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Review

Spelunky! Review

  • Game release: July 4, 2012
  • Reviewed: July 3, 2012
  • X360

Enticing rewards tempt you into Spelunky's dangerous and exhilarating world.

The lure of an idol is irresistible. The golden gleam from the invaluable object beckons greedy explorers, whispering promises of untold riches in exchange for a bit of daring. More often than not, the desire for treasure is crushed by a rampaging boulder or descending spiked ceiling designed to protect the idol from would-be thieves. But there are rare instances when your risk-taking pays off--you avoid the obstacles and come away unscathed with the prize. That adventurous scene mirrors the rhythm of Spelunky. Again and again you come away defeated--eaten by piranhas, punctured by spikes, mauled by vampires--but those rare moments when you survive make you appreciate the difficult path you traveled as you bask in the glow of hard-earned success.

As you enter an underground mine to begin your adventure, you're greeted by a series of randomly generated levels populated by all manner of traps, enemies, and treasure. Initially, Spelunky is indistinguishable from a typical 2D platformer. Whip snakes, leap ravines, rescue damsels, and exit through the door to the next stage. Accidentally trigger that arrow trap or get overwhelmed by the slow-moving bats, however, and you find that punishment is severe. When you die, you restart from the beginning of the game. The cash you earned? The items you collected? All gone.

Progress comes not from tangible rewards but rather from the knowledge you gain. The first time you encounter an arrow trap, you fall blissfully past it, only to find a feathered shaft lodged in your abdomen. The next time, you aren't quite so ignorant. Drop a rock or dead caveman in front to trigger the barrage, and then walk peacefully past it once its ammunition is spent. You learn that spiders often hide in pots, that blue snakes can spit venom an impressive distance, and that you should never take the fluttering of bats lightly. With dangers all around, you keep your head on a swivel, aware of the spiders overhead, the caveman down below, and a wild-eyed mammoth just offscreen.

Knowledge isn't the only tool to help you survive. Items empower your explorer, giving you a larger margin of error to hide any mistakes you might make. Gold and gems litter the playing area, and with a little cunning, you can amass a sizable fortune. Take your wallet to a shopkeeper (located randomly in a stage, or sometimes not at all), and select what would help you most in your quest. Spectacles offer the passive ability to see previously hidden treasure, whereas a shotgun needs to be actively held but offers a surefire method to dispose of foes. Most items imbue you with their powers as long as you hold on to them, which aids immeasurably in your quest to survive.

The hunky man needs help, but is he worth the risk?

All of this seems tightly structured, but Spelunky gives you plenty of flexibility to venture forth as you see fit. Arrive at the shopkeeper without a nickel to your name, and you could walk away empty-handed, like a model citizen would. Or you could rob the entrepreneur. Be careful, because he's as quick with a shotgun as he is to anger, but best him in a killing match, and you reap massive benefits. Or maybe the path to the door is populated by too many baddies to make it worth your while. Bomb the ground to forge your own way through the level; just make sure you don't wind up in an even worse position. Spelunky encompasses the trial-and-error aspects that can often hinder lesser games. But you�re not forced to experiment; instead, the desire to test the waters comes naturally, so you never feel as if you're backed into a corner.

No matter which path you take, the most troubling obstacles you have to overcome are your own tendencies. A tribal assassin may be standing at the far end of the screen, readying his boomerang for anyone who has the gall to cross him. Getting into a safe position requires time and effort, but the exit is so close. Why not take a risk? So you ignore the caution that took you so far, cast away your patience, and sprint pell-mell toward freedom. Wham! A boomerang slams into your head, and you curse yourself for being impatient. Another time, you safely reach the door only to see mountains of treasure a little to your right. You could move safely onward, but a little bit of gold never hurt anyone. So you walk past the door, climb the nearby rock face, and get an arrow in your gut for your effort. Hubris struck you down, and you realize greed can spell your demise rather quickly.

More likely than not, when you stumble, it's because you pushed beyond your own abilities and came away scarred and sad. But there are times when the game's limitations lead to an untimely death. The controls, sharp as you could ask for most of the game, can fail in the most inopportune places. You might pick up the wrong item amid the clutter on the ground, or inadvertently grab on to a ledge when you wanted to fall straight down. These momentary hiccups can be disastrous. The visuals aren't always distinct enough to quickly communicate what you're carrying or if you're hanging from a ledge or standing on solid ground, and that hesitation is deadly in such dangerous environments.

