Mossmouth’s Spelunky has been on the radar for quite some time, and yet it’s only this month that the videogame has seen release. There are many reasons such delays hit seemingly small digitally distributed products on the Xbox LIVE Arcade, with Introversion famously derogatory with regards to Microsoft Studios’ approval process in their experience with Darwinia+, and a long list of requirements relating to size and performance. Whatever the reason may be, Spelunky now arrives on console four long years after its PC debut, and does so in a welcoming format.
Spelunky carries all the ingredients that would be expected of a high-quality Xbox LIVE Arcade title – personality, notable visual design and some interesting mechanics – and yet, there’s plenty about the videogame that makes it appear to be more of the same. That, of course, being as long as you were playing videogames in the heyday of platform titles: the 16-bit era.
A platform design through-and-through, Spelunky sees the player venture into randomly generated levels with the ultimate goal of reaching an exit. Along the way they must avoid obstacles, battle enemies and create new paths with their equipped bombs, but can also purchase new equipment when stumbling upon shops, and take extra time to explore the levels in the hope of finding grand treasure or rescuing a damsel in distress. That’s the long-and-short of Spelunky, but of course there’s more to it than just that.
Spelunky feels like a familiar experience. In fact, despite Mossmouth’s suggested influences, it feels most familiar to one of the most misunderstood platform titles in videogame history: Super Mario Bros. 2. Players work their way through levels by altering the environment as they need, but once the alteration has been made there is no going back; make a mistake and you have to work around it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as Spelunky uses the old school rule of a set lives a stock (although you don’t restart the level, merely recuperate after a damage animation) and no continues, unskilled players will likely die before finding their first exit.
That’s when playing alone however, as playing in a team will make things considerably easier. Up to four players, on- or offline, can work together to make their way through the videogame though this does present additional challenges: players need to avoid the bombs and pitfalls that present themselves with the introduction of three new players into your videogame. Should a player lose all of their lives they will remain a presence on the level, able to float around and blow objects, players and enemies with a press of the X button. Be in no two minds however, despite the hindrance less skilled players can offer, multiplayer is the area in which Spelunky truly sets itself apart.
As stated above, Spelunky has a great deal of character about it. Featuring charming 16-bit inspired visuals, sound effects and accompanying score, Spelunky certainly knows the audience it’s aiming for. The cutesy storyline makes reasonable excuse for some typical videogame tropes, such as death and respawns, in a comical fashion, and the characters you’ll meet along the way speak much louder with their actions than their words.
As a homage to a different time, Spelunky works well to entertain in both its design and difficulty. There’s an obvious challenge the videogame provides, and yet a thoroughly compelling one. Sadly, beyond that there’s little that Spelunky will offer to the most casual retro gaming observer, and when priced at 1,200 Microsoft Points that is a somewhat disappointing outcome. After such a reportedly lengthy development and significant expectations placed on Spelunky’s head, it simply can’t bear the weight it was intended to. Spelunky ends up being average in far too many areas, and given the price tag, there are far more enjoyable choices to be made on the Xbox LIVE Arcade.