Review: Spelunky (PC)

I’ve been very interested in this game because I have heard so much about it, but have only ever booted it up for about 15 minutes which, as I came to find out, isn’t enough time to figure out much of anything about the game.

Spelunky offers little explanation as to what it really is, so the first 30 minutes or so were spent trying to understand what was happening when I died.  The first level is listed as “Mines 1-1”, which made me think that the game was like a Mario Bros. game in that it had distinct levels and thus, probably had a lives system as well.  This is not how Spelunky works at all.

In Spelunky you have one life.  When you die the game is completely over and you must start again from the very beginning.  In addition the levels are always different and completely procedurally generated.  So Spelunky is a roguelike in a great many ways.

Over the course of defending a game like Dark Souls I’ve often heard that what makes that game un-fun is that you can play for an hour and not really get anywhere.  While I respect that opinion it’s not one that I personally agree with.  In Dark Souls you can spend an hour grinding out levels and for your trouble you’ll be stronger.  If that’s not your idea of fun, I totally get that, but it is progress.  If a particular boss is simply too hard, you have options.  You can go and fight a different boss, explore a new area, grind out levels, etc…  So why am I bringing up Dark Souls?  Because where Dark Souls is a game that feels difficult in a satisfying way, Spelunky is a game that feels equally difficult, but in a way that simply wants to crush your soul.

The game is painfully, infuriatingly difficult.  It’s difficult in a way that feels so unrelentingly punishing that only the hardest of the hardcore masochists would like it.  You see, Spelunky shares another of those oh-so-beloved roguelike traits in that death is 100% permanent.  When you start a new round of Spelunky it’s a completely new game.  Nothing you do during your current round will carry over to the next.  You can’t grind out levels in Spelunky.  The game is really hard, and it’s equally hard every single time you play it.

This was the start of one of my runs. Really? I have to waste a bomb right off the bat? Sigh.


After dying over and over for about an hour I decided to watch some YouTube videos about Spelunky basics.  What I discovered through watching these videos is that the game is as deceptively deep as it is painfully difficult.  There are shopkeepers, items, damsels to rescue.  There are hidden levels that require particular tasks to be done in specific order.  There is a lot to this game.

All of this only proved to make the game more frustrating to me as I just can’t seem to get good enough at it to get anywhere.  I played for over two hours and I never got passed Mines 1-4.  I’m not sure if I’m just pitifully bad at the game, or if it just has that steep of a learning curve but after two hours of dying in the same ways I felt drained.  A long time ago, probably a year before I ever had Chris play Dark Souls we talked about DS via text message and he said the following, “I respect what that game is, but I don’t think it’s for me.”  I can’t think of a better way to articulate my feelings on SpelunkyWhat Spelunky is should be respected, but that doesn’t mean that I personally have to love it.