At other times, Spelunky doesn't seem to play fair. Most of the time, debris is nothing to fear. You bomb some rocks and walk through the new path without thinking twice. But there are random times when a rock shoots out unexpectedly, taking away one of your precious life hearts before you can react. At other times, you carry an item to help vanquish foes. Tossing a pot or key is an invaluable way to kill enemies without getting too close, but there are unexpected side effects to contend with. The item may bounce off a nearby surface and strike you, hurting you in the process. Such setbacks feel cheap because the slightest difference in trajectory can make the difference between life and death, and there are enough dangers without the added difficulty of friendly fire thrown into the mix.

These problems are very real and can derail a run in a hurry, but they aren't ultimately so damning as to keep you away from this adventure. Rather, these blips become just another in the long list of dangers you have to be constantly vigilant of. What's so impressive is how you can use supposed obstacles to your advantage. For instance, the spiked totem poles in the jungle end your journey in a flash. But you could toss a passed-out caveman next to one of these and watch with malicious glee as he's impaled by this pointed tool of death. There are also many ways to make use of the damsel, hunk, or dog you can rescue in each level. As you carry them to safety, you can use them as a weapon or a decoy, or to set off traps, and you can even lay them on an altar to please a pagan god.

Are you afraid of the dark? Well, you should be.

Spelunky isn't quite as punishing as it first appears. When you die, you do start back at the beginning without any valuables you earned. However, there are shortcuts to unlock as well. Each section is made up of four stages, and when you clear those, you meet a digger carving out a direct path to the new world. Pay his price, and you can warp there straightaway. But the cost is steep. His demands force you to play the game differently. For instance, when he requires a set number of bombs, you have to be prudent with your explosives. Whereas previously you might have carved a straight path to the exit, now you have to follow the natural route, baddies and all, and that tweak gives you new appreciation for Spelunky's flexibility.

For those who fear going through this dangerous land alone, there's a four-player cooperative mode (local only) that changes how you play. The action stays focused on one player on a single screen while the other players scramble to keep up. That aspect is unfortunate because a split-screen or online option where multiple explorers could venture down separate paths could have added a level of complexity unseen in single-player. However, there are some nice touches that make co-op worth experiencing. Once a player dies (and that should happen quickly), he or she turns into a ghost that can interact with the environment. Blow on enemies to push them away, or brush past a dynamite block to make it explode, and you can help your friends progress from the confines of the afterlife.

Sometimes you'd rather cradle a skull and put your dog in a hole.

Though there is a simple charm to cooperative play, competitive action is too chaotic for its own good. Once again, up to four players take part in offline matches to prove who the best adventurer is. This too is limited to a single screen, and everyone rushes to and fro to bomb, shoot, or otherwise exterminate friends. The action moves so quickly with so much going on that it's hard to figure out what's happening, so this mode is good for temporary distraction rather than long-term enjoyment.

Neither cooperative nor competitive modes are where Spelunky excels because the core of this game is designed around the exploits of a lone survivor in a hostile world. Spelunky doesn't extend a helping hand when you're down. It doesn't have mercy. And that stubbornness is one of the main reasons it's so hard to pull away from the game. When you finally conquer something that has been hounding you for hours, you feel like the best darn explorer on the planet, and that feeling overshadows all the hardships you overcame down the troubled path you traveled.

The Good
Excellent risk-reward dynamic
Great variety of enemies, traps, and items
Unlocking shortcuts forces you to play differently
Lots of flexibility in how to progress
The Bad
Control quirks
Forgettable cooperative and competitive modes
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Spelunky

About the Author

Spelunky is on Tom's short list of all-time favorite games. He has logged hundreds of hours across three separate platforms in his pursuit to defeat the secret hidden boss.

Discussion

0 comments
HowlPendragon
HowlPendragon

Spent $3.75 on this and it was still a waste of money.

It gets old, the controls and mechanics are garbage. All they did was make Minecraft's cave exploring into a 2D platformer along with randomly generated caves and deaths you can't come back from.


$0.99 would have been fine. I feel bad for the suckers who bought this for $15.


