I keep playing Caveblazers [official site], stopping between lives only to message people to complain about Caveblazers. The roguelike-platformer has so many systems I find frustrating or unsatisfactory, but one big thing that keeps drawing me back.
RPS Feature I love it despite frustrations
Sometimes, a developer’s last game hints at their next one. Other times, the programmer of Spelunky HD announces a basketball beat ’em up. Say hallo to Dunk Lords [official site], jamming our way in 2018. This is a delightful surprise, and not just because of that name. The slam-jamming shakalaka ’em up boasts 2v2 b-balling action with fisticuffs, special moves, and environmental hazards, which sounds a lark. Read the rest of this entry »
RPS Feature No free-to-play, just free.
RPS Feature How to cheat and prosper
We’ve all been there. When a puzzle is so obtuse you can’t even begin to work out how to solve it. When you’ve been searching for the next bonfire in a Dark Souls game for hours on end. When you’ve committed to finding a game’s scattered collectibles and one proves a bit too well hidden. Wikis and guides can replace hours of frustration with a few seconds of Googling, making up for an oversight on the part of a game dev or the occasional brain fart on the part of the player.
They can also leach the fun out of games. Looking up solutions can quickly devolve into a paint-by-numbers experience, with almost as much time spent alt-tabbed as playing a game. The moment that door is opened, there’s a danger that any sense of challenge or discovery will be lost. So, how do you decide when turning to external sources such as guides, FAQs, Wikis and search engines is worth the risk?
The latest Humble Bundle is a good’un, with games including Spelunky, Rocket League, Nidhogg, and Skullgirls going cheap. The first three of those are modern PC classics, I’d say, and Skullgirls isn’t half-bad either. The Humble Revelmode Bundle has more games too, obvs.
RPS Feature Never say goodbye,
As much as PC gaming hardware has changed and improved over the years, there’s always been one constant: the limitations of disk space. Granted, it’s far cheaper and easier (no more absurdly tiny Master/Slave toggles) than it used to be to grab a new hard drive, but the rise of ever-faster but more expensive SSDs set things back a bit in that regard. With new mainstream games regularly asking for as much as 30 Gigabytes I remain, as I always have, in a battle for space. Which means I’m constantly uninstalling half-finished stuff in order to make space for the next big thing. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But there’s a line. There are a few games I can never uninstall, because it would hurt too much. Granted, they change a little over the years – new ones come in, old ones finally, finally lose their lustre (or I give up entirely on the belief that I will ever go back), but here’s how that list of inviolable treasures looks right now.
RPS Feature From code to chaos
This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites a developer to help him put their game up on blocks and take a wrench to hack out its best feature, just to see how it works.
The arrow trap that shoots the croc man that causes him to telefrag you. Being caught mid-jump by a boomerang that juggles you towards a spike trap, leaving you stunned in front of it until it springs. Shopstorm.
These are not necessarily the noblest events in Spelunky, but they’re surprising, funny, fascinating, and entirely consistent and logical and correct. They might not be exactly your fault, but neither are they, really, the game’s fault. They’re the result of a big reason – the big reason? – why Spelunky is amazing:
THE MECHANIC: How every object in Spelunky has shared fundamental traits
I’m used to Spelunky [official site] speedruns being filled with incredible feats, but the “No Gold True Pacifist Hell Run” below is a thing of wonder. To clarify: entering into the game’s Hell world requires obtaining the Ankh from the Black Market, killing Anubis for his staff, killing Olmec, and completing the game requires killing Yama in hell. How do you kill things without violence? Well, you’ll see.
RPS Feature Team RPS chooses the must-buy games from among thousands
There are thousands and thousands and thousands and oh God help thousands of games discounted in the current Steam Winter sale. Honestly, it’s ridiculous. Where do you start? Where do you end? How many will you ever really play? How many do you have to buy in order to discover the secret Half-Life 3 release date? Well, we can’t help with the more existential aspects of that, but if you’re entirely stuck on what to get, what we can do is tell you which single game each member of the RPS staff would pick from the vast and endless digital discount shelves.
These, as far as we’re concerned, are the games you must must must pick up in the sale if you don’t have ’em already.
I inch my way through Spelunky [official site], trying to get a read on the layout of each randomised cavern. Caution doesn’t always breed success and I rarely reach the ice levels, let alone the hellscape beneath. It’s both chastening and invigorating to begin a weary Friday morning by watching a speedrun that sets a new world record – from start to finish in 3:44. The runner is D Tea and he shatters the previous 3:52 record for a true ending. As well as being an impressive feat, like most things Spelunky, it exposes the workings of the various systems – from the fury of shopkeepers to the arrangement of tiles – in fascinating new ways.
