The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 17

This one’s the bomb.

It’s Spelunky HD!

Graham: Spelunky is my personal game of 2013. It is also probably my game of every year since its first release as a free PC game in 2009. That’s when I first played it. That’s when I first fell in love with it.

There are a lot of games now that place roguelike mechanics (level generation, permadeath, difficulty) alongside an accessible genre (in this instance, side-scrolling platformer) in a way that enriches both. Spelunky is partly the reason why there are so many, and I still think it does it better than any other.

I’ve written about it elsewhere at length, but it’s the neatness of the design that just knocks me down. The design creates tension, between its parent genres, between risk and reward, between what you imagine will happen and your skill to pull it off.

The level generation (exposed well here) throws up challenging situations: can you leap over those spikes and avoid the spider on the other side? Can you lower yourself down that snake pit by gripping ledges to control your descent?

If the answer is ‘yes’, you do it, and only have yourself to blame should you fail. If the answer is ‘no’, you move on and abandon the rewards that may have awaited you beyond that obstacle or down that pit.

If the answer is ‘I’m not sure’, then you might use a piece of equipment. A rope will help you safely down that snake pit for example, but that’ll be one less rope for later, when you’re stuck at the bottom of a three-block ledge with no way out.

You make yourself get better at the platforming so you can be less dependent on your tools. You take more risks so you can empower yourself with more and better tools, like crates of bombs and jetpacks to render ropes redundant.

Is this reductionist? No. Spelunky is its design and there is beauty in that design. The game’s early mine levels are full of bats, which dimly flap towards you, bumping into any scenery that lies in their path. They’re brilliant. The shallow angle of their descent encourages you to either find higher ground or to run further away in order to tease the bat lower so you can leap on its head or strike it with your whip. In other words, the bat’s precise angle of descent forces you to traverse and interact with the randomly generated environment, which is the point – the challenge, the fun, the main mechanic – of the game. This has been thought about. I could write an entire feature about those bats, or the arc of a spider’s leap.

There is tension here, too, between the random generation of the levels and the fixed mechanics of its enemies. The world around you changes, but the rules are always the same. There is always an exit. It can always be reached. The frog always hops the same way. Those fucking frogs.

It means I can’t be frustrated, because death is always my fault. It means I don’t get bored, because the experience is always different. It means the game is a challenge of dexterity; my thumbs on a pad against the level geometry. It means the game is a challenge of wits; my brain playing out scenarios ahead of time and coming up with a plan of action.

Spelunky’s mechanics hold the player masterfully in their grasp and never lets go.

It’s a game that makes me want to make games. It has, by making me think so much about design, made me a better writer about games. It is, I should just admit it, my favourite game.

John: I have to admit, 2013 was not my year of Spelunky. That was 2012 for me, on my Xbox 360, hooked up to my second monitor. And there I played it a great deal.

And never got any good at it.

I think it’s testament to Spelunky, and quite what a stunning game it is, that I never stopped enjoying it despite dying quite so often. While I have only glimpsed the third world, those first two zones have kept me hugely entertained for so very long. Clearly the variation helps, that it’s never the same game twice, the challenge varying in interesting ways, the advantages and disadvantages unique to each run. The massive difference it makes to how I play if I can get a boomerang early on, or if I just can’t find any bombs on a particular go.

I especially enjoy approaching the game in completely different ways. Some times I’ll be all about rescuing the ‘maidens’, or experimenting with the sacrifices, or gold-running, or – as is often my favourite – killing a shopkeeper and then seeing how long I can last.

It is, unquestionably, perfect platforming. There’s not a pixel wrong, the jump is exquisite, the edge-detection sublime. I hate, hate, hate the bats, and sometimes I’m convinced that they’re bugged to hit me even when I’ve perfectly timed my whip. But I haven’t perfectly timed my whip, and they’re not bugged. They’re just MASSIVE ARSEHOLES. Yu has created the benchmark by which all other platform games should be measured.

But, for me, like I say, it’s a 360 game. The PC port, as I somewhat infamously derided (all fixed now, of course), added nothing for me. The daily challenges are a brilliant feature, but they’re for people who aren’t terrible at the game. I still play it with my 360 controller, and it’s really just a more convenient way of playing without having to wake up my wheezing black monolith of an Xbox. So it’s one of my favourite games from 2012, without question. 2013 saw Rogue Legacy, Teleglitch, and Don’t Starve take up the same space for me.