Also, an 8.5 but TLoU gets an 8?

Yep this is definitely a Tom McShit review.

fibaglassmonkey
fibaglassmonkey

I don't understand why this game gets so much hype, it feels like it doesn't want you to play it. Progressing only opens up further punishment and cheap kills, messing with the shopkeeper is about the most fun I've had with it but when you get to the ice levels he just falls off -_-

Get Guacamelee instead

Voice_of_Wisdom
Voice_of_Wisdom

PC version pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease.......................................

GearDoGi
GearDoGi

The only thing that i dont like in XBLA games is that after buying games like this one for 1200M$ (Very expensive for what the game can offer you) is that the developers dont repay the consumers for the support with some nice FREE updates bringing new stuff,weapons,items,levels etc.I think it's not fair to pay 0.99$ for a mobile phone game like cut the rope for example and receive very often free updates with new stuff,and for a "Arcade" game that you pay ~14$ you dont receive any update or new stuff. 

Redthedemon
Redthedemon

note to anyones whos thinking about buying this game if you haven't yet played on pc do so first it is free but it will help you decide if this version is worth the 15 bucks

franzito
franzito

Sound like a fun platformer ; )

Kingdomkey33
Kingdomkey33

nothin i would play...i dont know why ppl are so pumped about it...:/

slimskelter
slimskelter

This would've given me hard-on back when I was 7.

andrewwittmaier
andrewwittmaier

Tom, I find it strange that you say this game has control quirks.  Anthony Carboni from Destructoid made a point to mention that he thought the controls were rock solid in his video review.  I'd just like you to comment further on this, if you have the time.  Thanks.  

Raelador21
Raelador21

Music sounds really awesome in this game. Takes me back...

DrMatta
DrMatta

Also, 1200 MSP is (as it always has been) way too expensive IMO.

Angry3DSNerd
Angry3DSNerd

If Tom Mc Shea just loves platformers why does he reviews other types of games? When Its a platformer (like this) he rates good, but when he plays other games ( like lego batman 2 ) he ignores them and rates bad. TELL ME!!!

Goyoshi12
Goyoshi12

Gelugon_baat....Gelugon_baat everywhere...

zakkaz666
zakkaz666

This game is excellent. Don't overlook it.

dkdk999
dkdk999

I think local co-op has returned with a passion recently. Tons more games have local co op now then at the beginning of the generation.

Rovelius
Rovelius

...any reason why this hasn't come sooner, especially when the PC version is completely free?

majoras_wrath
majoras_wrath

@HowlPendragon nevermind the fact that Spelunky came out before Minecraft and if anything was an inspiration to Notch.


And you compare it to another game as if you can accurately compare games based on review scores.

Rickystickyman
Rickystickyman

@Kingdomkey33 I've only played the trial of the game but I am curious why people like this game so much. I love Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, The Deep Cave, Bit. Trip Runner and other hard platformers but this game was just so... boring and generic. But I don't own it so I can't say much.

Goyoshi12
Goyoshi12

 @Kingdomkey33 ...because everyone plays what you play and everyone loves what you love, right?

mitchymoo91
mitchymoo91

 @andrewwittmaier I'll put it this way, if every reviewer had the same opinion and there was no diversity between them, we'd only need one gaming site. There are so many different places you can go to read or watch a review, of course some critics are going to have slightly different experiences with each game. 8.5 is a great score for a great game.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @andrewwittmaier The entry in The Bad says Control Quirks; Tom does comment further on this in the review itself. Read the first paragraph on the second page. (Actually, heck, read the whole review!)

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Angry3DSNerd aw is someone upset about Lego Batmans score, you do know that Lego Batman and all other Lego games are platformers and Tom has liked them in the past right? His problems with the new game is the fact that they havent even tried to fix any of the many issues that have plagued the games since Lego Star Wars and they just keep pumping out game after game after game with the same issues over and over and over again.

NidhoggII
NidhoggII

 @Goyoshi12 IT does not play video games. IT only comments on how IT is not a fan of videos games. do not engage in any sort of discussion with IT.

Kingdomkey33
Kingdomkey33

 @Goyoshi12 no thats just my opinion, I just dont understand why this game is so hyped about. had nothing to do with what games I love, thats dumb for even mentioning it. lol...

