"So It Begins" - Beat the Tutorial. - 08/01/2013
Much has been said of Mossmouth's Spelunky of late. Originally a PC game, Spelunky began as a procedurally generated side-scrolling platformer inspired by the intensely difficult Atari 8-bit game Spelunker. Initially free, designer Derek Yu would incrementally update the game, adding new surprises and tweaking various aspects until it all culminated in a HD release in 2009. An enhanced version was eventually ported to XBLA in 2012 with a new graphical art style that dropped the pixels and assumed the cartoonish demeanor we largely associate with the game today, with additional ports the following year to PC and PSN that added a Daily Challenge mode and additional secret characters to find.
"Mines Shafted" - Reached the Jungle. - 08/01/2013
To say the game is naught but a crushing, frustrating challenge would not entirely be incorrect, but such a facile appraisal does a disservice to the game's many nuances. There's never any guarantee that you won't die despite being careful or packed to the gills in power-ups, or that the randomization factor won't unjustly screw you over from time to time, but every spelunker death that transpires in Spelunky is player-derived. Even an exploding frog setting off an irate shopkeeper is something a cautious player can immediately take into their stride and work around as best they're able.
"Jungle Jammed" - Reached the Ice Caves. - 08/01/2013
Furthermore, the game has bones aplenty to toss your way, like so many ambulatory skeletons. Each stage has a clear, if not immediately evident, path to the exit. Bombs and ropes are plentiful if you're sure to check crates and earn enough money to keep your stockpiles up. Every item has its use in the hands of a skilled and experienced player, even those as ridiculous as the camera or teleporter. Sacrifices are encouraged, whether it's a bomb in the right place or a human offering on the altar of Kali. Risks are rewarded just as commonly as playing too cautiously will still lead to an early demise.
"Seen a Lot" - Completed 50% of the Journal. - 08/01/2013
As the player sees more of what Spelunky has in store, their approach aligns ever closer to the correct course. As they enter new areas and learn what to avoid (which is to say, pretty much everything), they become stronger. They don't need persistent upgrades or power-ups that carry over from game to game; they become better at the game through practice and knowledge.
"Her Favorite" - Won the Kapala from Kali. - 08/01/2013
Of the many items in the game, few are as instrumental as the Kapala. Earned by collecting sixteen points worth of "favor" - an invisible stat that the player is never privy to but can easily calculate in their head with some experimentation - the player's tactics then shift completely: rather than take a largely pacifistic route to the exit, taking detours only for valuables, the player is then compelled to murder every living creature for their precious blood. As the hit point indicator ticks ever upwards, into the teens and beyond, the player's feeling of invincibility is the sort of encouragement that can either carry them all the way to the game's conclusion, or leave an overconfident corpse impaled on a patch of forsaken spikes somewhere.
"Ice Creamed" - Reached the Temple. - 08/01/2013
Reaching the Temple itself is no mean feat. Though the Ice Caves are considerably easier to navigate should a player be sporting a cape or jetpack, it's far too easy to fall into the endless abyss or be undone by an errant exploding UFO or a playful Yeti. The Temple, of course, contains some of the most malicious traps of the entire game, including the nefarious "Thwomp" traps that can grind an inattentive spelunker to paste nigh instantaneously.
"Made It" - Completed the game. - 08/01/2013
Though passing the ultimate battle with Olmec in one piece is something of a coup, the game won't let you rest on your laurels. I reached this point of the game after a single day, hence all these achievements being marked with the same date, but it's really only the tip of the giant golden sentient statue head. If you can see that enormous ancient Mexican countenance, you've only reached as far as the Simpsons' basement: there's still the caves of the Moleman lying deep beneath.