Alec: Twice in my life, I’ve bought a new system specifically to play one game. Too many years ago, the first was a PlayStation 2 for GTA 3, and earlier this year it was a Vita for Spelunky. The latter is the greater compliment to its subject, for I already owned and fervently played Spelunky on PC, but the thought of doing without it for a 12-hour spell in hospital (nothing serious!) seemed a misery too far on top of the needles and the chopping and the gown that didn’t quite conceal my bum. Having Spelunky, with its requirement for absolute focus, available on tap while I languished in a wheeled bed, surrounded by the old and ailing and overly-conversational, almost made an unpleasant day a pleasant one.

(Rest assured I returned to the PC version once I’d recuperated.)

Spelunky is a game it’s very difficult to go without once you’ve welcomed it into your life. Sure, it’s a whole heap of fun, but it’s also a game about self-improvement, about being convinced that you can get further this time, do more, understand more, and if you break or pause playing at the wrong moment, your flow will be shattered and you’ll never again know this mental harmony, this sure connection between hands and controls and screen and eyes again.

I think there’s a real argument to be made that Spelunky is a perfect game, which is not a word I’m accustomed to using in that sense. I’m astounded by how much care, craft, thought and balance is packed beneath its unassuming, pink-nosed surface. Nothing in it is there without purpose; the most humble enemy, the most common tool all have a definite place in the game’s internal food chain, can sow disaster or triumph as assuredly as can the most dangerous foe or powerful tool.

Harbouring as I am aspirations to be a game designer myself, Spelunky is perhaps the worst game I should be playing, for it leaves me wracked with doubt, even panic, that I could ever plan so well, devise and implement so many inter-related systems, have such a raft of consequences and side-effects, have second-guessed so many player decisions, construct a design that creates such order from such chaos, make an infinite adventure simulator that doesn’t fall prey to either tedium or impassible sadism. Neat, careful, layered, endless: Spelunky is the smartest guy in the room this year. I admire it enormously.

I really wish the character’s noses didn’t look quite so penile, though.


Like Graham, I first played Spelunky in 2009 and then told everybody that would listen about it. I didn’t know it at the time but I’d stumbled across a game that would have an enormous influence over PC gaming.

Whether or not a line can be directly traced from every other roguelite or roguelikelike back to Spelunky is a moot point – Derek Yu created the definitive randomised perma-death platformer, in which the tightness of control was just as important as the construction of the caves. I certainly hadn’t played a game that borrowed the still vaguely obscure lessons of Rogue to such great effect and reimagined them in a genre so far removed from the traditional playing of roles.

Spelunky is one of the most influential games of recent times. Its roots, along with those of Minecraft, have spread far and wide, and it’s no longer surprising to find games that are inspired by both. The two could hardly be more different though. Where Minecraft is a toolset for modders and builders, Spelunky is carefully crafted, with every tile of its spaces considered and deliberate, despite the shuffling process that glues them together.

There is no excess in Spelunky. Every item has its use and most contribute to the game’s comedic as well. Similarly, every creature, monster and trap has its own pattern of behaviour so that death and injury are fair, if occasionally difficult to predict.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a stroll underneath a spider only to have it drop onto my head, bouncing my bleeding, flailing form from platform to platform, and directly onto some spikes. It should be distressing but Spelunky always allows me to trace my own mistakes and usually makes me chuckle at my own demise. What a tonic that is.

Even if Spelunky is even vaguely responsible for the gradual diminishing of the term ‘roguelike’, I can forgive it. And that’s only partly because I’m probably slightly responsible as well. It is, although a wildly different experience, as perfect a platformer as Rayman’s Oranges and Lemons.

Nathan: Unlike pretty much everyone else, I’m a filthy heretic who didn’t spend much time with the original version of Spelunky. Not only that, my first experience with the PC Game Based On The Console Version Of The PC Version Of The Book Of The Movie Of The Sistine Chapel came after I’d played more elaborate games semi-inspired by the original (e.g. Rogue Legacy, Teleglitch, etc). Inevitable confession time: I didn’t really think Spelunky was all that special initially.


But I kept playing it as my game between other games. It took some serious edge off Papers, Please. It offered a series of quick snacks where games like Assassin’s Creed IV wanted me to sit down at the table for a full, multi-course meal. When I wanted to feel an electrifying sense of accomplishment and discovery in not a lot of time, it never let me down.

And then there were the Daily Challenges, which I became addicted to watching for a solid bit. Not playing, mind you. Oh no. My single attempt at global glory ended in hilarious failure when I managed to botch a near-flawless run by accidentally obliterating a shopkeep’s storefront with a giant boulder and getting pursued by a ghost at the same time. Somehow, in the ensuing maelstrom of rocks, papers, shotguns, and panic, I nearly made it to an exit, only to misjudge my jump, fall to my near-death, and then get swarmed on by the shopkeep and the ghost simultaneously. I think a spider then danced on my corpse for good measure.

