Spelunky review

Indiana Jones-aping action-adventure Spelunky is now four years old, yet even so we're bound to see it topping tons of game of the year lists in 2013. This, you see, is the long-awaited PC release of the Xbox remake of the freeware PC original. Never mind its confusing history though - what matters is that this is the tiny gift that keeps on giving, and this latest version is perhaps the most definitive one.

Spelunky's a sort of fusion of platforming and dungeon-crawling - the careful jumps and high speed of the former, the loot and upgrades of the latter. Most importantly though, it features the sudden and permanent character death of so-called Roguelikes - if you die, you lose all progress and have to start over.

So Spelunky's peculiar pleasure is seeing how far you can get, how many levels of cave (and other, later environments) you can make it to and through before you meet a messy end at the fangs of a bat or spider, the claws of a yeti, the dread gaze of a ghost or, most likely, impalement on the damnable spikes which abound in the most unexpected places.

The smartest thing about Spelunky is that death is invariably so comic that there's minimal frustration about the lost progress - you're too busy giggling at your own ineptitude or tragi-comic misfortune as your Indy-alike's slumped cartoon corpse pinballs around the uncaring cavern.

The ingredients are simple but that each new game features a new, randomly-generated cave system and that the manner of your death will always be entirely unexpected keeps Spelunky relentlessly replayable.

Some dungeons will be monstrously unfair, others will apparently be a loot-packed breeze, until your own complacency results in an inevitably pathetic death. Risk-reward plays a huge part here too - for instance, you can rescue 'Damsels' (changeable to a man or a pug to suit personal preference, incidentally) in exchange for bonus health, but carrying them impedes your ability to attack or defend yourself, or may require you to head off to a new, extra-dangerous part of the level.

Or should you use your last, precious bomb to try and reach a recess packed with gems? What if you then can't find a way out? Almost every move in Spelunky is a micro-dilemma, which keeps it from feeling boring even when your total hours spent playing has stretched well into triple figures.

 Spelunky

It's a living cartoon, Tom and Jerry writ endless, and it knows it. The art style just about keeps on the right side of cutesy, though it is a near thing - don't let the look of the game fool you into thinking it's overly lightweight. This is hardcore, in its own wonderfully cheerful way.

Spelunky's part of - perhaps even predecessor of - a new wave of games that are challenging but immediately accessible with it. The likes of Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac owe much to it, but can't quite match the remarkable completeness and the tightness of the design here. Every single element of Spelunky is there for a reason, and combines expertly with every other element there. This'll live in legend for a long, long time to come. 

Spelunky: Specs

  • Available on Xbox 360, PC and (soon) PlayStation Vita. PC system requirements: OS: Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / 7 / 8 Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz or equivalent processor Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: 3D graphics card DirectX: Version 9.0c Hard Drive: 200 MB available space Additional Notes: Xbox 360 Controller or equivalent supported
  • Available on Xbox 360, PC and (soon) PlayStation Vita. PC system requirements: OS: Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / 7 / 8 Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz or equivalent processor Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: 3D graphics card DirectX: Version 9.0c Hard Drive: 200 MB available space Additional Notes: Xbox 360 Controller or equivalent supported

OUR VERDICT

Glorious, both in terms of charm and how well-designed this cave-based survival escapade is. Spelunky is comfortably one of the best games of the decade.

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