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

 @uberjannie  @slimskelter Way to hard for a 7 year old? Dude the NES was giving my generation some of the hardest games ever made when we were 7. Megaman for example.

slimskelter
slimskelter

 @uberjannieHaven't played this, but generally speaking on the way it looks all together, graphics included. I liked the original. I know when I was that age we were playing difficult games on our NES.

mitchymoo91
mitchymoo91

 @carolynmichelle Thankyou! I get so sick of people complaining about things addressed in the review when it's written right in front of them. Respect to you Caro :)

 

Fryboy101
Fryboy101

 @Gelugon_baat that's where you're wrong. I feel i owe them for releasing games i can enjoy thoroughly. I feel by giving them my money, i'm saying "keep making games the way you're making them, and i'll keep enjoying them

 

And i have yet to feel like i've wasted any cent of my money. I feel like i have put an investment into developers showing them that i trust and will continue to trust in the content they make.   Would you rather me pirate games instead of rewarding the developers with my money that i feel they so rightfully earned?  

 

 You speak as if i only give my money to one developer.  If you were to see my game collection, you would know you're dead wrong. there are numerous game developers out there i would gladly hand my money to, and rightfully deserve it, because they have yet to steer me wrong. Suda51, Platinum Games, Rockstar, DICE.  I give those developers my money because they know how to make a good game. they know how to make an innovative game without losing a core audience. and in the case of suda and platinum, they know how to make a bat**** crazy game that is great and deserves your money.

 

Quit talking down to me and everyone here like a child. I know what i'm talking about

DrMatta
DrMatta

@andrewwittmaier Yeah, it's EXACTLY thanks to folks like you that we have to put up with overpriced DLC and 'premium' memberships. If you guys weren't such sheep and bought everything for MAX price, we might still have some decency in this industry. "Hurr, get a job", "Durrr it's only 15 bucks, cheapasses"  Keep letting them rip you off, you're doing a good job so far.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

 @slimskelter I don't think games have ever been as difficult as they were back on the NES. The original Ninja Gaiden, Kid Icarus, and Battletoads- they were all brutally difficult.

ggregd
ggregd

 @Fryboy101

 You spend monrey on good games, not developers. In the end the best developers will succede because they make good games.

 

If Rockstar made a bad game, and you knew it was bad because you plaed a demo, would you still buy it at full price just to support them?  That would be dumb.

Bayonetta2013
Bayonetta2013

 @Fryboy101  @Gelugon_baat You just shoved words down his throat by claiming we should all pirate them because he says so. Grow up and try to see the other side of the island here.

Fryboy101
Fryboy101

 @Gelugon_baat I'm not even gonna argue with you anymore.  you clearly talk down to everyone believing you're right. I buy these games from these developers because they make good games, but from what you're saying, we should only pirate them because we don't owe them a single cent.

 

With that logic, i could go into a store, take something and if someone tries to stop me, i can just say "I don't owe you or this store anything" and walk out.  

kellenar
kellenar

 @DrMatta

How is 15 dollars for a full game like this expensive? I would much rather spend 15 dollars on these arcade games than 60 bucks for AAA games that I spend less time in. I've spent the last 3 months playing indie and arcade games and have spent an incredibly smaller price for the same (if not more) enjoyability. If 15 dollars is too much for several hours of quality gameplay, then you need to drop gaming as a hobby.

Fryboy101
Fryboy101

 @DrMatta  @andrewwittmaier you know why we buy these games, and premiums, even with the price tags? because we support developers. We give them this money because they deserve it. it has nothing to do with us being sheep. If anything, you're being sheeped by all the people who stand for what's "right". $15 for a quality game is not way too expensive, you're just a cheapass who can't think for himself

Rovelius
Rovelius

 @Gelugon_baat And I find it curious that they haven't reviewed the game before it released on 360.

Spelunky More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • + 3 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    • Xbox 360
    Spelunky is a unique platformer with randomized levels that offer a new and challenging experience each time you play.
    7.7
    Average User RatingOut of 226 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Spelunky
    Developed by:
    Derek Yu,
    Published by:
    Mossmouth, Derek Yu, Microsoft Game Studios
    Genres:
    2D, Roguelike, Action, Platformer
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Blood, Crude Humor, Violence