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Darren G. confronts Derek Yu’s formidable Rogue-like Spelunky

Rewind to 2008 and you’ll see the same baby-faced Darren as you would now but one as yet without the mental scars caused by becoming a Spelunky addict.  I had heard all the fuss about this new free indie game on the PC and decided to check it out. I was lucky once;  I got out, but somehow four years later, it has pulled me back in.  And I’ve paid for it, literally.

This is gaming at its purest and most well balanced.

Derek Yu has been working on this XBLA port, or should I say re-imagining, of Spelunky for as long as I can remember and despite the very late announcement of a release date, the buzz spread once again about how great this game is, and naturally enough the more I heard, the more I wanted it.

Although released earlier than the two titles I’m about to mention, Spelunky could be described as Super Meat Boy crossed with The Binding of Isaac.  It’s a 2D platformer at its core with rogue-like mechanics nestled inside a cutesy exterior. As as a fan of both of those aforementioned titles I felt sure I’d like this game second time round.

Starting Spelunky is a daunting experience for players unaware of how Rogue-likes work (see me, circa 2008). Please allow me to explain briefly why I believe that the genre is still entirely relevant in today’s hand-holding videogame landscape.

Spelunky is as fair as it is brutal with its mechanic of making you start the game all over again upon dying after the standard four hits.  It’ll never ask you to make leaps of faith and will never surprise you with a monster you cannot see, everything is there to be seen.

Each of the four worlds contains four cleverly generated levels

Each of the four worlds contains four cleverly generated levels (use of procedural algorithms means that the player effectively has an infinite number of stages available to him or her)  which can be completed in a quick twenty seconds burst or the ‘maximum’ of five minutes. However leaving it this long to escape will spawn a Bubble Bobble-esque one-hit-and-you’re-dead ghost to haunt you down (sic).  Dying is a lesson, a mechanic and is essential to learning how this game is crafted. What lesson do you take away from the ghost? Never outstay your welcome.  Always move on at a brisk pace but never so fast that you career into other hazards.  The run button is not always your friend, think of it more as a cousin who occasionally comes round to fix your car, not as a mate who will make you feel great at all times because just like your secretly psychotic cousin, it will likely end up killing you…

What lesson do you take away from the ghost? Never outstay your welcome.

Finishing a world and an NPC will offer to build you a tunnel directly leading into the next world. This becomes essential in the process of learning what all four worlds offer and ultimately training you up for the real challenge which lies ahead – which is of course, to not use any of the short-cuts.

Do not be fooled by its charming good looks and wonderful FM chip style soundtrack.  Do not be fooled by the item shop which offers you goods that only get you killed in the long run, this is a fight for YOU and only YOU to save the damsel in order to get an extra heart at the end of each level.  Curse to the high heavens when you’re confronted by a randomly dark cave but also leap in victory when those thirty seconds of gameplay are over and you’ve navigated your way to the exit. As I write I’m fifteen hours into a game which can theoretically be completed in eight minutes – according to one of the Achievements. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to attempt that.

This is gaming at its purest and most well balanced. You should at least download and have a go at the free trial on Xbox Live Arcade, just to see if it reminds you of what made videogames so great in the first place.  An enormous sense of purpose and reward, as well as secrets to be discovered on par with Super Mario Bros. 3’s warp whistle. The type which only you learn of from a friend, and not because there was an in-game shiny collectible piece of paper telling you to go somewhere.

Here is Darren’s video Quick Rinse of the original 2008 PC version of Spelunky. Enjoy!

Meanwhile Josh takes a look at the 2012 Xbox Live Arcade version:

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