Some games are like comfort food. You can’t just play them, complete them, and set them aside. They don’t seem to get stale no matter how much time you spend with them. They’re the games that just feel right.
Spelunky, by developer Mossmouth, is one of those games that you can return to everyday for an exciting adventure. It’s available on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Vita, and at its remarkably reasonable $15 price point, it offers tons of bang for your buck.
The Walls Are Shifting
If you’ve ever harbored any love for the classic adventures of Indiana Jones, you’ll be right at home in the world of Spelunky. You play a whip-cracking explorer, and armed with your trusty bombs and climbing ropes, you’re determined to journey into the depths to find fantastic treasure.
The twist though, is that these caves change in layout every time you venture in. The game’s random level generator (elaborated upon here) produces new tunnels and enemy placements with every floor you enter, so it’s safe to say that you’ll never play the exact same map twice. This doesn’t mean the maps are without character, though. Some maps will include extra valuable treasure that sets off traps if you grab it. Others will have shops, like the kissing booth that restores health. Still more might be overflowing with a particular enemy type like snakes or spiders. The randomness keeps the game fresh and unpredictable.
Nail Biting Tension
Spelunky holds a proud place among some of the most challenging games. It isn’t that every moment is steeped in raw panic, mind you. The bats, snakes, and other denizens of the pits have straightforward attack patterns. Instead, Spelunky challenges you by strictly limiting the number of hits you can take before you’re taken out. Sure, you can gain back one every level by searching out and rescuing your damsel (which, by the way, can be male, female, or puppy depending on your whim), but that side trek might lose you the very point of health you’d earn anyway. It’s this mix of moment-to-moment play that you’re expected to perform perfectly to survive that makes Spelunky a fierce challenge.
So you start playing it, and you get used to dying. First it’s three minutes in. Then you get better and it’s five minutes in. Soon you’re almost always making it through the first world, and then you plateau. You get used to playing in bite sized chunks because that’s all you’ve ever gotten.
And then it happens. You’re having the run. The perfect item spawns at a randomly generated shop keeper. Maybe it’s the cape that lets you fall without hurting yourself. Maybe it’s the freeze ray that stops fast moving enemies in their tracks. Suddenly, you’re totally invested because you’ve got the upper hand. You want to push as far as you can without losing your precious item, so you carefully dispatch every enemy and trigger every trap from afar. A death will send you back to the start, so you want to make every level count. Maybe you can make it far enough to meet the Tunnel Man again, and open a new shortcut.
That’s when you start to understand how Spelunky hooks you. It’s those high stakes runs with the great conditions you can’t bear to lose that make the game so addicting.
Sky High Skill Ceiling
The best part of all is that Spelunky is a game that grows with you. The better you get at it, the more you can get out of it. Take the Daily Challenge mode for example. It starts all players who play that day with the exact same dungeon, so you can compare your performance to how your friends do in identical conditions. You only get one shot at it though, so make it count. Hold onto as much money as you can to climb high on the leaderboard. If you botch it, don’t worry! Look forward to a brand new layout to try tomorrow.
Think you’re really good and want to go even deeper? Take a look at some of the great challenges Spelunky fans like Bananasaurus_Rex take on. You can speed run the game to drive down your personal best time. You can try top Banana’s insane 7+ hour score run, in which he baits a ghost to turn other gems into diamonds to squeeze the most treasure out of every level. Low score runs are a thing, too. The game plays very differently when you’re trying to dodge treasure instead of collecting it.
Or you can try to figure out what the eggplant does. I won’t spoil it for you here.
Don’t get intimidated by the high end Spelunky content described here. You can make it through to the end by opening the Tunnel Man’s progressively further flung shortcuts. Even if all you ever do is beat it once, you’ll still have enjoyed a thrilling adventure, but don’t be surprised if greater challenges stir up your adventurous spirit, and you find yourself drawn to its caves again.
Is there a game you go back to again and again, long after it was released? Tell our community in the comments section below.