There was a “motivational poster” that used to hang at this place I used to work at. Still does for all I know. A Plato quote, “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow”. I doubt Plato was thinking of Spelunky when he said that, but it does fit. Spelunky is a game of slow progress. It’s not something you will drop into and be good at instantaneously. Stick at it long enough though and you will get better. But before that rise, comes the fall.
It’s a brutally tough game that will punish you for the slightest lapse in concentration. In a way, that difficulty is also what makes the game so phenomenal. It’s never cheap or unfair. Every single death of yours can be traced directly back to a reckless move you made. In a lot of ways, Spelunky reminds me of Dark Souls and it punishes recklessness and hubris exactly like Dark Souls does. Ruthlessly, and over and over again.
Every floor is randomly generated so every playthrough is different than the last one, making the game infinitely playable.
The concept is simple enough. You navigate through different floors in a 2D layout, going from top to bottom. Every floor is randomly generated so every playthrough is different than the last one, making the game infinitely playable. It also means your past failures don’t mean much since anytime you die you start from the beginning again. Every death is a fresh start; a do-over. And every last play through is immaterial except what you learned from it.
So you run through four different “levels”. Each of them has four stages in it. At the end, you fight a boss. If the stars line up, a successful run will take you about 45 minutes to an hour, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon after you start playing the game. As I mentioned, everything is randomly generated so each playthrough is unique, giving the game an almost infinite replay value.
There are entire levels and areas you will never see unless you do something very, very specific.
Another place where the game has something in common with Dark Souls is the amount of secrets it has hidden around the levels. There are entire levels and areas you will never see unless you do something very, very specific. There aren’t too many hints dropped towards these secret areas either so you will either stumble across them accidentally or learn about them online.
The game also features co-op, but its limited to offline only. It’s ridiculously fun to play with another person and even after one player dies, they can still be of a lot of use. But the mode is crippled by the fact that there is no online mode or matchmaking. Being able to play with your friends could have really elevated the game to a whole different level. There is also a Deathmatch mode, but again, i’ts limited to offline only.
The big exclusive for the PC version is the Daily Challenge, where all players play the same procedurally generated map.
The PC version comes with some new content that was released as DLC on the Xbox 360 and some content that is exclusive to the PC version. The DLC content is mostly extra characters and Deathmatch maps, so it’s not really a big deal. The big exclusive for the PC version is the Daily Challenge, where all players play the same procedurally generated map to try to get to the high score on leaderboards. It’s a nice add-on, but hardly a killer feature. It’s Steam-exclusive though, so if (like me) you want the DRM-free version of the game from GoG, you will have to do without it. The just-released PS3/PS Vita versions are supposed to be the same as the PC versions as far as I know.
There does need to be a caveat before I end this. As the text above and the score below will tell you, I absolutely love this game, but it’s not for everyone. The punishing difficulty will turn a lot of people off it. The randomly generated levels might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If that doesn’t turn you off, then you will be absolutely mesmerised by it. Spelunky is one of the very few games that will actually make you want to be better at it. But the progress will always be slow.