Spelunky Review

Die and die again, with a smile on your face.

The snake strikes with a calculated stream of acid. Wise explorers understand such dangerous tendencies, keeping distance between themselves and their serpentine foe. Time your movements precisely, and you can attack when the snake is at its most vulnerable. Emboldened by this knowledge, you move toward the slithering creature, ready to exterminate it as you continue deeper into the mine, only to be ambushed by a spider hiding above. Death is sprung upon you so mercilessly in Spelunky that you never know when your end is going to come. Because so many endeavors end in less than five minutes, Spelunky is a perfect fit on the Vita, allowing you to play at any moment for just a little while, and then find yourself consumed entirely by this extraordinary adventure.

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. You 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.

Stare at those gems all you want, cyclops, because you're not getting them.
Stare at those gems all you want, cyclops, because you're not getting them.

Progress comes not from tangible rewards but rather from the information you acquire. 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 a dead caveman to trigger the barrage, and then walk peacefully past the arrow trap once its ammunition is spent. You learn that spiders often hide in pots, that yetis have a fierce temper, and that you should never ignore a pile of lifeless bones. With dangers all around, you keep your head on a swivel, aware of the spiders overhead, the explosive frog down below, or the ice-spewing mammoth just offscreen.

Your death count spirals ever higher. One dozen, one hundred, one thousand, and every one of those spent lives has made you better. No longer do you drop from a ledge without ensuring there aren't spikes waiting for you below, and you've learned to avoid dawdling lest a ghost chase you to the grave. And yet, even the most vigilant explorer will find a brutal end. The random elements conspire to make your adventure troublesome. With three rescued damsels and a compass, you may feel secure as you venture forth in the ice caves. But only one misstep as you flee from a pursing alien is enough to cut your run short. Still, you press on. There's so much thrill in succeeding that you can't help starting again, and you know that if you're careful, you can survive your quest. Except that's one big if.

Several tweaks have lessened the frustrations that existed in the Xbox 360 version. First, stray objects rarely hurt you. Previously, you could lose a heart when a rock or arrow bounced toward you, which is maddening when health is at such a premium. Changing that aspect means that every death is usually your fault, so you have no one else to blame for failures. The second change is also much appreciated. Helpers can still be hired or found within the labyrinthine stages who are happy to do your dirty work. Before, you could expect these friends to cause havoc by attacking shopkeepers. The added chaos made taking someone along with you a masochistic decision. Now, your buddies behave properly, and even though they aren't smart, having a bodyguard nearby makes it slightly easier to brave the many dangers.

Years from now, a team of archeologists will wonder why a robot lays at the bottom of a lake.
Years from now, a team of archeologists will wonder why a robot lays at the bottom of a lake.

Purchasing Spelunky on the PlayStation Network gives you access to both the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions of the game. Cross-saves allow you to continue to work on opening the shortcuts whether you're sitting on your couch or embarking on your daily commute. Though you still must start fresh each time you play, you can earn shortcuts as you go along, and this progress is preserved no matter which system you use. Dedicated adventurers may eschew these passages in search of greater secrets and rewards, but carving a path straight to the temple is a challenge of its own. After you repeatedly fail to meet the Tunnel Man's high demands, there's a feeling of unabashed satisfaction when you finally deliver the goods necessary to unlock that path.

If you're overwhelmed by the challenge, you can venture forth with up to three friends by your side. PlayStation 3 players share their screen, which means you must move in a slow, coordinated manner unless you want to leave your buddy out of sight with a skeleton lurking. This form of co-op is fun yet flawed, but there's a new way to experience teamwork that elevates Spelunky to unprecedented heights. By linking your Vita to the PlayStation 3 or other Vitas, you can contain your exploits to your own screen. You can have two friends playing on their Vitas while two more team up on the PlayStation 3, opening up the door for some wild and hilarious situations. Just be aware that lag is a problem depending on your wireless connection.

Being able to play across different systems is a huge improvement. Now, you can explore where you want at your own pace. You may tempt fate by filching the idol while your friend avoids spikes and scorpions to rescue the damsel. Once you trigger the booby trap and that boulder starts rolling, it's every adventurer for themselves, and the added chaos is utterly delightful. Another time, you may uncover a jetpack, the most prized possession in Spelunky. After gloating about your prize for too long, one of your conniving friends may commandeer it right from under your nose. All is fair in love and Spelunky. After you settle down from your new found freedom, you learn to trust each other, canvasing areas in smart ways, as you combine your adventuring might to finally overcome Olmec. Considering the high difficulty and strategy the later levels require, achieving victory as a team is a huge accomplishment, and only makes you hungry to see what more you can do when joined together.

Paying Ron to receive a kiss from a woman? What kind of game is this!?
Paying Ron to receive a kiss from a woman? What kind of game is this!?