So yeah, after that I decided to sit back and spectate for a while. In retrospect, I kind of regret not broadcasting my painfully amusing (or maybe just painful) failures to the leering masses, but I did really come to enjoy watching friends do it. It became this weird little window into the worlds of people I (regrettably) don’t have a lot of time to communicate with on a day-to-day basis, a quick “So here’s what I’ve been up to” breakdown interspersed with irate verbal trumpet bursts of “FUCK,” “GOD DAMN IT,” and “WHERE DID THAT SPIDER EVEN COME FROM?”

If there’s a better way of finding out how your friends are doing, I’m not aware of it.

Back to the Calendar!


  1. drewski says:

    GotY for me too. Sunk so many hours into it. Going to sink so many more. Perfect, perfect game design.

    10/10 would play again.

  2. Frank says:

    @Nathan: I see Spelunky as more elaborate than Teleglitch and Rogue Legacy. All of its features are richer: map randomization; interactions between the environment, projectiles, etc. (in particular, destructible environments); and usable items. Then again, I haven’t played Legacy yet, so I could be wrong…

    • Wedge says:

      You’re not wrong at all. Legacy is shallow in mechanics, built entirely of prefab rooms (not a problem in and of itself mind you, but it does mean it’s more limited), and uses a persistent leveling structure for progression.

      • Philotic Symmetrist says:

        and has a complete lack of any in-run progression.

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      I agree completely.

      I was actually quite disappointed with Teleglitch when I realised that I was always fighting the same enemies and getting the same loot on each level. What’s the point of permadeath when the situation you’re faced with is always the same and you always have the exact same tools to approach it with?

  3. NailBombed says:

    Ah, Spelunky….. the game that loves to hate me. Lost count of the amount of abject failure runs – and still haven’t beaten Olmec. Yet somehow I still keep coming back. It pretty much is the best platform roguelike (lite? likelike? lickalightswitch?) of 2013.

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      No need to qualify with lite/likelike etc; no matter what definition of Roguelike one is operating under, platform roguelike or roguelike platformer is a different genre made by combining two existing genres. This is a concept we used to be more comfortable with.

      (Although, on a side note, Catacomb Kids looks to have the potential to be even more exemplary as far as combining the two genres is concerned)

  4. airtekh says:

    Oh god, Spelunky is glorious. One of my favourite games of the year for sure.

    I love the way it’s a constant learning process. As you progress through the levels, each new area provides new hazards, and you learn how to avoid or combat them incrementally. There are so many secrets and distractions along the way as well, it never gets old.

    I’m obsessed with getting to Hell and killing the secret final boss at the minute, I made it to Hell twice in the past week, I’m soooo close.

  5. Will Tomas says:

    Adore this game. Like Adam and Alec I played the 2009 version (based on Quinns’ recommendation here) repeatedly, but I love the HD version. It plays better, and even though some aspects (arrow trap in particular) are harder, others are simpler too.

    A genuinely tight, perfect game, with so much depth, so much to discover and explore, and so much to learn.

    Pretty much ever time I feel like playing a game since I bought the HD version the thought process has always been, “I could play x… or I could just play Spelunky.” And I never get tired of it.

  6. Lambchops says:

    My waxing lyrical about Spelunky (again) would very much read exactly the same as the waxing lyrical from the RPS chaps.

    It’s nigh on perfect. If you haven’t played it then do so. I’m terrible at games and I still love it!

    Still haven’t beaten it since the HD update but I’m starting to do get more consistent at the daily challenges. One of the few games which will always be installed on my computer, a quick blast of Spelunky never fails to make me smile during the grind that is thesis writing.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      The original is friggin’ fantastic, and possibly the only platform game I finished – and I’m shit at platform games. But the challenge was just too compelling to ignore.

      Still have to try the new one for more than 15 min, I was a bit put off by the music, but the better jumping and the new content (plus people singing its praises) will eventually bring me back.

  7. BooleanBob says:

    Edge detection was probably the only flaw (or one of very few) with the freeware version of the game. Glad to hear it was fixed up for the deluxe edition. Yu deserves humongous credit for Spelunky, it really is that good.

  8. bigjig says:

    Great game, reminds me a lot of Dark Souls in terms of the philosophy behind its game design. To be honest I much prefer playing this on my Vita than I do on my PC.

  9. Eukatheude says:

    The other day I got to the black market with 50k and a shotgun. One of those fucking boomerang guys threw his fucking boomerang as soon as he appeared on my screen, and hit one merchant and me. I dodged the other merchant’s shotgun and managed to kill him, except the guy threw the boomerang again while i was recovering from being jumped by the other merchant, and killed me. There was no way i could have seen the boomerang guy before he threw it. I ragequitted. And all of it could have been prevented by just putting a single fucking tile just right of the shop.

