Giant Bomb Review


Spelunky Review

  • PC

The Xbox Live Arcade update of Spelunky is as madly brilliant as it is maddeningly pitiless.

There are a lot of descriptors I could toss at Spelunky. Any number of terms could aptly describe the experience of playing this delightfully nasty platformer from developers Derek Yu and Andy Hull, but the one that I think best sums it up is "meticulous." Spelunky is a game that, on the surface, looks like a minor trifle. It's a short little 2D platformer with a plucky hero, a small variety of gadgets and attacks, and only a handful of levels that are, of course, ridiculously challenging. But within minutes of digging into Spelunky's gameplay, you'll realize there's far more at work here than meets the eye. Yu and Hull have packed Spelunky with so much weird hidden content that no two play experiences are ever quite alike. It's frankly insane just how deep Spelunky's rabbit hole goes.

Spelunky doesn't hate you. It just has no patience for careless players.

Or I guess I should say "mine shaft," since Spelunky begins with one of several cartoon adventurers plunging into the depths of a treasure-ridden cave. This cave is filled with nasty spiders, snakes, bats, and even the occasional shotgun-toting shopkeeper. It's also rife with sweet, delicious loot, damsels in distress, and valuable idols that may prove a tad risky to acquire.

Did I say a tad risky? I meant overwhelmingly deadly. Spelunky is a game about constant death. It borrows from the roguelike genre in that death is permanent. Once you die, you go all the way back to the beginning, with none of your money, weapons, or items in tow. That's the flip side to Spelunky's length, which some have quoted as being as short as 10 minutes, if you've mastered the nuances of the games' randomized level designs. Oh, did I mention every level is dynamically generated? Because it is.

Because of this, every single play-through of Spelunky feels like a new challenge. Every time you die, you get the sense that you've learned something about the game. This is not a game that deals in cheap, unreasonable death. If you die, it's probably because you weren't looking carefully enough at the path ahead, or simply mistimed an attack or jump. While the levels are procedurally generated, the core concepts of what you have to do to survive remain constant. They're just shuffled up and dealt out randomly each go-around.

The mine is just the first of multiple different worlds in Spelunky, and each world comes with its own set of enemies and unique challenges. Good luck getting to those worlds, however, as you'll be lucky to ever see them all. I died roughly 67 times before I ever reached the vine-covered confines of the jungle world... and then I died within six seconds of getting there. I've been back twice since, and died only slightly further in each time.

Spelunky is an abject fucker of a game. It's a crass thing to say, but considering the number of expletives I shouted at my TV while playing it, I think it's warranted. There are times when this game's difficulty borders on straight-up abusive.

Yet it never quite crosses that line, thanks to the randomized levels, as well as the absurd breadth of things to discover peppered throughout the game. It's hard to explain just how out-there Spelunky gets with this stuff, but to quickly illustrate, I'm still finding new weapons, gadgets, and strange hidden levels over a hundred plays in. You always have your trusty whip, and you'll start the game with a limited number of ropes (for climbing to high ledges) and bombs (for busting up the environment), but there's also a parachute to help you avoid dying from high falls, or a web shooting gun useful for slowing down enemies. If you linger in a level too long without doing anything, a mischievous ghost shows up out of nowhere to mess with you. And I still don't know how I randomly ended up in the game's graveyard level, or why I haven't seen it since the one time I ended up there.

Those are just a few examples. As I said, I'm still discovering stuff as I continue to play. And continue to play I do, despite the game's apparent disdain for me, the player. In truth, I've no one to blame but myself for my failures in Spelunky. Sure, sometimes the game generates a level with outright heinous enemy placements, but there's always a way around the worst obstacles--albeit sometimes an impossible-seeming one. Yu and Hull have crafted a game with such specific, completely inviolable rules that you can't call the game cheap in any way. Well, maybe that one time where I literally died two seconds after beginning the first level, but that was an aberration. In every other case, I knew why I died, and it was because I failed to follow the rules carefully enough. This is as mechanically sound a platformer as there's ever been.

Which isn't to say it's a perfect game. As a single-player experience, it's top flight, but the multiplayer drags. Multiplayer is solely local, and comes in co-op and deathmatch forms. Playing the game cooperatively is hectic in a way that is not conducive to making a great deal of progress, unless you're playing with experts, and the deathmatch is just bizarre. While there's a nice variety of maps, the gameplay is just too frantic to ever cohere into a playable experience. I've talked to some who quite enjoyed the unyielding chaos of the deathmatch mode, but I couldn't find much to like about it.

