Spelunky – One Hundred Ways to Die While Treasure Hunting.

SpelunkyMossmouth August 2013

Rogue-like, Adventure, Platformer

One of the first Arcade games that I ever played that truly captured my imagination was titled “Jungle Hunt”. It is pretty similar to the likely more popular Pitfall which is often referred to as one of the best titles on the Atari 2600. It wasn’t just some little guy avoiding ghosts and eating pellets and it wasn’t a wonky spaceship with poor steering trying to stop an alien invasion. This game took the player on a literal adventure through the digital jungle, swinging and jumping from vines, swimming in a crocodile filled river, jumping over and ducking boulders and even avoiding the spears of angry natives. Of course this was all to save “the girl” who had been abducted and was about to become soup. Sure it may be a simple twist on a cliche’ but hey, this was the 80s and I suppose we have to give ourselves some credit for progress in game design over the last 30 years or so.


Jungle Hunt; Atari 2600 – Adventure Gaming history in the making.


Pitfall; Atari 2600 – Jump snakes, barrels and scorpions!  Stand on crocodile heads!  Swing on Vines! 

If ever a game brought back that sense of unexpected adventure in a truly deadly package, I would have to nominate Spelunky. It really has the same flavor as Pitfall and Jungle Hunt to me, with unexpected adventure, treasure and surprises at every turn.


The little explorer is in luck today, gold bars lay just inside the entryway.  Surely luck is on his side today!

The player chooses one of the characters to use, though as far as I can tell there is no difference beyond appearance. There are several unlockable characters as well which gives one the fun challenge of rescuing fellow adventurers that appear to have fallen prey to the mines. The player must run, jump and whip their way through the obstacles, very “Indiana Jones” style but with likely far less success. There is even a “damsel” to rescue, though checking the options menu it is actually possible to save a ugly-cute pug dog instead which I find awesome and hilarious. He even makes funny whining sounds when you get close! Rescuing the “damsel” gives a bonus health at the end of each level, so it is quite worthwhile in a game that can be pretty cruel at times. That bonus health can provide a nice pad that keeps one from having to restart completely.


I generally buy ALL THE BOMBS!!!  They are actually multi-purpose tools that have al kinds of benefits if one stays well stocked.  Great for “bustin'” booby-traps, diggin’ out treasure and even killing the occasional bus-sized frog.

As the player progresses through the level there is loads of treasure to collect. The game begins with a few bombs in the inventory which can be used not only to access areas that have been blocked off but also to dig treasure out of the walls, floor or ceiling. A shopkeeper inhabits many areas as well and he can sell everything from extra bombs, guns, machetes, spins of a weird prize wheel and a time or two I have even found a “kissing shop” that let you pay $8000 for a lick from the pug.. or I suppose a kiss from the lady. It’s a bonus health either way, one just likely contains fewer germs. Dogs have really great oral hygiene after all.

Damsel in distress?  I’ll pass, gimme puggy-lovins!  Truly “explorer’s best friend”.


What’s wrong boy?  I’m gonna saaaaaaaaave ya!  (Dies 10 seconds later, dropping puppy into spider den…)


Steer clear of this cheapskate.  The ghost appears if you linger too long in a level and he “one-hits” like nobody’s business.  He kind of works like a timer that you can run from, but still ensures that the level cannot be picked clean as there is simply not enough time.

Of course being a “rogue-like” the stages are randomly generated and every play-through is somewhat different. The levels to progress in the same pattern, though, with the first being the Mines, the next the Jungle, followed by Ice Caves and so on. There are “events” of sorts that come up occasionally that add a twist to the level. There is an event that displays “I can’t see a thing” as the level begins and light is very limited. The player starts with a torch nearby and can use it to light sconces throughout the level. There are also a few fireflies that float around to help some but these can be very challenging as it makes it hard to tell what traps might be lurking just beyond the sight-range. There is one that loads the level with snakes, another that loads with spiders and even one that tells that the dead are restless and zombies lurk about. These are fun, but again, can be pretty challenging in a game that is already pretty ruthless at times. Oh and don’t anger the shopkeeper. They will pursue your demise for the rest of that play-through and they like to hide close to exits with shotguns…


“I can’t see a thing!” – In Spelunky, these words generally mean “Josh isn’t making it through this area; Game Over”.  My success rate on dark zones is around 10% at the moment!