    The next day, I got there unarmed and poor. Dark level. Said fucking boomerang guy was on the lower floor and did the same stunt on a merchant. They all went berserk. I killed everyone and stole everything. It felt glorious.
    If there had been a tile to the right of the shop, this would never have happened.

    All of this said, HD’s art style is terribad.

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      laiwm says:

      I was still feeling really clever off the back of realising I could set off arrow traps by throwing things at them when I encountered one that was facing directly into a shop…

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Yeah the non-free version is unbelievably ugly. They had an actual art style in the free one then they threw it out for random ugly “high res” “art”.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        For me it’s the music in the HD version that I don’t like. The free version had an amazingly catchy tune that I still catch myself whistling. The jazzy tracks in the new one are really a far cry from that.

  10. Ich Will says:

    Meh, it’s a decent enough game – enjoyable for 10-15 hours but this is my “I don’t get it” game. I love that a game so universally loved exists, just wish I could understand why!

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      I’m 100 % with you on this. I played and played, but lost interest. And never had the urge to return. I get the technical brilliance of it, and the learning curve. But it just didn’t grab my imagination.

      I guess to each their own. For example there are people out there who don’t cry when playing games. For me, they are my favourites: to the moon, tale of two sons, walking dead, etc.

      Live and let live! Moreover, it’s really great that games like spelunking are being made at all – I’m glad we haven’t been overrun with manshoot heaven.

      • Ich Will says:

        Oh goodness, to the moon still gets me!!! I have a cd in the car of game music, it’s been years since I played the game but within two bars of that song, I was welling up! I find journey has the same affect on me, though that was very much influenced by things that were happening in my life at the time I played it – Good to hear that the walking dead has an emotional impact too, it’s on my steam library right now but I want to save it for when I can give it the time it deserves rather than trying to play an hour at a time!

      • PopeRatzo says:

        manshoot heaven

        Is that a real game? Where can I get it? TAKE MY MONEY PLEASE!@

        • Lambchops says:

          And baby you’re looking quite shot
          When you’re dyin’ here in my arms
          I’m finding it hard not to heave
          Manshoot heaven

          A pistol is all that I need
          And I found it there on your corpse
          I sure hope it’s bound to key three
          Manshoot heaven

          (absolutely no apologies to Bryan Adams, he should never be forgiven for Everything I Do!)

    • Damien Stark says:

      For me the problem is just that I fundamentally don’t get on with the “make no progress ever” core of roguelikes. Wait, stop writing your tirade, I understand the point is that my own skill as a player progresses. I just don’t like it.

      There’s plenty of super difficult games where you die constantly – take Hotline Miami or Dark Souls. Either one, you’re able to make progress through the dying, so that after you die you’re starting on a later level/area. Then the intended behavior is to play on from there, until reaching the next point you can save/restart.

      Spelunky, even if if eventually allows you to shortcut a little bit, is not designed for you to use that ability. You need/want the money earned in the earlier/easier levels to gear up, so a proper playthrough always restarts at the beginning. You’ll play the first few levels a million times before making it to the end.

      I get that’s exactly the point, working as designed, it’s just a design that doesn’t do it for me.

  11. AngelTear says:

    This is the kind of game I tend to avoid like the plague, like I do most MMOs and like I failed to do with LoL. It’s not that I don’t think this is good, I’m actually afraid that I may enjoy it too much and I may get addicted to it.

    I have limited time for gaming, and I don’t want to take even more time away from other more important activities. And in my game library there’s so many games I have yet to play that I feel are more valuable because they’d make me a better human being, to an extent, while this will just give me fun and mechanical mastery. I know I’d play it, enjoy it, get addicted to it, and it’d take me months to pass on to other games, and I’d hate myself for it. It’s not that it’s not fun, but it’s the kind of fun that, in large amounts, will bring me to think I’m wasting my time on something ultimately meaningless and shallow, with that fake sense of progression that doesn’t actually mean anything to you as a person.

    Goodbye Spelunky, if time wasn’t so limited, it’d have been nice to get to know you.

    • ankh says:

      Progression in Spelunky means a lot to me as a person. Also “more important activities”?! Please elaborate.

      • AngelTear says:

        I may find it hard to explain myself in a short comment to someone whose ethical framework is so different from mine to make you say that “Progression in Spelunky means a lot to me as a person”, unless your objective in life is being a pro-gamer or something of the sort, or unless you analyze it while having in mind a dream of being a game designer like Alec.