But that doesn't matter, because all I'm doing is playing the single-player mode, which is a wholly addicting experience all on its own. All I want to do is go back and keep trying for better scores and greater progress. In this regard, Spelunky is less a game than an obsession. If it does get its hooks in you, it will get those hooks deep, sending you into a downward spiral of torrential swearing and tear-choked misery the likes of which you may never completely recover from. And I mean that as a compliment.

Alex Navarro on Google+
55 Comments Refresh
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Posted by Carnaged

Cant wait for this

Posted by boatorious

Great review. I'll have to get this game.

Posted by fusrodah

Nobody wins.

Posted by LobsterMobster

Anyone who says there are no cheap deaths has never been a yeti's handball.

Posted by MildlyPsycho

I cannot wait for this game. Looks pretty awesome in an evil way!

Posted by styder

Spelunky: Nobody gets out alive.

Posted by DerekDanahy

I like Alex's reviews.

Posted by Timing

I've talked to some who quite enjoyed the unyielding chaos of the deathmatch mode

I have no idea who you might be talking about.

Posted by wumbo3000

There's something I don't understand. So in rogue-likes, when you die, you start from the beginning. But in the quick look, I remember Brad starting from the jungle level...? Something I'm missing here?

Posted by skurk

When you go through the first levels enough times you eventually unlock shortcuts to the later ones.

Posted by rmanthorp

Shout-outs to user-reviews for getting this in my head!

This game looks awesome. Might have to pick it up.

Posted by Skald

After reading Polygon's review, and now Giant Bomb's, I really want to play Spelunky. It sounds kind of amazing.

Posted by stalefishies
Posted by mostman

@wumbo3000: Haven't played the game - so I'm only guessing. It looks like you can "continue" from the first level in the current world. However, all the achievements appear to be tied to a complete play through, which means, no death, no shortcuts, no "continues".

Posted by YoungBuck

I'm buying after seeing the Quick Look and reading the review. It seems interesting.

Posted by honkyjesus

When you start paying fifteen bucks for stuff like this, then they know you will pay anything.

Posted by Ohvee

@honkyjesus said:

When you start paying fifteen bucks for stuff like this, then they know you will pay anything.

Yeah, it's weird and almost as if value isn't subjective or something.

Posted by NorseDudeTR

Fuck, I love Alex' reviews. Consistently great.

Edited by chan05

I quite like the review but I guess it couldn't hurt to get further into the game than the jungle world before writing a review...but then again it's not a game that is supposed to be finished...^^

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Great review! Really a pleasure to read and very true to what I perceive to be some of the core tenets of the expanded "genre" if one can call it that. What an odd way to play games, but so fucking delicious if it all happens to work out.

Posted by Hairydutchman

I just love to say the name.


Posted by NAQ

One star gone because the coop that they could've not added is not perfect?

Posted by gelatinabomination

I was hoping for the user-created Alex pictures being used for this review. Sadly, it didn't happen.

Posted by bko

@honkyjesus said:

When you start paying fifteen bucks for stuff like this, then they know you will pay anything.

I've been willing to pay $15 for good games since I was a child. DON'T TELL ANYBODY I SAID THAT THOUGH!

Posted by Video_Game_King

Alex? And not Brad? That was right out of ana field.

Posted by WarlordPayne

Unless the game is significantly changed from the PC version claiming there are no cheap deaths is an outright lie.

I find it strange how much Giant Bomb shits on Demon's/Dark Souls for the same stuff that they love Spelunky for.

Posted by Yummylee

Disgruntled Terrorist Fearin' Shotgun-Totin' Shopkeeper must assuredly be considered for Best New Character of The Year.

Edited by Yummylee

@WarlordPayne: To be fair, it's only really Jeff who consistently likes to stew all over The Souls series. Vinny (and Rorie... and Kessler) actually really enjoyed it, whereas Ryan, Patrick and Brad are often too busy singing the ''THIS GAME IS CRAAaaaAAAZY'' chorus. Though they did at least give it a go and admitted that they 'understand the appeal'.

Though that's what's always irked me a little. How apparently they consider the series to be so 'out there', when it's like one of the most popular new game franchises going. You'd think that people that have been there almost from the very beginning of the medium would be the most open to those sorts of games.

Anywhoo, super off-topic here, so... GG, Alex!

Posted by Jynnan_Tonnyx

After watching the QL, the multiplayer deathmatch looks like fun, especially if you limit the total number of starting bombs. Using 38 makes it too out of control (but would be fun for a few games).

Posted by beard_of_zeus
@Ohvee said:

@honkyjesus said:

When you start paying fifteen bucks for stuff like this, then they know you will pay anything.

Yeah, it's weird and almost as if value isn't subjective or something.

Exactly. Derek Yu made a great game that's been free on the PC for quite a while (and that I indulged in a bit); what's wrong with me wanting to throw some money his way for what looks like a cool update to the game?
Can't wait to do some spelunking tomorrow on my day off!
Posted by Jazz2

Great review Alex! Still kind of doubting if i should subject myself to such a hard game tough :s

Posted by dogbox

OH GOD I wish I could play this. Can't believe Spelunky flew under my radar for so long! Sadly, I no longer have an Xbox...the original free version will have to suffice for now.

Posted by rafoXxX

I freakin loved this game on PC, and this looks even better.

However, if I were reviewing, I´d drop a whole star just for the new shitty music. The PC´s version was just perfect. So sad to see it go...

Posted by Lunar_Aura

Four stars from A.N. is like eleventy billion from anybody else. Between this and the Quick Look, I'll seriously consider this game.

Posted by NZV

You've only really experienced the first world and you're writing a review? C'mon now, Alex.

Posted by Owlright

@wumbo3000: If you reach the next world often enough, you can unlock 'shortcuts' if you pay the shortcut making man. Using shortcuts means you don't get the achievements though.

Posted by ArmyCrow

So long as the difficulty is something that can be overcome and learned I'm not concerned with its trickery. It's when it starts bordering on the irritation of The War of the Worlds platformer that turns me off games like this. I'll be downloading the trial tonight and taking it from there.

Posted by dropabombonit

Sounds cool but I don't know if I would have the patience for it

Posted by HoHo23

Can't wait to play this some later today. Was at SuperCon last week here in Miami and they had some guys in the game room playing classic Spelunker. Raised my hype for this game some and now that it seems Spelunky is great, is awesome.

Posted by ectoplasma

So I have to wonder. Would this be 5* now if it didn't have multiplayer?

Posted by probablytuna

The quick look of this was entertaining enough, but I don't think this is the game for me.

Posted by Brackynews

Just finished the trial. I like it, but I'll wait for a sale. The trial is very generous to give you the full first world, and that's a lot of replayability.

I'd definitely rank this sucker up there with Super Meat Boy for masocore enjoyment.

Posted by RagingLion

@DerekDanahy said:

I like Alex's reviews.

He is rather good. Very readable and non-generic.

Posted by Paradigmer

Alex and Brad are my favorite reviewers <3

Posted by SathingtonWaltz

So what's the difference between this version and the free game on PC?

Posted by Dan_CiTi

@rafoXxX said:

I freakin loved this game on PC, and this looks even better.

However, if I were reviewing, I´d drop a whole star just for the new shitty music. The PC´s version was just perfect. So sad to see it go...

Yeah, I wish there was a 16-Bit mode that had all of this new content & features with the original graphics and sound.

@WarlordPayne: Demon's and Dark Souls is also not a 16 level 2D platformer, and in Demon's Souls there are experience and equipment you lose, the levels are longer too. In this game you just lose some items that just make the game a bit easier and more fun, just does not feel as severe as the Souls games.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Probably one of my favorite games of all time. Not sure how it translates into this version, but the free version from the PC was played to DEATH AND BEYOND in our little household. The trick is to stick with it, learn a bit each time, try to be more cautious and learn when it's better to leave that damned gem behind and go for the exit. It's a great risk/reward system that teaches you to actually risk as little as possible if you're actually going to see the end :)

Posted by Evercaptor

Is the picture next to the score meant to illustrate how MERCENARY his reviews sound?

Joking, I just wanted to make a shit pun, and I am sure I am the first one to make it. The review is pretty straight on, all told. The game is hard as a veteran bouncer, and fun as all hell.

Posted by PirateNeal



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