Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
I still find it amazing that the games industry has literally taken several full circles on itself in the space of only a few fragile years. Victoria Wood, an English comedian, has a skit where she talks about history repeating itself, and whilst it’s quite funny, it’s also true. Our culture has found itself in a mode of repetition, films being remade, games being re-released, the cycle seems to be never ending.
On our hands today with have Spelunky. This game was released back in 2008 for the PC, with your standard 8-Bit graphics, and even with the big hitters being released around its time, it still managed to make a nice bit of noise and catch some attention. Enough for it to be remade, into an XBLA soon-to-be classic, in rather stunning HD.
I mention the stunning because the game immediately looks attractive whilst still retaining that old school 8-Bit feel in its gameplay, with simplistic controls and goals, the game looks as fresh as a triple AAA studio product, which really merges the two time-lines together quite nicely.
So if blasts to the not-so-distant past is what you’re into, Spelunky may just be the game you want to grab.
The storyline is simple, if non-existent. You are a spelunker, a sort of cave-explorer who spends his time traversing caverns for gold and treasure. It appears that your little character is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty here, however, as along his way, he’ll be met with an abundance of traps, monsters and pitfalls that would send the most level-headed person heading in the other direction.
Nothing is going to phase this adventurer though, and thank the gods for that, because otherwise we’d be looking at a pretty dull game. Into these caverns he goes with you as his (stay-at-home warm and safe) guide. Using all your juicy intellect, you control your spelunker directly, making sure he gets from the caves entrance to its exit safely, as well as picking up as much gold as possible. The more gold you get, the higher score you receive. Find any of the levels sometimes devilishly tricky secrets and you’re looking at some big time scoring.
As with most of these 8-Bit style games, controls are what lies at the heart of the game. The speedy spelunker will quickly find himself falling into spike pits or a spiders nest if you don’t master those tricky controllers, and while it’s a simple run, jump, pick up and carry style of game, you’ll be quickly challenged to a game of speed and accuracy. You’ll have to place that bomb in exactly the right position to get the right part of the map to explode in order to continue your adventure. If you don’t, you’ll be killing yourself in order to start the level again.
This is a direct counter to indie games such as The Binding of Isaac, which involves a large amount of speed and almost running around like a headless chicken to get past each room. Spelunky will challenge you with speed, but hinder you with almost impossible jumps and tiny platforms that will probably have you quickly giving up on the timed runs.
Spelunky creates randomly generated levels that are never the same twice and this way you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a huge number of differing challenges and obstacles that will have you utilising a different strategy each and every time you pick up the controller. Things never got stale with Spelunky, I never found myself doing something over and over again. Each level provided something new, or a new challenge I had to overcome that made me want to keep trundling through the levels.
While I did keep charging through the levels, it became clear that Spelunky was relentless in its assault. Constant challenging puzzles would fire themselves at me, to the point where I think I may have actually broken my controller after the fifteenth attempt in a single level. My battery pack is now held on by an elastic band ever since I had to time a jump and bomb throw right at the same time. It’s the kind of game that will have you saying “That can’t be what I have to do…is it?” and laughing to yourself as the inevitable realisation sinks in that the twist jump, bomb throw turn and item pick up through the air is indeed what it is asking you to achieve. No big deal though, right?
This is only heightened, however, by the lovely soundtrack that accompanies you on your journey. 8-Bit remakes can sometimes leave that grinding effect on my ears, that make me have to either turn the music off completely, or stop at intervals to take a break. Spelunky doesn’t suffer from this, each sounds having been upgraded since the original, and actually making the journey itself a much more enjoyable experience.
Is it worth the upgrade though? It’s true that the original is actually free to play on the PC, however even for a four year old game, the remake has outclassed it in every way possible. After playing the original I can safely say the XBLA version I had the pleasure of getting my hands on, every improvement has been made to make the game better.
A better overlay of the game screen that made the original look quite clustered, the smoother graphics makes the game a pleasure to watch after every explosion or damsel in distress running across your screen, and the smoother controls make those incredibly challenging puzzles a little easier to tackle.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t enjoyable. I’ve used the words ‘hard’ and ‘challenging’ a fair amount throughout this, but even though it appears that you may have to actually work at your game, it stays refreshingly entertaining and fun to play throughout.
I’m not going to lie, it may become a test of patience though. The harder levels become a game of not only figuring out exactly what it is you have to do, but then having to execute that plan without screwing it up, can become incredibly annoying; something which my now pathetic looking controller can attest to. Rest assured, you will be tested to your breaking point.
VERDICT: Set all that to one side, and treat it as a ‘pickup and play’ game rather than a seven hour slog and you have a game that really sets the mark for indie, platforming 2D titles. Not only is it a merit to itself, and an enjoyable game all round, but it’s also proof that these types of games are far from over. As the industry develops and we start to see engines that can mimic the face of a human with such accuracy we don’t know if it’s real or not, Spelunky reminds us that pure cartoon, 2D platforming is just as, if not sometimes more, entertaining and rewarding as a spectacle-laden, storylined epic RPG.