"Eternal Life" - Obtained the Ankh. - 13/01/2013
When resuming the game a few months ago, inspired by Patrick Klepek's forays in his daily series, I decided to venture on what is known as the Path to Hell. A convoluted series of treasures and hidden stages, the Path to Hell requires the player go out of their way to a great extent but at the same time prepares them in turn for the additional travails ahead. The player earns the Wadjet Eye by opening a locked chest in the Mines with a nearby key, which allows them to see valuables; they also then have an easier time locating the entrance to the Jungle's elusive Black Market, which allows them to stock up on all manner of valuable items either bought or stolen, which includes the Ankh. Up to this point, the player has done nothing but greatly increase their chances of succeeding in their fight against Olmec, should they ever feel that the Path to Hell is still beyond them. It's an inspired piece of game design to allow the gentle first half of an intense optional game completion route to be so beneficial, as players will happily adopt it into their playthroughs as standard and will be prepared should they ever feel confident enough to take the next crucial step.
"City of Gold" - Reached the City of Gold. - 23/01/2014
The Path to Hell only meaningfully diverges in the Caves, as it requires that the player deliberately off themselves in a specific stage to recover the otherwise useless Hedjet headpiece in order to continue on the Path. There's only two specific reasons to ever sacrifice the Ankh and whatever weapons you were carrying, and both those reasons involve the City of Gold. The City of Gold is a secret stage in the Temple, always accessible from 4-2, in which every block is packed with gold nuggets. High score pursuers, such as those going for the $500k achievement or the score-focused Daily Challenge, endeavor to reach the City of Gold with as many explosives as they can carry. The City of Gold is, ostensibly, the spelunker's chief reason for entering these doom-laden catacombs to begin with, so by reaching this gilt metropolis the player feels as if they have accomplished the game's narrative's core task. Importantly for those on the Path to Hell it is also where the Necronomicon can be found, which is required for the final step to enter Hell itself.
"Casanova" - Rescued 10 or more damsels in one game. - 29/01/2014
To digress here a moment from all the Hell talk, we'll discuss the game's damsels. The damsels have a hit point total of four, the same as the player character and most of the human enemies, and can be thrown around and used as bait for arrow traps. They can even be sacrificed on altars for the greatest favor boost possible, tied only with a co-op partner or hired hand. The game pokes some gentle fun at their disposability, but it's also making a statement about the necessity of the hoary game trope of a passive companion to rescue, whether unintentionally or not. The damsels are less a deliberately sexist inclusion (from either gender perspective) than part and parcel of the game's adherence to the adventure movie serials of the like Indiana Jones was based on, who in turn inspired the original Spelunker and many other archaeologically-inclined action video game franchises. As such, the frequent abuse they receive almost seems satirical. It's also worth noting that were one to provide the damsels with the dignity and support they deserve, that player is putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage due to the relative difficulty of escorting them safely to the exits, wasting bombs and ropes to extricate them from their remote spawn locations and all but eschewing entirely the invaluable rewards from Kali altars. New players go out of their way to save them; experienced players view them as tools to be used as they see fit. It's a little dispiriting in its dehumanization, but then it's every spelunker for themselves down there.
(As an aside: I would be so down with a "zero damsel death" achievement though. I can't imagine it'd be too difficult, unless the game decides that leaving them behind is tantamount to abandoning them to die.)
"Public Enemy" - Killed 12 or more shopkeepers in one game. - 17/02/2014
The shopkeepers remain an ubiquitous bane for any player, regardless of how lawful they intend to be. A great many things will draw a shopkeeper's ire, and attempting to fight one without a shotgun or bombs from a vantage point is practically suicide. Shopkeepers have an obscene ten points of health, which means they can survive most non-instant death traps including a Tiki statue or a shotgun blast (it would, in fact, actually take three of either to bring one down). A shopkeeper becomes irate if an item is carried out of their store, or attacked in any way. This is fine, as most creatures leave shopkeepers alone (except carnivorous mantraps, but shopkeepers will actually survive that ordeal intact and not hold you accountable) and thus the player would almost certainly be responsible for either of these trigger states being set off. However, the shopkeepers are also triggered when any part of their "store", which includes the surrounding walls, is damaged. This can be caused by a great many number of things, but most often by rolling boulder traps in the Mines, exploding frogs in the Jungle and UFOs in the Caves. They also don't like it when the damsels and hired hands in their care (read: indentured servitude) are harmed by anything or anyone, and wandering creatures are usually far less kind to them. Due to how a shopkeeper then becomes present at the exit to every level, lying in wait with a loaded shotgun, killing twelve shopkeepers becomes a challenge one does not necessarily need to go out of their way to complete than it is one they have to accomplish just to stay alive. Blasting through the seven shopkeepers present in the Black Market certainly helps meet that number sooner, though.
