Have You Played… Spelunky?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I know the cause of every single one of my thousands of deaths in Spelunky. I died down that snake pit because I frittered away my bombs and ropes, leaving me with no way to escape. I died to that inanimate rock because I drifted down towards it with the jetpack when it was being propelled into the air by a jump pad. I died to that blue frog because I overestimated the extent of its jump.

I died because I am not good enough at negotiating the roguelike platformer’s strict rules. Not yet.

Those rules are really something. Everything about Spelunky’s procedurally generated world is predictable, from enemy movements to trap speeds. The trick to mastering progression through the game is in closing the gap between your ability to mentally simulate what’s about to happen and your ability to execute whatever plan you come up with. The plan: drop down on that spike trap, jump and whip that bat, hop on the head of the caveman. The reality: drop down on that spike trap, take damage from the bat, fall in front of the spike trap, be one-hit-killed by the spike trap. Try again.

The proc gen means that each new death is varied, but also exciting. Playthroughs where you find a free jetpack on an early level feel completely different to those in which you scrape by with few resources. But it’s those rigid, predictable rules that make me keep coming back, to learn something new or to master something previously learned.

The free version is still good too.

25 Comments

  1. Dilapinated says:

    That screenshot makes me envious just looking at the top-lefthand-side. o_o

    • povu says:

      That screenshot makes me envious because I’ve never made it to that level. Still, I’ve had a ton of fun with Spelunky.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      What I like about the screenshot is that it looks like he’s in a really bad situation, but is trying to unlock a new character anyway. I did the same thing in the worm level, never completed it, but did unlock the character with a suicidal leap-whip, and that’s enough.

  2. phanatic62 says:

    I’m not very good at Spelunky, but I love it. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to anger the shopkeeper if you really want to win, but I just get wrecked every time that happens. I don’t know if I’m supposed to go in with a shotgun or what, but I get a face full of shot unless I somehow luck out and he kills himself on some spikes. So I usually just end up being a sap and buying (gasp!) the things I need.

    Like I said, I’m not very good at Spelunky.

    • Keiggo says:

      Constantly hammering him with a shotgun works a treat, as does the machete. If he has either of those in stock, you can pick it up and kill him with it (picking the item up doesn’t cause him to go nuts, leaving the shop with it will though!).

      That said, you’ll have to worry about every shopkeeper in the game from then on so good luck! I believe in you!

    • Eukatheude says:

      You can finish the game without ever hurting a shopkeeper (or pickup up a single item), if anything they can make things a lot more difficult.

    • unwashed says:

      Oh boy! Perhaps I could interest you in a tutorial?

  3. karthink says:

    I just finished a session, getting as far as the ice caves (2) this time. Mostly thanks to a fortuitous jetpack find earlier.
    It’s the furthest I’ve gotten in one year of owning the game.

    What I like about Spelunky (besides its universal systems) is the concessions it makes to the roguelike formula: the shortcuts you can pay to create. Without them I would have just abandoned this game like I did Teleglitch. I would certainly never have gotten past the forest world if I couldn’t learn its rules by going there directly and playing around.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      But Teleglitch also has a system of shortcuts, doesn’t it? Once you’ve reached certain milestone levels you can start from them whenever you want.

  4. Eukatheude says:

    Spent wayyyy too much time playing this game.
    At least I get bragging rights for beating Yama.

  5. NailBombed says:

    I love Spelunky. Unfortunately, Spelunky hates me. Goddamn bats etc.

  6. raiders5000 says:

    I played the free version. Didn’t really care for it. I’ll never play it now because of Desktop dungeons. The Goats! The GOATSSS!!!

  7. Yachmenev says:

    Of course I have. And I pity those who haven’t :).

    It’s absolutely one of the best designed games I have ever played. Everything just works so damn well together. The enemies and their movements, the enviroments, the randomness and the predictable. The best games are the ones where even loosing is fun, and this is one of those games.

  8. Puppaz says:

    Love Spelunky, especially the Daily challenge on Steam / PS3.
    It’s pretty much the perfect platform game, the more you play the more everything feels connected and right.
    I was never amazing at it, managed to reach hell once and died shortly afterwards, but had so much fun playing it again and again. Love the music also.

    Re: shopkeepers, you can stand a little off them, whip them, lose one health but if you’re quick you can pick up their own shotgun and blast them to death before they get up (there’s a better version where you jump+whip them and don’t lose the health but I never got the hang of it). It does mean they’re out to get you after this though, so it isn’t always the best course of action I’ve found (but it’s more fun!)

  9. MellowKrogoth says:

    Love Spelunky. The procedural generation is so well done that levels somehow always feel new, it constantly keeps you on your toes with things like snakes in pots, and its simple physics plus the ability to throw everything are a constant source of hilarity.

    Don’t like the music of the new version though, the chiptune track of the free version is still in my head.

  10. drewski says:

    Yeah, it was my GotY last year. Phenomenal game, so perfectly and precisely designed.

  11. plugmonkey says:

    I don’t get on with the ghost. I understand what it’s there for, but it comes in too early for me. In this sort of game, I like to take a moment to come up with a plan, because then when the plan backfires horribly, it’s funny. Because it’s my fault.

    If I’m forced to charge head first into situations, my death is generally caused by me charging head first into the situation, which isn’t as funny.

    I don’t want hours to explore each level, I just want enough time to establish a poorly conceived, cockamamy plan, but if I do that the ghost always seems to cut in an infuriating ten or fifteen seconds too early.

    • unit 3000-21 says:

      Same. I think that if it weren’t timed I would adore that game. The way it is I stopped playing after a few hours.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        I suspect you’re far from alone, but I personally don’t get that at all. It confuses me the same way as when people complain about the rebel fleet in FTL putting you under a time limit. I feel like Spelunky would lose a fair bit of the challenge and, by extension, the fun, the point, if there were no ghost.

        • unit 3000-21 says:

          I think it just gives me too little time. I enjoyed FTL because the rebel fleet’s arrival wasn’t so swift, but with the ghost I felt that I didn’t even start playing when he appeared.

        • plugmonkey says:

          The Rebel Fleet doesn’t put you under a time limit, it puts you under a turn limit, so I can sit there and ponder my route for a while if I fancy – but I get your point.

          However, as I said, I understand why the ghost is there. It would ruin Spelunky for everyone if you could painstakingly mine each level for every last resource. For me though, it seems to come in before I’ve even drawn breath. Complaining about the Rebel Fleet existing would be very different from complaining if it pursued you so fast you had to go direct to the exit by the shortest possible route on every map – which would also ruin FTL entirely.

          The nearest analogy I can think of is the people who chase you in Mirror’s Edge, who I found similarly featured too heavily in my experience. I can see why they need to shoot at me: to make me run. Do they actually need to shoot me so much though?

          Basically, I think the people who love Spelunky are the ones who play at a tempo where the ghost hardly features. I think you could slow down his entry a little and not upset that tempo, but also bring my tempo into the sweet zone.

    • itsbenderingtime says:

      There is a modded executable for the free version out there that takes the ghost out. That’s the only way that I’ll play.

  12. acheron says:

    Spelunky is fantastic. I did finally beat the regular boss, the stone head one. Never got to Hell though. Maybe I should pick it back up…

  13. richtaur says:

    This might be the only game on Xbox 360 that I 100% achievement’d’ed’d. It’s almost perfect.

  14. Bobtree says:

    I have, and won the original and remake multiple times, and I’ve been to all the sub-zones except for Hell, and even had a lucky (but short) run with the Plasma Cannon. Thinking about Spelunky now is making me wish that Risk of Rain had procedural levels.