamer through and through. Although I have a USB controller for games that require them, I prefer my keyboard. But I was so excited for "Spelunky" that I made an exception.
“Spelunky” is a platformer that gives you more freedom than typical titles in the genre. Everything in the world is destructible either by bomb or whip, and if you die, the level is regenerated at random. You can also play against other people in “co-op” or “death match” modes, modes which include AIs for players who want to play these challenges without having to be social. There is also a “challenge” mode available for people who bought the game on Steam.
The object of the game is finding gems, killing evil creatures, avoiding traps, and saving damsels in distress, progressing on to new and exciting worlds that your character could only imagine. There are five zones for your character to discover: mines, jungle, ice caves, the temple, and Hell. There are also bonus areas: the Haunted Castle, the black market, the Worm, the Mothership, and the City of Gold.
The game opens with a three-part tutorial where you are acclimated to the game’s (many) functions. Because of its versatility, there are a lot of button combinations to remember. The tutorial is good in that it throws you into the game right away with all of the most important items – whip, bombs, and grapple – with clearly lit images in the background to help you learn them one by one. The tutorial is bad in that it was more difficult than necessary to get the concept of the game across. I’m also bad at jumping without falling onto spikes.
I’m not sure who’s to blame for that one.
As far as the rest of the game is concerned, the randomization of new levels when you die is incredibly refreshing. Although it’d be nice to be able to determine where you messed up and how to fix it, the randomization prevents you from coming up with strategies to specific obstacles. Instead, you learn the core mechanics of the game better, which is infinitely more helpful as you move forward.
To save the damsel, you have to find her in the level, knock her out, pick her up, and lead her to the level’s exit. When she’s close enough, she wanders out on her own. If you succeed in this, you gain an extra “heart” (or life) for the following levels. Saving the damsel is optional, but it’s really worth doing considering that you do not recover your hearts between levels of the same zone. I don’t recommend you kill the damsel. Yes, you can kill the damsel with proximity damage or by directly attacking her. I attempted to revive her by hitting her with the whip, but it just moved her body around. It was very, very sad.
I also don’t recommend that you attack the salesman. He calls you a terrorist. You're not a terrorist, are you?
Like “Super Meat Boy,” “Spelunky” can be difficult. Don’t blow through the levels, or you will find a way to die in a way that is guaranteed to be super irritating. Seriously, take your time, or you’re just going to end up aggravated. The prime example of this is the “ghost” mob. The ghost will tear your ass up in a split second, but you can do it to yourself before he ever gets there if you rush and manage to blow yourself up or fall on a spike instead. If you do die anywhere in the level, you return to the beginning of the zone and get to start all over. After your journal rubs it in your face, of course.
My strategy was to shortcut my way using bombs – and restocking with the shopkeeper with every chance I got – in the hopes that I’d come across fewer spiders or bats. I also utilized the “view down” option – hold “down” – s a lot. This is a platformer adventure game, but it’s also a game of strategy. You can’t just power through the level. Find what works for you.
One of the new additions to “Spelunky World” that was absent in the previous version is multiplayer. You can do this one of three ways: local multiplayer (i.e., two people controlling two inputs connected to one system in a co-op setting), “deathmatch” (where you compete against other players), and “daily challenge” (where you compete against other players with one shot to succeed in your challenge). The latter is only available to those who purchased their copy on Steam.
Co-op multiplayer allows you to have up to four people playing together on the same system. Although having four people share one system can be complicated depending on your rig, it’s a vast improvement from no multiplayer, and as far as I can tell, the only other downside is sitting next to someone using different controls than you while you’re both learning the game.
Friendly fire is an issue, and you can easily blow up your teammates before you realize it. If you do … they don’t return until the next zone. They can control their character as a ghost and … blow on things. If all of you die, you all return to the beginning of the zone. Much like singleplayer, you only have so many chances to screw up, so … don’t. Unless your main prerogative is to harass the person sitting next to you. In that case, there’s a multitude of hilarious ways to bring doom upon your household.
Aside from that, local multiplayer works like it does in so many other games and can expect it to work similarly. Remember “Dead Pixel’s” multiplayer? That’s what I was reminded of in my multiplayer setup.
Graphics & Music
The graphics are a little cartoony. Think a more stylized “Terraria,” and you’ve got it. Although they’re cartoony, they’re deceptively well done, and they fit in with the genre of which the game is a part. To Mossmouth’s credit, there is plenty of variation in the sprites, including both sprites and mobs. The diversity was unexpected from a game with such “simple” graphics.
The music is appropriate to the style and the zones themselves, but I mostly tuned it out. The only thing I can really say is that it served as sufficient background noise without being overly distracting or taking the focus – which it shouldn’t. It was similar to the “Mario” franchise in that it fit the mood really well without ever noticing it. Otherwise, it was pretty generic. Where it really excelled was the introduction of the ghosts. Without fail, the ghosts scared the crap out of me every time, and it was the music that started it.
However, neither are groundbreaking in any way. They are nice and well done, but they don’t add anything new to the gaming community; they’re not bad, but they’re not innovative, either. And that’s okay.
I hope you have a USB controller if you plan to play this game on PC, because it is a pain otherwise. Specifically, you’re better off with an Xbox controller, but other models can work with some configuration or so I’m told. “Spelunky” is supposed to natively support gamepads, but it didn’t recognize my Logitech G-UD8 at all (even with the correct drivers installed), so I had to dig out an old Xbox controller to play. Although that annoyed me (a lot), it didn’t poison my opinion of the game. It’s just not ideal.
Although the game was fun and brought new things to the table – randomized levels, the freedom to be creative in how you interact with each world, and a large diversity in the zones the developers created – the game had major problems. Even from the tutorial, the learning curve was steep. Maybe that’s your thing, maybe it’s not. It may be an effort to extend the length of the game (with so few zones), but I feel that if that’s the case, it’s an arbitrary extension.
In addition, spending half an hour trying to get a perfectly good gamepad to work (in part because keyboards weren’t supposed to be ideal) was a huge problem. Don’t promise native support for gamepads if the reality is I need an alternative to replace my perfectly good gamepad.
The game was a fun use of my time, but I was a little disappointed. Hopefully, the co-op is more fun, because the singleplayer campaign was rough.
I’m going to continue to play it in the hopes that things (or I) get better into the ice caves, though. There are enough clever moments in the game and things that made me laugh out loud. That’s not why I chose to play the game, but it definitely improved the experience.