"The Entire Gang" - Rescued all 8 hidden characters. - 17/02/2014
One of the best developments during Patrick's series was discovering and then employing Fobwashed's amazing custom Patrick Klepek spelunker sprite. The game offers you several different characters with which to plumb the depths of Spelunky's environs, but the paltry four choices of the original Brown adventurer, Red turban warrior, Green go-getter heroine and Blue Colin Northway explorer aren't nearly enough variation. The XBLA version has an additional eight characters who need to be found before they can be used, and it's one of those processes like filling the journal that starts at full-speed and then peters off slowly until the very last few items, which require a considerable amount of work.
For instance, the Yellow hard-hat adventuress, the Purple pirate queen, the Light Blue polar pioneer and the Lime mariachi can all be found randomly while playing the game, one appearing in each respective area. A moonlighting Meat Boy can be found by those braving the secret Worm level, and the Black Van Helsing vampire hunter by venturing into the Jungle's Haunted Castle. The Jungle Warrior is given to those strong enough to defeat Olmec and the very final character Yang, he of the tutorial, is only unlocked upon defeating Yama himself. It's no mean feat to find all eight, and even more of a tall order to find the additional eight characters added to the PSN and PC versions (though Yang is still the hardest). All the same, no matter how many trials you went through to unlock a new character, you can't really beat one fashioned in your own image by an inspired and talented fanbase.
"Ironman" - Completed the game without using shortcuts. - 17/02/2014
Tunnel Man remains a decisive figure in the Spelunky community. His shortcuts aren't actually necessary, as jumping ahead to a later stage interrupts the development process of one's character (all the early money and easy power-ups from the Mines can really help further in the run) and entirely negates any chance of reaching Hell. In addition, he always asks for useful tools and, in his final appearance, asks for the Key from the Mines. Escorting this key from the early stages all the way to the end of the Caves - a process known as the Key Run - is one of the game's first major challenges for novice players. It's a huge help to have that Temple shortcut unlocked, because there's a lot about the Temple you want to be savvy about before wasting a fifteen minute run to get all the way there only to be vanquished by the first Thwomp or Anubis psychic blast or lava pit you happen to walk into. It's also quicker and easier, though certainly no picnic, to beat Olmec and complete the game from the Temple shortcut with next to no items if one's careful enough. Completing the Ironman run is a sure sign that you're ready for the game's more elusive and flagrantly unreasonable challenges.
"To Hell and Back" - Completed the game the hard way. - 17/02/2014
It's fair to say that the playthrough I had on the 17th of February, the one that unlocked all four of these achievements, was something of a major breakthrough for me. It was shortly after Patrick had already defeated Yama himself, but all the same it felt like the additional time I'd put into the game, relearning the patience required to play it and the advice (usually of the "don't do this" variety) I'd gleaned by example from daily Spelunkin' With Scoops streams, had finally paid off. Yama's an odd boss fight, because there's a few ways he can defeat you due to your inexperience. Most of these deaths involve his spike-, vampire- and lava-filled stage. However, a fully kitted-out hero with a jetpack, shotgun, bombs (you earn an extra 24 right off the bat by defeating Yama's two henchmen) and the amulet found in the first Hell level makes him almost trivial. The fact of the matter is, though, that reaching Yama is such a monumental achievement that it's easy to psyche yourself out the first time you clap eyes on Yama's hideous visage. You've gotten so far and have only a small distance left to go, like the last 300 yards of a marathon. I doubt anyone has reached Yama without feeling their heart trying to pump its way out of their chest. To die at that moment is one of the worst feelings in the world and, unfortunately, one of the easiest to make happen. Of course, the inverse is equally applicable. My only advice is to find a stable hiding place underneath a brick and toss a tactical nuke's worth of explosives towards his hands, and subsequently at his floating head, and try not to think too hard about how much of a bummer it would be to tumble off into a lava bath.