        I think fictional words are only valuable insofar as they lead back to real life, somehow, usually because you learned something (in the most loose sense of learning, from a concept to a simple experience or emotion). In my view games like Spelunky, or (most) MMOs, or MOBAs, are created purely “for fun”, with (next to) no learning value, and as such, they should be relegated to those downtimes that everyone physiologically needs from more important (and often stressful) activities. On the other hand, Spelunky being so fun, it’d make me addicted and cross that boundary and invade my whole life, diverting my attention and energies from said activities. So, while it’d most certainly be fun, it’d leave me dissatisfied with myself, with a sense that I’m wasting my time, so it’d be an ethically negative force in my life.

        As far as what those “more valuable activities” are, they are subjective to a degree, but they always have to do with real life. For me personally, anything that involves learning and/or creating is valuable. (Read/Write a good book. Study philosophy. Do some volunteering.) Anything that improves yourself as a human being -body heart and mind – or helps improve others. Consequently, in my view, the sense of progression in Spelunky that you feel is ultimately illusory, because intrinsically tied to a fictional world that has no value, and in real life it translates purely to mastery of the game controls, which is meaningless unless you can link it to an exception like those above, of a dream of being a game designer etc.

        I hope it was clear and exhaustive and didn’t come off as offensive to anyone by any means.

        • drewski says:

          I think s/he was being a little tongue in cheek…

          • AngelTear says:

            Now that you point it out, I see how that could be, but considering I know many people who’d reply in the same way, I thought it was better to answer “seriously” =)

          • ankh says:

            Yes I wasnt being particularly serious. I laughed at the bit where you listed studying philosophy as a more meaningful activity, so thanks for that :)

        • Ich Will says:

          Ankh didn’t sound offended, seemed like he was being light hearted to me.

          It is worth asking though, even though a sense of progression in a game is, let’s say fictional (Probably the wrong word, but the one that makes sense to me), the sense of achievement is real. Your brain chemistry really does change and the sensations of pleasure and other positive sensations can change how you perceive, interact with and feel about other aspects of your life – does that not hold value?

          It seems like you believe that reading a book is somehow ethically better than playing a game and I can’t quite get my head around that idea. What if the book is electronic and the game is text based?What if the book is pure fiction and the game is educational?

          • AngelTear says:

            I said “good book” =P I admit it could be misunderstood, but I didn’t want to make the post even longer. What I meant, more or less, is this:
            Writing as a whole (not simply literature) is a more mature and “intelligent” medium, and most innovative and interesting ideas are still firstly communicated through books or a digital equivalent. Doesn’t mean that there’s no books that are written for “pure fun” without any message, but it’s a comparatively smaller number. On the other hand, there’s plenty of games, even if a minority, that are very much ‘valuable’ in that same sense (Gone Home; The Longest Journey; Lone Survivor; Metal gear Solid; Bioshock) the line then gets blurred, but these are clear cut examples for me.

            As far as the sense of achievement being a real chemical process, to me it goes back to “It should be relegated to downtimes in between more valuable activities”. Or I could tell you: Masturbating is very pleasurable and the sensations are very much real, so, assuming you never got tired of it, would you spend your whole life masturbating? My answer would be, same as above, that I’d feel like I was wasting my time and my potential.

            If it affects your sense of self or others that much, you are using the game as a medicine, not as a game. But I wonder if that would even work effectively, or if you’d soon discover that your own insecurities or whatever was holding you back are still there, because you haven’t worked on those things that made you feel insecure in the first place.

          • Illessa says:

            Writing as a whole (not simply literature) is a more mature and “intelligent” medium, and most innovative and interesting ideas are still firstly communicated through books or a digital equivalent.

            Eh, I disagree; this is just Sturgeons Law. 90% of everything is crud, and with freely available tools & the internet, it’s become more like 99.99%. The written word’s wide accessibility and several-millenia headstart have just given a bigger pool of actually good stuff to potentially float to the top.
            And yes, a lot of ideas are expressed in writing before becoming something else, but again I think that’s just a matter of convenience than any innate superiority as a medium (and I think a lot of artists in other mediums would say that they can’t satisfactorily express their ideas in writing, that’s why they don’t write!)
            Even taking a rather po-faced view of value (and skipping twine and other free games cause we’d be here all day) I’d say I got something out of The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, The Swapper, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, The Swapper, Kentucky Route Zero, Hate Plus, Papers Please, Shelter and The Novelist, and that’s just the things released this year that I got around to, seems pretty good going to me.

