Update: Fantastic news! All the main issues below have now been resolved, so Spelunky is nicely at home on the PC.
First impressions are pretty important. Especially when you come sauntering over to the PC after a year of absence. Spelunky, beginning as a PC game, upped and left for the 360 as an advanced version last July. And it was brilliant. It’s now back, promising an even more advanced version for PC. So how is the transition?
Like I say, first impressions. And they’re not good. I know what’s to come after them – I’ve spent ludicrous numbers of hours playing the game on 360 over the last year, and have absolutely adored it. But since I’ve already got my working 360 version on my nice big telly, finding myself faced with a selection of resolution options that don’t offer my native desktop, fail to include 16:10 options, and don’t offer a windowed mode for anything over 1280×720, smacks of the laziest porting we’re used to seeing from big-name publishers who just couldn’t give a shit. Why would a two-man indie team come across like they don’t give a shit?
It’s hard to think of a game more obviously suited for a windowed mode. It’s a game played in short bursts, a roguelike built of failure, where rather than extended engrossing periods spent buried in its world, you’re much more likely to need to look away every five minutes. Doing that on my machine led to the PC having an epileptic fit as it flailed between resolutions, and after three switches the game gave up entirely. Great.
So instead, I try to run it in the largest window available, and I get THIS on my 2560×1440 display:
Er, brilliant. Does Oculus Rift do binoculars?
Yes, it’s a big desktop (which I got all cheap on Alec’s advice), but even on my more standard 1920×1080 second monitor it still takes up barely a third of the screen. So why wouldn’t I just load up the 360 version on the TV behind me?
Okay, get over it, move on. Let’s set up the PC controls, see what it can offer over the 360 pad.
While your mouse will work for menus, it’s not an option when configuring controls, so forget any obvious notions of aiming your whip and thwicking it with the left mouse. Nor just plain using it as your other hand’s basic controls. It’s all keyboard, or all controller. So, the 360 controller then with its obviously vastly superior analogue controls. Again, why is this on PC?
So, run in a miniscule window, using the 360 pad, I’m not exactly getting the PC experience I’d hoped a year of potential porting time would bring.
The tortuously slow opening screens are still unskippable. You’re still forced to play through the tutorial the first time you run the game (or twice through if it crashed the first time).
But then, into the game, and… Am I… am I maybe falling out of love with Spelunky, too? Not because of some lazy porting, but maybe because since my dozens and dozens of hours playing it last year, I’ve experienced Teleglitch, Rogue Legacy, Don’t Starve… Games that run with the same imminence of death, but twist on it, develop it, enhance it. Spelunky, as pure as one could argue it may be, feels particularly retrograde from this year-on perspective. Its deliberately clunky (some say “precise”) platforming feels like the source of too many deaths, and its blank-faced disinterest after failure strikes now as lacking in features. Why not let me try the same set-up again? Why not give me a greater purpose in playing?
Yes, yes, you’re screaming at your monitor now. You’re right – that’s not what Spelunky is intended to be, and there’s no reason why it should have to deliver any of it. I’m a terrible person for even asking. But the reality is, as I’m playing it now, I’m asking.
The big difference between this and 2012’s console version are the daily challenges. It’s a lovely idea – the game randomly generates a series of chambers, and offers it to everyone playing. You get one go at it, and see where you come in that day’s leaderboard. I died in the opening 30 seconds because, as I went to get something to throw in front of a spike trap, I walked in front of another spike trap. I suspect that accounts for about 50% of my deaths in Spelunky. But amazingly, Dan Gril did even worse today.
Okay, so I just spent another two hours playing it. Spelunky still has that. That crazed need to play again, and again, and again. And I’m rusty, and I never got out of the first location today. But I kept going, despite swearing at the bats which are FIXED, FIXED I TELL YOU, and stupidly blowing myself up, and caring only about boomerangs – they are all that matter. Spelunky still has that.
But then the truth is, just as I was back in the swing of it, just as I was accepting that yes, there’s still enough here, I had to switch out to respond to an email. “Error loading texture pack” it informed me when I tried to go back. Yeah, I’ll play it on my 360, thanks.