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A Game That Will Kill You...Often - Spelunky Review
There were games back on the Nintendo Entertainment System that were just punishing. They were fun, they were addictive, but they were also brutal. Deathtraps were literally strewn about the entire game, health and lives were a precious commodity, and strategy, memorization, and patience were required to get at least halfway through these games. Spelunky is a downloadable indie game that harkens back to those old-school experiences, and despite its permanent death factor, it makes you want to come back for more over and over again.
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Gameplay - Flow of the Game and Permanent Death
In today’s gaming era, Spelunky manages to break a mold and is actually a unique experience unlike anything seen in recent memory. You guide an explorer through different levels of a cave and collect treasure, kill snakes and undead skeletons, save helpless damsels, and die. And while some gamers may be a bit confused by that last factor, it’s actually important for you to realize that you will die throughout your Spelunky experience more times than you’ll be able to remember.
In fact, the key to really enjoying Spelunky is knowing that fatality is commonplace. If you go into this gaming experience expecting to get through the entire game after a few tries—or at all—you’ll have a harder time enjoying it, and you may not want anything to do with it after the first few play sessions. If you go into Spelunky expecting to die and embracing the fact that this game was designed to kill the main protagonist, then you will find an amazingly enthralling experience.
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Gameplay - The Freedom of Spelunky
Part of what makes Spelunky so great is the freedom in each of its levels. You must study your surroundings and make sure you avoid pitfalls and traps, but how you go about clearing each stage is entirely up to you. If you want to blow up walls and cut across the stage, you can do so. If you want to collect all of the treasure in each level, you can. You can even visit shops in some levels and try to steal the shopkeepers’ goods. Granted not paying for items will cause the shopkeepers to chase after you with a shotgun, but the way you play is entirely up to you.
Then there are the damsels that require rescuing. You can rescue these maidens if you want, or you can leave them to perish in the caves. You can even take them along with you, and if you see a trap in front of you, toss them forward so that they set it off and take the hit. Spelunky is just that crazy. If you’re low on health, however, you may want to rescue them, because at the end of each stage, they’ll restore one hit point. Again, death is a recurring gameplay element in Spelunky, and you can’t recover health once you clear a level unless you save a damsel.
The fact that your character only has one life is something that may bother some gamers, because once you die, it’s back to the start. Luckily, the level order changes every single time you play, so level one won’t always be the same stage. This is definitely a welcome gameplay element, and one that makes it even more enticing to play the game multiple times.
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Graphics and Sound
Spelunky has a nice retro look to it. The game’s graphical design brings back memories of the NES era, and it would easily fit in with the video games of old. Everything has a classic, pixilated look to it, and the design is very clean. The color palette consists primarily of browns, and there are some greens, yellows, and reds sprinkled in for variety. Simply put, the graphical design is simple, clean, and effective.
The game’s sound composition is equally simple, consisting of just a handful of themes. These tracks are unbelievably catchy, and it’s kind of a shame that creator Derek Yu didn’t include more music, because what’s there is really good, there’s just not a lot of it. In addition to the catchy though limited soundtrack, you’ll hear bloops and blips whenever you collect coins or kill giant spiders.
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Gamers that don’t have an open mind for different concepts may not enjoy this title for longer than a play session or two. Those who are able to understand that death is common and ever-occurring, however, will have a blast with Spelunky for a very long time. The game saves your death count, and it is very common to see that number increasing rapidly. This is because when you play Spelunky, you will die often, but you will also feel the need to replay the game often. This title features 20 levels, and with their order changing every time you play, every single playthrough feels different.
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Spelunky Overall Score
Spelunky may not be for everyone. Gamers who require high standards of structure in their games may not get as much of a kick out of this game as gamers who enjoy offbeat, challenging games. Those who give the game a chance and understand it for what it is, though, will come back to it 20 times, then 50 times, then 100 times. It’s just that fun and that addictive. Derek Yu has created something special here: an ode to punishing old-school titles that feels fresh and modern.