Spelunky review

You drop off a ledge, your hands nervously gripping a flickering torch, which is your only source of light in these deadly, trap-filled corridors. For a split second, your mind wanders back to the encounter with a gargantuan reptilian creature that left you severely wounded. That split-second distraction proves to be fatal: a giant spider falls from the ceiling and delivers a deadly bite. You didn’t react in time. It’s the second level of Spelunky, and this is your 21st time failing it.

But you still want more.

This is the magic of Spelunky, designer Derek Yu’s creation (with the help of a few others at Mossmouth). After haunting Windows users for almost four years, it’s finally available, in a sparkling new edition, on Xbox Live Arcade.

Spelunky is an adventure game that feels like a platformer but borrows its core features from dungeon crawlers and roguelikes. This means that, during the descent into the depths of its Colossal Cave, you have to manage limited resources and fend off powerful enemies that range from exploding frogs to cute but lethal UFOs.

And of course, once you’re dead, you have to start over!

The levels are randomly generated, but don’t let that notion fool you; they are well-balanced. While most platformers require you to memorize the layout of a stage or the enemies’ positions and attack patterns, Spelunky’s schizophrenia can only be bested by learning how to react to specific situations and giving every threat the right priority. It’s a ruthless game in which strategy matters more than mere reflexes, because every move can have significant (and painful) consequences.

And the craziest part? Spelunky’s levels are more interesting and entertaining than those of the vast majority of “classic” platformers. There’s an incredible number of random elements at play, but among the best is that each one often interacts with others in perfect synch, like the gears in a clock – and each can trigger a new trap for the player to fall into with each tick.

Don’t be afraid of dying repeatedly as you play. Unlike most videogames, Yu’s creation is very special, as it essentially wants to teach you rather than punish you. Death after death, you will learn how to overcome new obstacles as well as learning how to make use of new items capable of changing the approach to exploration and platforming. Those items add elements such as vertical climbing, flying and long distance attacks. Spelunky never loses its freshness simply because there’s so much to learn and discover about it – you only need patience.

This version features all the content of the original Windows game, but for 1200 MS points, this edition adds new playable characters, enemies, items, shops, and, of course, levels. These are all good reasons for newcomers and veteran spelunkers to be really interested in this new incarnation of Spelunky, which also features leaderboards and surprisingly fun local multiplayer that allows up to four players to either explore the Colossal Cave together or fight in a chaotic deathmatch mode.

The game controls have completely been redesigned for the Xbox 360 controller; the little spelunkers are now more responsive and less prone to transforming into a self-destructing bob-omb. No mere remake, Spelunky on XBLA has gone through a massive graphical and audio overhaul. Incredibly detailed hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds take the place of the beautiful pixel art of the original, while a new stunning soundtrack will accompany the exploration.

Spelunky is for the West what Cave Story represents for Japan: the maximum expression of the indie philosophy. You shouldn’t ask yourself if you want to play it. You absolutely have to, if you haven’t yet. The question is whether or not you want to invest 1200 MS points in this version, or simply dive in the free, classic version available on the official website. In order to support brilliant creative efforts of this magnitude (and play a vastly enhanced version of the game), we strongly suggest the former.

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