"Seen It All" - Completed 100% of the Journal. - 20/02/2014
Completing the Journal - and Big Money, below - felt like sweeping up in a lot of ways. There were more achievements left, of course, but I could not for the life of me ever see myself completing them. Filling in the Journal does require that you meet (and kill, preferably) every creature in Hell, as well as collect the Amulet and Vlad's Cape and emancipate at least one of those spinning metal ball and chains from its mooring. It also requires that you visit the Worm, Haunted Castle and Mothership levels at some point for their unique enemies and treasures, as well as introduce yourself to Old Bitey in a flooded Jungle stage. At this point, though, after defeating King Yama, it's not so much the next challenge tier than it is simply retracing your steps for everything you missed. For a completionist like me, that's generally good enough for an achievement. I can probably say I enjoyed unlocking this one the most, if only because it indulged my OCD tendencies.
"Big Money" - Obtained 500000 gold. - 20/02/2014
Big Money's no problem if you're a proponent of the Daily Challenge grind. It's entirely possible that you've gone to the City of Gold with a few dozen explosives and made it happen just in the process of attempting to best your friends on the leaderboards that day. If not, it's a challenge like "Seen It All" that doesn't require any extra difficulty to accomplish. You can earn it before you're even able to reach Hell, if you were so inclined, and I don't believe you need to complete the game once you've hit the golden figure. Though heading out of the Mines with a scant $50k or so might seem discouraging while in pursuit of this achievement, considering you probably felt like you picked up every shiny bauble in the passing, it's worth noting that inflation is a hell of a thing as you head towards future stages. The City of Gold, the huge rewards for beating Olmec and/or Yama and the somewhat dubious process known as "Ghost Mining" means there's more than one feasible path to becoming a half-millionaire.
"Speedlunky" - Completed the game in under 8 minutes. No shortcuts. - 24/02/2014
Speedlunky's the second most difficult achievement in the game, though on an initial glance of the achievements seems like the hardest. Eight minutes, two minutes per world, sounds like no time at all. If one were to rush through any stage, even 1-1, it's easy to picture oneself taking way too many arrow hits or surprise spiders and struggling to escape the easiest area in one piece in a respectable time, let alone in any condition to take on the rest of the game at the same pace. But the biggest obstacle of them all as far as Speedlunky is concerned is the intimidation factor. It sounds impossible. It isn't.
I don't want to get all "Spelunky Sensei", but I figure if you've read my self-aggrandizing anecdotes thus far I owe you something in return. Speedlunky is doable. It requires a bit of patience and a lot of skill, of course, but we'll assume at this point that you've completed To Hell and Back and have reached the point in the game where Speedlunky is the next logical target. You know all the stages, you know all the tricks, you know all the dangers. What's important about the first part of Speedlunky is to take the Mines at a brisk, but not sprinting, pace. Find damsels, collect money that's close at hand, forget about the key and chest unless they're right in your path and just head to the exit in a timely fashion. Bombs and ropes are invaluable, so don't use them for anything. Crates are the only thing worth taking a detour for. The only power-ups you really need are the compass (this is the only truly essential piece of kit, so I'd recommend grabbing ~$4k from 1-1 and keep an eye out for stores), a cape or jetpack (to quickly move through the Caves), spring boots (they let you leap over Tiki statues, and just seem to increase your speed in general) and a mattock (or Matlock, depending on whether or not you're Dave Lang). I'd say a mattock is the one item worth carrying with you at all times, more so than a damsel or even a shotgun: you shouldn't be trying to take on enemies anyway, just darting over/under them. Don't be tempted to go for the Kapala either, unless those altars and damsels fall square in your path. I shouldn't need to say it, but don't piss off any shopkeepers either (though if they have a jetpack...).
The Jungle's a little harder to navigate without incident, and might take you a little longer, but maintain that cautious but zippy pace. You ought to pass through the Mines in 90-120 seconds and the Jungle in 120-150 seconds. At this point, you hopefully have a compass, a cape/jetpack and a moderate stockpile of bombs (let's say around a dozen). The Caves can be beaten in about 30 seconds, thanks to how open they are. The Temple's intimidating, but it's only three stages (Olmec is always on 4-4) and can be navigated as quickly as the Jungle. It might also be worth bombing/mattocking your way down a story or two if you have those items to spare and the exit's right beneath you. Ideally, you want anywhere between two and three minutes left on the clock for Olmec, which is where the mattock and bombs come in handy: as usual, quickly build a big trench at the opposite side of the stage from Olmec, and then coax him into it. That's all there is to it, though being lucky enough to find the necessary items and pulling all of this off are different matters entirely. Good luck.
