Review - Spelunky


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Spelunky comes to XBLA, but is it another Indie game triumph?
Derek Yu
Release Date:
XBox 360
Age Rating:
Spelunky was born as a freeware title in 2009, released on PC by lone developer Derek Yu and comes to XBLA in a very similar form. Essentially, it’s an old school platformer with a suitably old school approach to player mortality. When you die, that’s it – no local saves or handy mid level continues – you’ll be returned to the start of the game, though there is the possibility of earning a shortcut from an NPC.

It may seem cruel by modern standards but it’s partly that commitment which makes Spelunky so compelling, making retries essential as the difficulty mounts. But the game also has another trick up its sleeve – each time you die, the levels are reformed around you by some kind of algorithmic magic. The benefits are two fold – each restart is fresh and you’ll never feel the frustration associated with desperately trying to learn a route through a terrifying maze of death.

That particular frustration may be set aside in Spelunky but you’ll still often feel the need to curse the game in an articulate fashion. Spelunky is hard. Damn hard. Your teeny animated hero may pack a mean whip and some serious athleticism but he’s vulnerable to everything from the obvious things to spiky spikes and bitey spiders to a fall off a ledge which Lara would hardly sniff at. Dying is a constant in the game but it rarely feels like abject failure, more of a learning process. With a minimal tutorial, you’ll learn by example and after the first couple of times you’ll stop doing stupid things like standing next to a bomb on your way to becoming a better player.

Of course, the difficulty level ramps as you learn, meaning progress remains a kind of martial attrition towards that exit and the promise of life-saving trip to the next store for provisions. Your hero mines (or sometimes picks up) gold and treasures throughout the levels which can be used to purchase new equipment at a store. Or you could just rob the shopkeeper, but be prepared for a fight.

It’s these small surprises which make Spelunky more memorable than a mere randomly generated platformer, adding character to levels which never feel as anonymous as you might imagine – down to the programming props of Yu and Andy Hull. The presentation, too, is pleasing. If you caught the game on PC a couple of years ago, you’ll be pleased to know the pixel heavy art has been replaced by high res graphics and some serious variation in levels, creatures and available items.

And if you’ve visited this digital world before, you’ll also be pleased to know that a ton of new content has been added, both in the single player mode but more obviously in the brand new multiplayer options. Local mode comes in both co-op and competitive flavours, forcing you to work together to progress through the levels in the first and dropping you into chaos in the second. With some halfway skilled players, both modes can be fun but without the refinement and consequences of the single player, it soon becomes tiresome.

Spelunky is a mechanically brilliant platform title, less concerned with twitch gameplay like Super Meat Boy and its ilk and encouraging more careful play to progress. While it’s patently indie in its design and art style, the graphics are pleasing and the commitment to the level of difficulty is refreshing. Those craving a story should look elsewhere but if you’re after an unusual and addictive challenge you should grab it on XBLA now.

8 Stars: Recommended
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