RPS Feature Searching for a cure
Provided you’re not hoofing around on a dancemat, wiggling your Wii-stick, or re-enacting all of your favourite John Woo films with a lightgun in hand, playing games shouldn’t be particularly arduous. When I was a kid, a day off school with some vague illness was a perfect excuse to spend a couple of hours at the altar of Doom. Playing games while wrapped in a duvet was pretty much the entire point of being ill.
Now that I’m An Old Man, I find that I struggle to play games when I’m ill. Maybe that’s because Old Man illnesses are actually real, unlike the sniffles and pangs of youth, or perhaps it’s because even a sniffle can fell a fragile frame, laid low by booze and time. I’ve been trying to find games that can provide respite in times of sickness.
RPS Feature Descent of a Woman
Each week Marsh Davies shuffles apprehensively into the dank catacombs of Early Access and returns with any stories he can find and/or a faceful of cycloptic bat guano. This week he quaffs an unidentified cyan potion and throws himself onto a bed of spikes, repeatedly, in procedural permadeath platformer Vagante, a particularly Roguish Spelunkalike.
Did you play Spelunky and think, “What this really needs is to be a lot darker, with several additional layers of complication and a much less parseable tileset”? Somebody out there did, and judging by the wholly positive Steam reviews, at least 68 other folk did as well.
I can’t claim to be one of these strange, troglodytic creatures, but then I also must confess that it took me many concerted attempts before I finally fell beneath Spelunky’s subterranean charm. Maybe it’ll happen with Vagante. It hasn’t quite yet – although some several dozen misadventures later, I am warming to it. It manages that rare trick, as Spelunky did, of making failure the most entertaining part. It’s certainly the most plentiful. My sorties into the underworld have ended in the digestive cavities of man-eating plants, as demon-dog dinners, beneath boulders, in spike-pits and in pieces, thanks to the Bandit King’s axe. But throughout, my most dangerous enemy has been myself – my incaution, my stupidity, my insatiable desire to immediately glug every pungent, bubbling concoction I find in the bottom of a barrel. If I discover a helmet made out of jelly, I’m wearing it. And then, when I realise it’s cursed, I’m going to drink my unidentified inventory dry, set myself on fire, and teleport into a pool of piranhas.
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.
I’ve had a copy of ZZT by Anna Anthropy – a book about the game of the same name – kicking around for six months, but I haven’t yet had the time to read it. That prompted me to almost instantly scroll by news that the same publisher was Kickstarting a second series of books in the same vein: small, independently published, and each focused on a different game.
Then I saw that one of the books in the second series is about Spelunky. And it’s written by Derek Yu, the creator of Spelunky. And the project is already funded anyway.
RPS Feature On Design
Spelunky is, I think, better designed than any other roguelike, platformer, or roguelike platformer. It’s not because it’s a work of genre revivalism. It’s not the procedural generation, which jumbles level geometry upon every funny, frequent, fist-shaking demise.
It’s the bats. The bat, found in its opening world, is a dimly flapping lense through which the entire game can be better appreciated.
The original Spelunky – the free, low resolution Game Maker-made Classic version – is open source. That means it can be broadly modified, which is what Ukrainian programmer Vadim has done in Spelunky SD. The project merges features from the polished remake Spelunky HD with the lo-fi original, most notably adding two-player, online cooperative multiplayer.
Oh dear, I’m going to have to buy one of those Xbone pads now that they’re PC-friendly, aren’t I? Too often lately I’ve scowled at a game only to find that it improves immeasurably when played with a gamepad instead. Last week it was Watchunderscoredogs (still a bit dull though, innit?), this week it’s indie Metroid/Spelunky mash-up Crystal Catacombs. All ready to dismiss it, I was, as its core wall-jumping mechanic was a miserable and oft-fatal chore when hung around the space bar, but now I’m rather taken with its odd creatures and caverns and its gently punishing aRPG qualities.
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If you’d rather not read spoilers on whether a cool mod exists, you’d better stop reading this sentence right now because – SPOILERS – it does. If you’d rather not be spoiled as to the name of that mod, you’d probably be better off not reading the rest of this post, really. Because – SPOILERS – it’s called the Blue Frog mod. It’s for Spelunky, and it turns every character sprite in that game – the player, plants, bats, exploding frogs, the ghost, everything – into the blue frog sprite. That sounds initially dumb, but actually it’s clever and great. If you don’t want spoilers as to why, you definitely shouldn’t read on.
Do you want to compete against your friends at Spelunky, the randomly generated platforming roguelike? That’s what the Daily Challenge is for; each day, a single set of levels is generated which is the same for everyone and which can be played only once.
But if once isn’t enough to satisfy your competitive urges, there’s now Seedlunky HD. The user-created tool lets you set a custom seed from which to generate levels, which you can then share with your friends while you continue to compare your adventures.
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