            I also strongly disagree that understanding of game design is useless if you’re not intending to make games. I have zero talent for songwriting/composition, so I’m unlikely to become a musician, but I’ve picked up some music theory and I think that was absolutely time well spent, my time looking at game design is no different, it just contributes to my being a well rounded person with a variety of interests. Hell, If anything game design is more valuable as its tied up in a whole heap of systems thinking and psychology which can absolutely help in understanding the more practical ends of those subjects, whether directly or by analogy.

            If it affects your sense of self or others that much, you are using the game as a medicine, not as a game. But I wonder if that would even work effectively, or if you’d soon discover that your own insecurities or whatever was holding you back are still there, because you haven’t worked on those things that made you feel insecure in the first place.

            The thing with Spelunky is it’s not just a case of memorising the rules and mastery of the controls. Maybe if you’re a top tier player, but the game doesn’t really handhold you, so when you’re just learning the ropes, your best assets are observance, adaptability, lateral thinking and a healthy sense risk-vs-reward. Abstract skills for sure, but real skills that are worthwhile and extremely satisfying to exercise.
            Personally, I only play the daily challenge, where I’m competing with/learning alongside a couple of other Spelunky noobs, which has been a great experience. So for 10-30 minutes out of my day, I’d say it’s totally paid back in my feelings for others too, having brought me closer to a couple of really good friends :).

          • AngelTear says:

            My examples are often flawed because they are not perfect analogies, they’re just useful to get the point across. If you can find some real-life application of what you do in the game, like you did, then by all means do. (But you should also be thinking if that’s a reasonably efficient way to exercise those skills/learn those things etc) Just as long as you’re honest with yourself and what you are doing and your motivations. And I’m pessimistic about the number of players that honestly engage with any game like you say you did with Spelunky

            Example: I started playing The Secret World to engage with its world, because I knew Ragnar Tornquist was involved and that it’d be interesting. By 50 hours of game time, I had finished engaging with the world and started treating the game as pure mechanics, as mindless fun. By 100 hours, I realized that that change had happened, but my playtime has gone up to 600 hours (a good 10 hours a day) before I could honestly stop myself from playing. In all that time, I collected lore pieces because it was a collectible, and I never read them. Way to engage with the game-world. My motivations had changed, I wasn’t being honest with myself, and even when I was, it was extremely hard to put it all into practice and stop playing.

            It was fun (Or I wouldn’t have played), and I miss it to an extent, but I also deeply regret spending 500 of those 600 hours the way I did. Self-deception is way easier than it should be. God should study level design and balance the difficulty =)

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          laiwm says:

          Not really sure what you mean by it being a “false progression”? If progression in Spelunky is false because it’s not tied to the real world, then all games should be a waste of time to you – but I’ll assume that’s not the case, seeing as you’re commenting on a PC games site.
          I personally get put off bullet-hell shooters and other games where memorisation is the key to progress, which I see as a more false progression. In Spelunky, you start from scratch every time you die, facing a totally different challenge, but hopefully with a little more knowledge than last time. You’re always learning when you play it – I think the debate as to whether game-learning is equivalent to real-world-learning is separate.

          • AngelTear says:

            Actually, I exactly touched on that game-learning vs real-world-learning. It’s not that it is not tied to the real world that makes it false, it’s that progression achieved in Spelunky cannot be meaningfully brought back into the real world, other than in the form of “I can master the joystick” or “I understand game design better”, and these are valuable only if you are considering being a pro gamer, or a game designer respectively.

            There’s plenty of literature on the idea that reading certain kinds of literature, with mindfulness and attention, can contribute to your making better moral/ethical decisions. In gaming terms, consider how playing Gone Home (admittedly not so “gamey”, but it’s the clearest example I can think of) may make you a more compassionate person, how playing Papers Please can make you truly understand how a certain kind of society and circumstances affects your decision-making in ways you thought impossible. These are cases in which progression in the game can be clearly brought back in the real-world you, therefore making you a better person.

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            laiwm says:

            I haven’t played Gone Home, but I totally get what you mean about Papers Please – it encourages the player to think critically about real world systems by emulating them, which is why it’s great. Kind of a sidenote, but it’s also important in that it’s a rare game that critiques the real world in a way that a book or a movie can’t – the game’s systems are tied to its message. I’d disagree with what you said about MGS and Bioshock above (I don’t think they said anything particularly interesting despite being well-told stories, and I think what they did have to say could be said better through another medium).

            Spelunky is more of pure game though, all about the systems. It’s analogous to the strain of literature which plays with words for their own sake – like House of Leaves (to an extent) or some of the more semiotics-obsessed poetry of Tricia Lockwood. Although it doesn’t say anything about the world, it’s the type of game that advances the medium and refines its tools, so people who *do* have something to say are able to say it better.