After first surfacing on the Xbox 360 and PC, Spelunky has finally found its ideal match on the Vita. Being able to spend a few minutes excavating whenever the mood strikes you works incredibly well for a game in which death is quick and severe, and the big screen and solid controls ensure that even longer play sessions are an utter delight. Couple that portability with a reinvented cooperative mode that uses whatever combination of Vitas and PlayStation 3s you want, and you have the best version yet of a game that is already one of the most exciting and dynamic platformers in recent memory. Do not miss this incredible adventure.

The Good
Excellent risk-reward dynamic
Great variety of enemies, traps, and items
Unlocking shortcuts forces you to play differently
Incredible cooperative mode
Cross buy, cross save, and cross play between the PlayStation 3 and Vita
The Bad
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Spelunky

About the Author

Tom has a two-hour commute to work each day. Don't feel sorry for him, though, because he happily rides the rails while trying desperately to finally reach Hell.
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Avatar image for cousinmerl

its just like the XB360 version but he should have marked it for some slow frame rate on fogged and snowy sections.

still - greatest platform game ever.

Avatar image for Succumbus

When is Tom going to do a re-review on this one? I was not impressed by the kiddy-graphics or difficult gameplay. I'm an old-school gamer too, I grew up playing all the pixelated-mind-boggling-difficult classics, this one just seems out of place to me. I wish I didn't spend 15 dollars on it, oh well.

Avatar image for Coldpain

@Succumbus Sometimes I feel the same, but as soon as you start getting unlocking some of the shortcuts and/or familiarizing yourself with the different stages it does become fun again. I think the "bad" should've been steep learning curve.

Avatar image for genjuroT

I think the only bad thing about the game is the content. Not quite a lot of items or "events" in it. The first map area has what? 2 random events. A sacrifice alter and a rolling boulder not including the "extra spiders or snakes". That's all I can say as far as "the bad". Good game overall. Not a 9/10 in my book though.

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@genjuroT Everything is random...

Avatar image for genjuroT

@TomMcShea @genjuroT No, you're right, I was mainly talking about the events and items mainly. It doesn't feel like there is enough to randomize a lot of the time. Compared to arecade-like games like FTL or Binding of Issac, there is minimal content.

There is little to no replay value. Replaying the first levels to get money to spend on harder levels is a chore because nothing new happens inbetween, unlike Issac and FTL where you can play the beginning 100 times and something new may be there every time.

I could skip the first few levels in Spelunky after a few play throughs, but then I would miss out on free money and items to spend and use on harder levels.

Again, that is the only bad thing I saw in the game, the content. It's a kind of big "bad" for me but that's just me. It's a great game overall and feels like a lot of Amiga games I played back in the day, like Rick Dangerous :)

Avatar image for Viridianzealot

I like hard, I like old school gaming but I'm sorry to say that this one is a load of crap, The ghost that appears after around 2:30 miinutes and the friendly fire during co-op ruined it for me. This is an exploration game and you should be give the freedom or the option to explore it at your own pace. It is more frustrating than fun. You can spent your 5-10 minutes and your money elsewhere. Try before you buy.

Avatar image for hochstreck


Are you trunk or something?

It's a game about exploration AND survival AND highscores. If it wasn't for this ghost, there wouldn't be this quite interesting dynamic about finding and reaching the exit on time, while getting as much and treasures as you can, as well as specific items important for you survival.

If it was your way, most of the thoughts behind this game would be destroyed, because being able to crawl, kill and grab yourself slowly but patiently and ultra-cautious through the stages, would be quite easy and by far not involve so many important and interesting decisions, because you could not always take the most save routes, kill all enemys and collect all items and treasures without a second thought. Also, the Highscore-System would be all about patience and not so much about your actual experience and skill in playing this game.

And regarding the friendly fire in co-op: This way it's actually co-op, where the players have to play together and use their brains.

I'm VERY HAPPY not all games are made to suit your ignorant and thoughtless taste, because chances are high, this might lead to boring and linear games only.

Avatar image for Coldpain

@hochstreck You nailed the feeling of this game. I typically HATE time-limits in games but it's so well placed here I can't help but revere it.

Avatar image for drekula2


lol :)

Avatar image for joel_c17

I just got ps+ last night - my psv and ps3 are about to get thrashed!

Avatar image for jflkdjs

Awesome review of an awesome game, Tom :)

Avatar image for gajan-k

Picked this up last night and have been hooked ever since. This game was meant for the Vita!!

Avatar image for GreekTheGeek

Ps plus discounted was right there on it plus stealth inc. for free my vita is getting busy busy busy

Avatar image for Leboyo56

Got this the day it released on PSN, as I had always intended to buy it at some point but didn't have much motivation until it was announced for the Vita. Also purchased Retro/Grade and Episodes 1 and 2 of Penny Arcade Adventures with the same $20. Can't wait for Lone Survivor in late September!

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@Leboyo56 How's Retro/Grade? I was thinking of picking that up.

