The platformer’s resurgence, particularly in the indie space, is a fantastic thing to see. When it arrived on the scene all those years ago, Spelunky added to the ever-growing list of excellent titles in the genre. Originally released as a free game on PC in 2009, Developer Derek Yu (or Mossmouth) brought the cave-exploratory experience to Xbox Live Arcade last year, and has now topped that version with Spelunky’s latest incarnation.
Just released on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, fans now have the definitive version literally in the palm of their hands. Spelunky is yet another great example of Sony re-tooling their handheld to become the indie haven of gamers across the globe.
The uneducated could be forgiven for looking at the cutesy visuals of Spelunky and anticipating a run-of-the-mill exercise in jumping across gaps of varying distance and bouncing atop their enemies’ heads. However, procedurally generated environments ask a lot of the player because death is frequent and levels can’t be memorised for an easier route to victory. Enemy positioning, loot placement and the doorway that signifies the conclusion of each stage are very rarely – if ever – to be found in the same spot twice. This design choice is the most prominent feature of the game and, because of it, the hours of enjoyment are almost infinite. Yet, each session will regularly only last a couple of minutes due to the challenge that spelunkers face every time they go treasure hunting.
Not for the easily irritable, Spelunky’s desire to maim, impale and slaughter its adventurous Harrison Ford-alike lead character is something that players have to learn about, very quickly. There are certainly plenty of worlds to encounter, but chances are that most will only ever see the initial Mine area. It asks a lot of the player, sure, but with every death, knowledge of the different pitfalls is accrued. The first time a harmless-looking rock shoots an arrow through your cranium, or an unsuspecting boulder crushes your entire body because you attempted to swipe some shiny valuables, the lesson is clear: don’t let that happen again. Accountability is an important factor of Spelunky, because if you died, it wa probably your fault. There are a few occasions that put this rule to task, such as a serpent spitting poison at you, subsequently pushing you off the edge of a platform and leaving Indie (as the protagonist has affectionately become known in community circles) to fall helplessly to his death. When everything is so regimented and each mishap can be explained, these irregular occurrences are far more aggravating.
Of course, if save points were common, or if players could use one of their continues to pick up after a needless demise, they wouldn’t be such an annoyance. To add to the perils around every corner, Spelunky is a roguelike, wherein you have one life (comprised of a number of hearts/hits) and once all health has been depleted, you have to begin the game at the very start. There’s no checkpointing or hand-holding of any kind, here. If you fall at an obstacle that possibly wasn’t your fault, this is understandably excruciating. Yet, as the mistakes are more often than not your responsibility, the overwhelming feeling of disdain is projected onto your own failures, like not seeing the massive arachnid that was heading your direction. Yet, Spelunky’s gameplay is so tight and engrossing that the self-pity turns just as quickly into motivation for another go-around.
Each map is relatively short if you just seek to reach the ultimate goal. For about two or three minutes, you must navigate your way around foes and traps that attempt to block your progression. However, the gems and gold that are scattered throughout each level are integral because they translate to cash, which can be spent at any one of the shops situated in the caves. Bombs, climbing rope, gadgets of all different descriptions and even a wheel of fortune type mini-game can all be found in different crevices within the underground maze. Some of the gadgets can be a bit lacklustre, and the irreversible transaction can have you yearning for a refund, but the good absolutely outweighs the bad. Delights such as a compass for an easier expedition, or climbing gloves to unleash your inner Peter Parker, reaffirm your faith in the helpful shop clerk and encourage you to experiment with your purchases. Just don’t attempt to rob the entrepreneur, or chances are he’ll take matters into his own hands.
Like most heroes, Spelunky’s protagonist can also rescue a female character that has somehow found themselves trapped in the subterrane. Saving one of these ladies is completely optional, but the benefits are so vast that it’s worth the effort. After carrying a damsel to end-level safety, you are given a smooch which grants you an extra heart for the next level. The risk/reward component of Mossmouth’s title is more clear here than anywhere else. At times, you’re required to set one of these women down to take care of the dangers ahead, while also being mindful of a damsel in distress running into something that will end her own existence.
For all of those reasons, this is terrific on any system, but the Vita comes with the heartiest recommendation. As a result of the snappy, fast-paced nature, it almost feels like this was tailor-made for PlayStation Vita. Even with the allure of gimmicky implementation, Spelunky doesn’t make you swipe, flick or rub anything on the handheld’s body. What it does do, is excel. The shorter periods of play allow Vita owners to fleet in and out as they wish. Simply ideal.
VERDICT: There is no question: this is the version of Spelunky that you should purchase. Even though the game was released on Xbox 360 over a year ago, the cross save and cross buy interaction between PS3 and Vita – along with the Vita’s ability to deliver instantaneous spelunking – make this the ultimate port of a superb game.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.