The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: Spelunky Is A Game About Improvising

Spelunky 2
Spelunky is great, but there are hurdles you have to get over before you can get relatively far in it. I’m not talking about regular hurdles because the only thing you’re going to gain from getting over those is not receiving a reduction in your lap time.

Hurdle is kind of a stupid word, now I think about it, right? Hurdle. Hurdle Hurdle Hurdle.

Anyway, there’s the relatively brief introduction period where you get to grips with what the all the controls do. You learn to deal with the run speed, get a sense for how far down your character can fall before they take damage. This is necessary stuff you need to fill your head with in order to progress through Spelunky’s four worlds and beat the boss at the end. That’s no different from any other game, each have their little quirks. If you’ve played a lot of platformers you’ll pick this up with ease.

But there’s an entire other layer you have to figure out even exists, in order to be any good. You’ll die over and over in an attempt to even understand why you keep dying. The next hurdle is about adapting to the environment around you, seeing a potential threat and figuring out the best way to deal with it. It’s also about making choices that might not be beneficial in the short-term, but will eventually benefit you in the future.

You don’t just learn how to control your character, you learn how to make decisions.

Spelunky is a unique game in that it’s about moment-to-moment improvisation. It’s capable of this because it contains a lot of repetition but also a lot of change. Each time you die you start the game over from the first world, but the game randomises the levels. You always start with a the same amount of life, bombs and ropes and gradually gain more equipment and money as you progress. There are a few curveballs in that certain levels can contain different randomised themes, but largely each world is comprised of the same contents each time you play.

There are items you want which are absolutely the incontrovertible best choice for every situation, but you don’t always get access to them. Everyone wants to find the jetpack which will let you get high up into the air or descend less dangerously, but if you don’t find it you make do with climbing gloves, or ropes, or a cape.

Because of the rarity of these items there have to be plenty of ways to get past an obstacle. The thing is, all of them are limited to the tools you have at hand. The most common problem is getting past an arrow trap which shoots when anything moves in front of it. When you see one you’ve a few options depending on what’s accessible:

  • You throw something at the trap so it triggers, then jump down without a problem.
  • If you can’t find anything, throw a bomb down.
  • If you’re out of bombs or that’s a bad idea, hold a damsel as you drop. They’ll get hit by the spike trap instead and take all the damage.
  • If you don’t have a damsel, risk that you’re far enough from the trap that it either won’t fire or won’t reach you in time.
  • If you’re definitely too close, try and whip the arrow in mid-air because you’re a bloody show-off.

SpelunkyEach of these solutions is progressively riskier, but they have to be considered in order to get past. Even so there are also reasons why you wouldn’t want to use easier solutions; you might trigger another trap that’s pointed right at a shopkeeper who’ll shoot you in retaliation. You have to observe the area and constantly make decisions in split-seconds based on your previous observations.

There are cheap reasons while you’ll accidentally get killed, but for the most part you’ll die in Spelunky because you weren’t being as knowledgeable or observant enough. You’ll do something stupid because you didn’t think about the consequences.

It’s a great game because it’s an instance of player progression rather than character progression. Spelunky’s hero never changes, but you gradually do.

Spelunky HD is available on XBLA right now and on PC from 8th August.

Oh, Also:

While we’re on the topic of exploring crypts, sort of, not really, that’s a leap. CRYPT WORLDS.

Explore the Crypt. Piss in holes. Collect the seeds. View the burgs.