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Spelunky begins by inserting you into your first devious arena, filled with spikes, spiders, and hidden traps. The object of the game is simple, achieve the next level by avoiding all obstacles in your way while also dealing with the limited health you have. Along the way you can pick up gold and other jewels to attain money which you can use to buy upgrades from shopkeepers (who quickly become rather unhappy if you use a weapon in their store), grab a damsel (woman, man, dog, whichever you choose) and take him/her to the exit to gain one heart back, or attempt to pick up an idol which can grant you quite a bit of extra pocket change, the catch being that when you pick it up some sort of dangerous hazard is unleashed on the player.
The difficulty curve quickly slaps you in the face so damn hard that your reaction can only be to step back and say “wait, what?” From there, the addiction begins as you die numerous times just attempting to achieve the next level, where you’ll ultimately die and have to restart all over again. The level design is set up in Mario fashion, with a 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and 1-4 design, and from there it goes to 2-1, etc. In between going from 1-4 to 2-1, you meet the Tunnel Man, who will build you shortcuts to each new set of levels as long as you give him whatever he desires (bombs, ropes, shotgun, etc.).
The issue is that you don’t know what he wants until you arrive there, which can lead to your arrival being met with sheer disappointment as you don’t currently have the shotgun Mr. Tunnel Man desires. This leading to you having to fight back through the previous four levels and make sure you get that shotgun (which is incredibly hard to get) just to get a shortcut to the next four levels, which are near impossible to get through in and of themselves.
No matter what, though, you will die in this game. And you will die a lot. It seems like at every corner you turn there is another obstacle just waiting to take your life. Even if it is a ridiculous chain reaction of multiple events, or just a leaping frog that just so happened to leap right where you were standing, death is abound no matter who you are. I’m currently at around 300 deaths, having only gotten through the first three of the four worlds. I have yet to get a shortcut to the fourth world because it forces you to find a key found somewhere within the third world, the location is undisclosed and the chances of finding it seem rather unlikely. Either way, I have experienced some of the fourth world which is an achievement that anyone who plays the game would appreciate.
The difficulty in Spelunky cannot be described perfectly in words, it can only be experienced. The way Mossmouth steadily straddles the line between difficult and fun is truly admirable. It’s something that many companies just plain cannot do, and Mossmouth does it seemingly without effort. The controls are by far the main reason Spelunky doesn’t force you to throw your controller down and give up, as they are perfect in giving you just enough control over your characters momentum and weapons. Every weapon you pick up is easily available to use and never becomes cumbersome in any way.
While the biggest bullet point in Spelunky is the difficulty, there are a few other shining stars hidden within the game. Something that is arguably as good as the controls is the soundtrack. Spelunky’s soundtrack seems to be a blend of old SNES music with some new age originality thrown in. It becomes more and more jaunty and upbeat as you continue through the game, forcing you to tap your foot as you grind your teeth in anger.
Another one is the fact that every level you go through is randomly generated. The biggest plus to that being that every level is fun in its own little way. It’s clear that some levels are much easier than others, as some levels don’t have near as difficult of enemies but that is usually welcome as the difficult levels feel, at times, impossibly difficult.
Spelunky, surprisingly, also features a multiplayer and co-op mode. The co-op mode is by no means the best way to play the game but that doesn’t stop it from being maddeningly fun. Adding another player somehow makes things easier, while also adding more potential annoyances such as other players griefing you by hitting you themselves and pushing you into spikes or other enemies. The multiplayer portion is solely deathmatch but that is truly all you need to have some dumb fun with this game. You begin on a set level, with crates filled with weapons placed strategically, and when the game says go, you kill each other. It’s simple but effective in producing more fun than you would expect a multiplayer experience in this game to be.
Spelunky is a special peace of work. It may not be the most innovative game ever and probably won’t be on too many Game of the Year lists, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t made an imprint on the gaming medium. It’s united all gamers together similarly to how old SNES games united everyone, where we’re all just trying to get to that next damn level. With the thought of actually completing the game in the back of our mind, because that goal is just crazy. Spelunky will make you yell expletives at every turn, but it’ll also make you caress its existence any time you complete a level.
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