"Low Scorer" - Completed the game without collecting any treasure. - 01/03/2014
Low Scorer is the actual most difficult task in Spelunky, at least out of all the ones that earn you achievements, and unlike Speedlunky there are no specific rules to follow to make it easier. It's distressingly easy to accidentally pick up some money, whether because it was hidden in tall grass/treetops/snow, or an explosion threw some your way or you mined a gem from a block you were digging into. If you hit a Dark Level, you might as well restart then and there, because the low visibility, valuable scarabs and free money from lit torches make those places even more of a nightmare than they usually are. Low Scorer is much more about having a fortunate run than learning what needs to be done and pulling it off adroitly, and I can say with some veracity that it's one of the most frustrating experiences you can put yourself through. But ultimately, once again, entirely possible. Just watch your step.
"Good Teamwork" - Completed the game with at least two players. - 02/03/2014
It's an odd thing that Spelunky's co-op mode is actually easier than the single player, because we've grown accustomed to games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii where it's all too easy (and fun) to sabotage other players, should the option to directly interact with one another be available. More so, playing a co-op game on your own with two controllers feels like it ought to be the most convoluted thing in the world, and a big reason why I saved it for last.
In reality, even with the "two controller one player" method this is one of the easier accomplishments on par with perhaps Big Money or just beating Olmec in general. The second player can be immediately sacrificed for an item (or Kapala) and left to hover as a ghost until 4-3, at which point the player can clear a way to the exit, rescue them from the coffin and carry them into the Olmec battle. The standard tactic of digging him a trench to drop Olmec into is made no more difficult by having a companion, as you can simply sit them on the opposite side of the trench to watch the fireworks. The only real pitfall that can trip you up during this process is leaving the second player outside the screen for too long, which kills them for whatever reason. Of course, if you have a second human being of a relative skill level helping you, then this achievement is practically trivial. At least compared to Speedlunky and Low Scorer anyway.
"Addicted" - Played Adventure mode 1000 times. - 02/03/2014
I'll admit it, I hit around 850 total playthroughs in pursuit of every other achievement. That meant grinding the last 150 through killing myself over and over for about twenty minutes. Not the most ignominious thing I've ever done in pursuit of an achievement, but not exactly one of my proudest moments with this game either. I guess I can be somewhat pleased that I was skilled enough that I didn't unlock it naturally in the process of getting everything else, except I don't need to be any more pleased with myself right now. Already at dangerous levels of self-satisfaction after nailing Low Scorer.
All Achievements - 02/03/2014
So that was Spelunky for me. I wrote a half-assed blog a little while back where I gathered many of the tweets I'd made while playing Spelunky on and off since the start of the year, as I felt (and still feel) that they encapsulated the Spelunky process: one part deliriously happy that some major goal had been met, ninety-nine parts indignant about a death I could've either easily avoided or had no chance whatsoever to elude.
If Spelunkin' With Scoops didn't convince you to pick up the bullwhip and fedora and leap into an endless cycle of death then I'm probably not going to either, but all the same I'd happily recommend Spelunky to anyone. It's incredibly trite to call anything the "Dark Souls of X" these days, but very few games are able to ensnare a player by treating them so horribly initially and then revealing that the scolding and abuse is simply part of the process towards betterment and the pursuit of heretofore-thought impossible goals. Like a training montage in a kung fu movie, you might see your teacher smash a boulder with his pinky and believe for all the world that such a task is beyond you. Some hours of rigorous training, jump cuts, and maybe a Joe Esposito/John Cafferty power ballad later and you'll wonder how you were ever so useless.
Olmec ain't shit. Yama? More like yo' mama. Go show Spelunky who's boss. I did, and I'm about as coordinated as a drowsy puppy running across a waxed floor.