          • Hypocee says:

            The frustrating thing about your taking this stance on this particular game is, Spelunky’s more or less the single game so far that I feel can actually make a player a better, stronger, happier person through play (rather than narrative empathy) – by retuning their responses to adversity, temptation, investment and prediction.

            link to

        • ankh says:

          I don’t understand why I have to have ambitions of becoming a game designer for me to enjoy getting better at Spelunky and it’s definitely not illusion. I just found your comment rather odd for someone commenting on a gaming blog. Anyway… the time it took you to type out these two comments could have been better spent playing Spelunky.

          • AngelTear says:

            The short answer is: I don’t like escapism, I think it’s bad, and I think as a Gamer I’m always at risk of falling in it.

          • almostDead says:

            I see, you wanted to talk about masturbation the whole time.

          • ankh says:

            I think I have a better understanding of your point now after I’ve read your December 12 blog post although I really can’t relate at all. Where do you draw the line though? Isn’t all gaming meaningless escapism?

            Edit: Sorry I see you did explain where you draw the line. tldr

          • leafdot says:

            Re: not liking escapism.

            All well and fair, for you, but compassion is an important human trait, too. And I learned a long time ago it’s bad karma to critique how others get through a hard fought day. Maybe keep that in mind going forward.

            Or not! Who am I to judge?

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Long posts. Imagine how much Spelunky you could have played in the time it took to write those ;) .

    • ffordesoon says:

      I must confess, I find the idea that games without meaning in a liberal-arts context are “meaningless” irritating. I’m not complaining; it’s fine to prefer a certain type of game, which is all you really said.

      But, well, this.

  12. Lambchops says:

    Side topic, what item would you be saddest to receive in a mystery box?

    My vote goes to the web gun. Nigh on useless, I’d far rather just have a rock.

    Teleporter is my most under used, I feel it should be really useful but on the rare occasions I’ve got it I’ve just ended up killing myself.

    Jetpack is obviously the bestest.

    • Will Tomas says:

      Parachute or Teleporter. Web gun can be useful to give yourself a higher jump (shoot it just below that ledge that’s too high and you can jump into the web and boost yourself up…)

      • Lambchops says:

        Ooh, never thought of using the web gun like that, cunning!

        Parachute has saved my life a couple of times but 9 times out of 10 I forget I even have one until it forlornly opens as I plummet into the abyss in the ice caves!

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          laiwm says:

          Pfft, check you out humblebragging about dying in the ice caves ;P

    • airtekh says:

      Probably the spectacles for me.

      At the moment I’m always picking up the Udjat Eye in the Mines so I can go on a Hell run. Getting the specs in a crate or mystery box makes me sad, because the udjat eye does the same job – and it helps you find the black market.

      • drewski says:

        Specs give you bonus light distance in dark levels, so they’re not quite as useless as say, the teleporter.

    • Turkey says:

      The climbing gloves, cause you can’t even get rid of them.

      God, I hate the climbing gloves.

      • drewski says:

        You will, in time, come to peace with the climbing gloves.

      • Oozo says:

        I love them! Obviously, they make you much more mobile in every level, but they really shine in the ice level — since the walls that limit the level right and left are freely accessible and climbable there, the gloves are the next best thing to a jetpack — they get you almost everywhere in that level and save you from many a “blind” drop into the abyss.

        Anyway, it is further proof of the thoughfulness of the design that almost every tool can be used by proficient players. (The most hardcore speedruns are done with a teleporter, in a way that I still could not completely get my head around, to use another example.)

        • Turkey says:

          I’ll admit, they are fantastic for getting around, but I’ve been hurt so many times by bats because of being stuck to a one block tall ledge and not realizing it.

    • MarkN says:

      If you want to see the teleporter used to devastating effect then watch this speed run where a guy completes the game – via hell – in a tad over five minutes. It’s astonishing (and not just for the teleporter hijinks). Me I tend to smear myself all over the scenery if I use it, but I do mean to have a practice because it’s my best shot at getting the speed run achievemnt myself.

      • Lambchops says:

        That guy is incredibly good at Spelunky!

        I just never get far if I anger the shopkeeper’s, which I guess is pretty essential if you want to have enough bombs to do that sort of thing.

  13. Nim says:

    What a coincidence, today I finally uninstalled the game after having played it over 150 Hours and unlocking all achievements. I feel like I have finished Spelunky for now and can move on to other projects.

  14. Shieldmaiden says:

    I just don’t get Spelunky. I’ve tried playing it on several occasions, but nothing about it grabs me. I quite like 2D platformers, but the way the game is described as some kind of transcendental experience, it seems as though that shouldn’t even matter.