Avatar image for Leboyo56

@TomMcShea @Leboyo56 It was awesome for the three hours it lasted on Xtreme. The challenges add a lot more value to it, but the soundtrack is great enough to want to play through the levels again normally for better grades just to listen to each song once more.

Avatar image for TreasureNrenown

@TomMcShea @Leboyo56 its like shit :(

Avatar image for SecularSage

I agree with Tom for a change -- this is a great game that's only made better by being on the Vita!

What's even more admirable is that it's a cross-buy title, so if you get it on the Vita, you also get it on the PS3. It's well worth the $12 (if you're a Plus member), since it's the sort of game that continues to entertain long after you've finished it (which is, in and of itself, not an easy feat!)

Avatar image for johnman05

Haven't played it, but look forward to playing it in the very near future.

Avatar image for cousinmerl

@johnman05 be warned you will die allot - but stick with it and you'll find it allot of fun! it's like wine it gets better with time!
I still play it now after my 2500 death on xbox

Avatar image for johnman05

@cousinmerl @johnman05 hehe Thanks!

Avatar image for Zevvion

I never played Spelunky. I've heard that it's an amazing game, but I always had stuff to play and was never that interested to get it anyway.

But for some weird reason this single line: 'Cross buy, cross save, and cross play between the PlayStation 3 and Vita.'

Has me sold.

I've been wanting to own a game everywhere instead of having to buy it in multiple places ever since previous generation. I also never quite understood why we aren't there yet, but I think we're moving there. Of course I understand not being able to play a game on my 360 that I bought on PS3; but I do hope they'll add PC to that cross buy soon.

Perhaps Microsoft will do that. I don't know, I just want to own a game and play it where-ever I want. Also, being able to play this with a friend who has a PS3 but no Vita is great. I'll be getting this.

Avatar image for AtariKidX

Good game.

Avatar image for JBStone1981

Fact: Tom McShea had a brief career as a J-Pop sensation. His lone hit, "Tommy-san like go-go-pow hehehe" charted at number 11 on the Japanese Hot 100 in 1721.

Avatar image for drekula2



Avatar image for Warlord_Irochi

Don't you love when devs. learn and keep improving their product after eachnew version?

Lot of studios should do that each time they port something to PC.

Avatar image for erik2005

I love this game! Perfect for PSV

Avatar image for farcorners

this is a bit more like Pitfall Arcade than the original Spellunker on Atari/Commodore.

Avatar image for Leboyo56

@farcorners A true remake of the original Spelunker has been on PSN and XBLA for awhile now simply called Spelunker HD. This is a different game that the developers have proudly stated as heavily and obviously influenced by it.

Avatar image for Justforvisit

Kinda screams "Emerald Mine" all over it....anyone here old enough to remember that one? :D

Avatar image for picho86

@Justforvisit There are a few old games from the genre that have to be from the very early 90's, but I just don't know how to search for them. What is the genre called? Or at least how it used to be called?

Avatar image for picho86

@Justforvisit I was looking for platformers, but couldn't find them.

Avatar image for Fallout_red

@Justforvisit Kinda true but it is more of a mix between Super Mario Bros 2 and classic Spelunker.

Avatar image for chazy035

We need Teraria Now!

Avatar image for SoulSnare

@chazy035 you just wait for starbound :)

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@SoulSnare @chazy035 That's what I'm doing.

Avatar image for ecurl143

Perfect for the Vita.

Avatar image for D1N02982

Looks lame...

Avatar image for Lhomity

@D1N02982 Not enough explosions, and helicopter crashes for you, huh?

Avatar image for lorider25

seems like all the indie games are getting all the top scores

Avatar image for Fallout_red

Finally, Tom gives Spelunky the 9 it deserved :)

Avatar image for waterghost

The missions have a freaking (and short as ****)timelimit, that's an instant deal breaker for me.

Still, the game is honest enough to have a demo to let me know that, i give them thumbs up for that.

Avatar image for Prats1993

Looks like the Ps3 version is the best, lol.

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@Prats1993 Vita version is the best, because it's portable. Luckily, you get the PS3 version for free when you buy it. :)

Avatar image for blueboxdoctor

This sounds pretty awesome, may have to check it out, I'm a big fan of side scrolling games and a challenge, plus the cross buy is pretty awesome.

Avatar image for mtait01

Buying this on Friday!! Can't wait, heard such amazing things but I've never played it. Listening to Kevin and Tom singing its praises on Gamespot Gameplay just makes me even more excited!

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@mtait01 Kevin actually hasn't played much Spelunky. Chris, Caro, Mary, and I are the Spelunky fiends in the office.

Avatar image for Fantasticus

i played the demo. & it's fun

Spelunky More Info

  • First Released Jul 4, 2012
    • 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.
    Average Rating256 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Spelunky
    Developed by:
    Derek Yu, Mossmouth
    Published by:
    Mossmouth, Limited Run Games, Microsoft Game Studios
    2D, Action, Platformer, Roguelike
    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.
    Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes