A remake worth a thousand playthroughs
Nobody can tell you how much I played the original Spelunky, and nobody can also tell you how much I sucked at it. Spelunky is a roguelike-platformer hybrid that successfully captures the Indiana Jones feel of amassing treasure and saving damsels while whipping dangerous creatures and discovering unparalleled secrets. I have played the original Spelunky over five-hundred times, and yet I still can't seem to advance very far past the first and second areas, and I'm a platformer whiz with games like this and Super Meat Boy. That should tell you something about how hard the game is, but the game is so much fun it's hard to not forgive it. You have one life throughout the course of the entire game, and each time you play, the walls shift around and randomly generate different paths, as is traditional for roguelikes. Not only does this make Spelunky almost infinitely replayable, but the game boasts a plethora of items, secret areas and events that cannot be experienced on one playthrough alone.
Now it's 2012, four years after the original Spelunky for the PC was born, and after a droning hiatus from Derek Yu and Mossmouth, we finally get to taste the sweet, savory goodness that is Spelunky for the Xbox Live Arcade. You bet I purchased this game day one, but was my money well spent? Is this game truly as magnificent as the City of Gold, or does it fall flat on its face into a pit of spikes? Let's don our mining hats and find some ropes, because we're about to explore the rest of this high-definition remake of Spelunky.
The very first thing that you will notice when you boot up Spelunky is that the graphics have been given a tremendous overhaul. Spelunky was originally designed as a pixelated, retro-styled game, but the art has shifted from nostalgic sprites to hand-drawn models, and, dare I say it, the new models are gorgeous. THIS is what an HD remake should look like. Not like the Banjo-Kazooie remake or the Dig Dug port, which keep the dated graphics, but like this, with an entirely new look and feel that differentiates from the previous game and warrants your attention.
Another thing you'll eventually notice is that this version of Spelunky isn't just a dolled-up re-hash of the PC version with the same features (I'm looking at you, Minecraft). The team at Mossmouth added a stellar amount of new areas, items, and monsters to encounter. For example, this game adds giant scorpions to the first level, which lunge at you if you jump in front of them, and Tiki Men, a group of neanderthal-looking figures with tribal masks that carry a large boomerang that can do serious damage if the player is not careful. My personal favorite out of all of the new additions is the Freeze Ray, and yes, it does exactly what you think it does (except to mammoths, who can freeze you themselves. Ah, Derek, you certainly do think of everything)
Another addition to the game is co-op, although I personally find this feature to be somewhat wonky. Up to four players can explore the caves together, which can greatly increase your chances of survival... except there are plenty of hindrances that undermine the whole experience. Let's count them, shall we?
- The players can attack themselves and hinder each other's progress a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii by throwing other players into spike pits, attacking them with sticky bombs and even pushing them around as a ghost after you die, in case you want your revenge on your friend who sacrificed you earlier.
- Leaderboards and achievements are disabled, meaning that achievement hunters are boned if they think they can complete an eight minute run by bum-rushing through the levels and setting off traps that could potentially kill the other players.
- The camera ALWAYS follows the player with the white flag on his back (by default, player one), which means the leader is verylikely to get the entire party killed by abandoning the group to search for treasure while they get mauled by spiders offscreen.
So yeah, playing through the game in co-op mode isn't advisable, surprisingly. Maybe this is a sign that co-op in video games isn't necessarily a great idea, but who am I kidding, companies won't listen to me, so we'll just leave it at that.
Fortunately, the rest of the game plays as smooth as buttermilk. It may seem like a no-brainer, but the controls are tight and, quite frankly, work LEAGUES better than the PC version. Each action is tied to one specific button this time around, and you will no longer have that fear of accidentally blowing yourself to pieces every time you want to open a utility crate. My only complaint is the traction, which can feel a little finicky at times and often results in me spiraling to my death because of a slightly-miscalculated landing, and even then it only becomes a problem every once in a full moon.
Spelunky plays like a mix between Cave Story, Terraria, and an Indiana Jones movie. You start out with four hearts of health, four bombs, four ropes, and your trusty whip, and using your wits and your brawn, you must navigate the perilous caverns in search for the mysterious treasure of Olmec, an ancient being who traps explorers in his cave until they defeat him. The catch is each level, like I mentioned previously, is generated at random on each playthrough, and if you slip up and die, all of your hard-earned progress goes to waste, and you must start from the very beginning (unless you help the Tunnel Man out with his shortcuts). Half the fun in Spelunky isn't about attempting to beat the game, but seeing how far you can get before you succumb to your inevitable demise, much like every other roguelike on the market. Of course, this game is coated with other roguelike elements as well; there are dozens of items to find, shopkeepers who sell wares from their stores (and also happen to pack a lot of heat; pissing one off is a good way to get destroyed by his powerful shotgun), damsels whom you can rescue for extra hit points, sacrificial altars which grant you items for performing sacraments (including those with the aforementioned damsels), golden idols which spring dangerous traps such as giant boulders (another nod to Indiana Jones), and a crapton of other events that are waiting to unfold.
Perhaps my favorite part of the game as a whole is the events that can take place at random in each of the game's areas. In any area, you could potentially come across a pitch-black level where you carry around a torch and can light up other torches to find your way through. Other areas have boss levels where larger variants of already tough enemies spawn and can reap havok on unsuspecting spelunkers. No single playthrough is truly the same, and this is where Spelunky and most other roguelikes outshine the competition.
In addition to the ludicrous amount of content bundled with the game, you also get a deathmatch mode where you and your friends duke it out in several different arenas to determine who is the champion of Spelunky. To be honest, this deathmatch mode is actually VERY fun to play. You start off with a set number of bombs, ropes, and health (you can choose how much everyone starts out with before the battle), and your goal is to, well, kill all of your opponents. At your disposal is every single weapon in the game that can be obtained normally through the single-player, including the game-breaking Plasma Cannon. It's fast and frantic, and if you don't prefer the difficulty of the co-op game mode, this feature should be right up your alley.
In conclusion, the original Spelunky is a historic landmark in the history of the roguelike genre, and its remake manages to improve upon every aspect tenfold. Spelunky for the Xbox Live Arcade is the perfect example of what a re-released title should strive to be. Of course, this wouldn't be a MisterBananaFoam review without that good ol' paragraph o' puns...
Rope? Bombs? Shotguns? They're yours, my friend, as well as hours of snake-stomping, treasure-hoarding fun. The cooperative mode is somewhat of a damsel in distress, but the main game delivers a whip-crack of a good time. It's a regular City of Gold, and You'll Pay For Your Crimes if you decide to skip this one over.