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      Harlander says:

      Don’t worry. It’s OK to not like things.

    • ankh says:

      Most of us played Spelunky for the first time without expectations of a transcendental experience that makes genres suddenly not matter. That probably makes a difference, especially on first impressions.

    • draglikepull says:

      I don’t really get it either. Maybe it’s just because I played it with a keyboard and I’m not very good at it, but I don’t really see what the appeal is. It strikes me as being very similar to a lot of boring NES games but with HD art and random levels. But maybe I’m just looking for different things in games than the people who like Spelunky are. I don’t play games to prove myself or surpass difficult challenges, I play (usually) to relax and have fascinating experiences that I can’t have in the real world.

  15. lowprices says:

    2013 has been the year I got well and truly obsessed with Roguelikelikelikelikes. Dungeons of Dredmor, Risk of Rain (completed on normal for the first time last night!) and Rogue Legacy, with one beady eye on Teleglitch if it comes up in the Steam sale. But Spelunky stands above all of them for me. It’s one of the games where I’ll say “One more game” until about 2 in the morning, even though I think I’ve only completed it 9 times in 250+ attempts, and only made it to (secret level) once.

  16. Turkey says:

    My GOTY of 2013 as well.

    It’s the perfect break game.There usually isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t play a round or two.

  17. BarneyL says:

    Facts we know about Alec:
    He bought a PS Vita to play Spelunky during a 12 hour hospital stay.
    He is the father of a young child which I will assume was born in hospital.


    • lowprices says:

      Are… are you suggesting Spelunky got Alec pregnant?

      Because that would explain so much.

  18. PopeRatzo says:

    Thank goodness. I was really worried that this would be the RPS game of the year and I’d have to feel awful for not being as impressed as everyone else. It’s not a bad game. I just hate 2D platformers in 2013 is all.

  19. jonfitt says:

    Ice Caves, Hell, what are you talking about? Also what game are those screenshots from at the top of the page?

    Spelunky is a game in a mine that (I assume based on the first three levels) keeps generating random mine levels. I imagine that some experts manage to get through 5 or 6 stages of it without dying, but based on my experience probably not very many.

    • Damien Stark says:

      You’re correct sir, that’s the game I played as well.

  20. realitysconcierge says:

    This has got to be the year of the roguelike, for RPS at least ;)

  21. mineshaft says:

    I first ran across this beautiful game in 2013 as well. Coming off The Binding of Isaac, which I devoted substantial time to, I was curious to see its forebear.

    Spelunky is a witch’s brew of emergent situations. It reveals itself slowly. There is nothing of gameplay relevance to unlock. only skill stands between you and the end of the game. So Spelunky is all about knowledge, analysis, and action.

    There is no deeper meaning to be had in Spelunky, any more than there is in Tetris or Super Mario. It would not make sense to make Spelunky: The Movie. Indiana Jones has it covered anyway.

    Spelunky is an experience that only games can bring you. It is a masterpiece.

  22. BadBannana says:

    I’m guessing the Two Brothers game is going to win

  23. chrislindores says:

    I played Spelunky solidly last weekend and loved it, but I haven’t played it since as I can’t ever see myself managing to get the sodding key from the mines to the end of the ice caves. The grinding for the shotgun in the jungle was enjoyable, but I feel like it’s going to take months before I succeed with the ridiculous key-based shortcut requirement.

    I know I just need to stick at it and I’ll get there eventually, but most of my gaming time is currently absorbed by playing support in Dota2 pub games (mainly because I hate myself).

    • Lambchops says:

      Doesn’t matter, the Temple is impossible* starting from the shortcut. It’s far more likely you’ll have a good run starting from the mines as that gives enough time to find some decent items or build up a supply of health/bombs. Heading straight into the temple with only bombs/rope is asking for trouble as you’ll inevitable have to use most of them killing and avoiding enemies on the first temple level.

      *For players like me, I don’t know about those freakishly good people. Oh and I guess you could get lucky and get a hold of a powerful weapon early on in the Temple that would see you through.

  24. ffordesoon says:

    I probably put more time into Spelunky than any other game this year – except maybe Animal Crossing. And I enjoyed Spelunky for longer, so there.

    I disagree about it being perfect, though it’s about as close as any game ever released. But you can very occasionally get stuck on an edge for a little too long and get killed because of it. It’s the one time in the whole game where it feels like your death wasn’t your fault. It is, however, the kind of game that requires you to be unconscionably nitpicky before arriving at an actual flaw.

    Y’all are wrong, though. Vita version is best version. No game benefits from pixel-perfect portability more than Spelunky.

  25. kdz says:

    The crawl animation is just the cutest thing, I think.