The humble rock.. in this game it is handy to keep one as a pet.  They are great for triggering traps and throwing and googlies that lie out of reach.  I named mine Steve.  Steve fell in a hole later.  I’ll never forget him. 

Even though the game is pretty tough it manages to rarely frustrate me. Restarting is nicely streamlined so that I can be right back in the adventure within moments which really reminds me of Pitfall and Jungle Hunt which basically restarted within a button click of losing. The game gives a journal entry telling how the player “died” though part of the story is that the adventurers in the mines find themselves again at the beginning of the mine when something… goes badly for them. Kind of a fun explanation for the endless “lives” one is likely to exhaust in tackling the challenges before them. Some of the entries can be a little snarky but most are just amusing and hey, a click of the button closes it and gets you back into the game!


What’s this?  A Spider the size of a golf cart?  I’m sure it won’t be so bad, this is world 1 after all!  Don’t be fooled, this stinker can really ruin a day quickly.

There is a Daily Challenge each day in which the player can try once per day to do their best at the level of the day. Only one try is allowed and it ranks everyone that tries on a fairly active leaderboard. So far my best is making it into the 300s and I wouldn’t say I was terrible at the game exactly so I certainly think there is some long-term play value there. It is fun in that it gives one a sense of playing in a community rather than it being a completely solitary experience.


Not all traps are this obvious, but only rarely do they keep me from “going for it”.  This may explain why I have yet to actually complete the game.

Games like Spelunky are certainly not for everyone though. Grant is actually turned off by the ease of losing and finds it frustrating. Certainly a bad jump can quickly end the adventure and occasionally the enemies will “ping-pong” you into oblivion. While this sort of bad luck can be a pain I will take it in stride if as a trade off I get a non-stagnant level layout, refreshing itself each time with new treasures and dangers to discover with each attempt. Grant does occasionally find it amusing watch my exploits though, so it may have some merit in watching the disaster that is likely to unfold when watching a friend play. It’s all pretty light-hearted with about as much violence as a Looney-Tunes or Tom & Jerry cartoon, though it does have some “blood” animation. It is pretty tame but I find it odd that there wasn’t an option to turn that off.


Don’t let the cute alien and his UFO fool you.. those things are quite explosive when they crash and often “ping-pong” you into a long fall below.

Bonus Content:  Grant and I have actually played Spelunky on one of his streams for his YouTube Channel.  Check it out if you want to see a bit of gameplay footage with a little “Gameroom Banter” between us.  Give him a follow or a like, it totally makes his day when someone takes interest in the games he enjoys!

Josh and Grant Play Spelunky!

The Plant Powered Gamers’ stat breakdown:

Fun: 9/10 Angry Old Shopkeepers: Loads of fun with quick game-play and only occasional irritating bits of bad luck.. well okay, maybe every game ends in a bit of bad luck but it’s still fun! Hey, when I am almost to the 4th level and a UFO ricochets me into a laser-shooting mammoth which then bounces me into a bottomless pit.. well.. it makes for a good story.

Replayability: 9/10 Shiny Gemstones: It is a rogue-like, after all, and that is one of the hallmarks of one well done, which Spelunky certainly is.

Value: 10/10 Whiney Pugs: The game regularly goes on sale, being fairly old now. Mine actually came in a Humble Bundle and likely cost less than $5 even though it was the main game I was buying the bundle for. It is awesome when one finds a few bonuses that are fun in the mix though. For its normal price of $15 I think it is perfectly on par with similar games that have similar value in terms of time played before boredom would set in, but with older games just stick it in the Wishlist and grab it for half of that. Besides, Summer Sale is almost here!

Grow Strong. Game On.

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