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.

Single Dragon?! No thanks! I’ll check over in River City..

So decades ago.. in a land not too far from here a young Joshua was totally hooked on the awesomeness that was Double Dragon.  I often visited the local skating rink just because they had a copy of the arcade classic to which I would offer my last week’s lunch and/or break money which I had saved so that I could get some arcade action. Billy and Jimmy Lee (the main characters of the game) were the absolute epitomes of cool.

“Insane, violent street gang steals my girlfriend?  Obviously I will kung-fu my way through every last one of them to save her!”  They also have that 80’s and 90’s ‘tude just dripping from their sweet blue and red jumpsuits.

In comes the Nintendo Entertainment System and home gaming.  I had to wait a few years before my parents actually graced our  home with this beautiful bit of miracle but boy did we enjoy it.  I mowed yards and chopped wood and every other chore and odd job I could think of in order to hasten the process of growing my fledgling game collection.  The classics were an easy pick but others I feel were fortunate accidents, as game reviews were pretty much non-existent and the only magazine that really carried information was biased to say the least.  After exhausting every way one could play the original Legend of Zelda including a “no-sword” run before that was even “a thing” and dropping King Koopa into the lava pool more times than I could remember I heard the whisperings of Double Dragon being ported to the NES.  Could it be so?  Sadly, while this was so it was not the same game at all.  After a single rental from my local game rental store – which doubled as a gas station, mind you – I realized that the dreams were in fact too good to be true.  Single player?  How could this be?  One of the coolest aspects of Double Dragon was the fact that it was DOUBLE Dragon.  Two players!  Simultaneously!  How could they get that wrong?  And what was this disastrous “level-up” system.  Now let me take a moment to explain that years later, looking back at it the NES version of Double Dragon is actually rather interesting.  It presents some pretty unique and special qualities for its time and delves into that experimental realm that really only Nintendo games tend to do.  For my almost-teenaged heart, however, this was not sitting well.  I needed a 2-player simultaneous kung-fu filled, girlfriend-saving, high-school-gang-stomping romp!


Sure.. great last words, Barry.

I found this little gem with little hope, but it looked fun and touted some interesting “bonuses” in comparison to Double Dragon.  It was titled River City Ransom, and honestly I don’t think I ever shopped for games the same way ever again after playing it.  The game was pretty poorly marketed, had a pretty cheesy cover and the back packaging game images really didn’t give the buyer much idea of what they were getting into.  It was obviously something like my beloved Double Dragon, though, so I gave it a try.  My friend and I began our journey as Alex and his brother Ryan, setting out across River City to save Alex’s girlfriend from the evil gang leader, Slick.  On their way they will defeat the various gang-members ranging from lackeys to mini-boss sub-commanders, all of which drop their “lunch money” upon defeat.  This money must be collected so that the brothers can “power-up” by eating all kinds of food that the town has to offer, each bestowing increased stats, refilling health or giving other strange benefits.  There are also books to read, some of which teach new techniques as well as shoes that increase speed and kicking power – obviously.


Alex seems to be really happy with his meal.  Certainly he will be fueled up for miscreant punishing now.

While the game is probably just in general better than Double Dragon if only in variety, the enemies are a bit less varied.  As mentioned there are the basic low-level gang members, the mid-level commanders and of course the final boss.  With only three exceptions, the only variation the player sees on the basic opponent is whether they are armed with a weapon.  There are several of these:  sticks, pipes, tires, garbage cans, rocks, brass knuckles and chains.  While there isn’t an incredible amount of enemy variety, it seems pretty forgiving as there is little need to grind any ridiculous amount unless the player really wants to save up for a special technique to try out, as those can be rather pricey.  For the most part enough money is collected in a pretty straightforward playthrough to power-up enough to take on all of the bosses and save Alex’s girlfriend without the need for too much senseless violence.  It’s okay if you wanna commit a little senseless violence against the evil gang, though, they respawn.  No permanently hurt feelings here.  Plus the enemies “talk” to the player in a text box at the bottom of the screen.  Most of it is nonsense and goading but occasionally the mini-boss commanders actually give out information that is useful, so keep a watch for that!

Some give useful information.. some just banter playfully.. it’s a real mixed bag in River City!

I cannot talk about River City Ransom without going into two little details that I found extremely weird, funny and endearing back then and really still do now.  First, when Alex and Ryan get food or drinks in the restaurants… they eat the food/drink container and all.  It was probably done to save the trouble of doing eating and drinking animations for different food items at the time, but I loved it and still do.  It’s just amusing to seem them cram an entire glass of soda or a whole pizza into their mouths by way of apparently unhinge-able jaws.  Hey, they have taken a lot of punches to the face, after all… probably loosens the joints.  The other thing I found pretty amusing was the one shop that sells chicken.. kind of a KFC spin-off.  One of the offerings on the side menu was a “Smile” in which the lady cashier smiles at the player, making him blush.  This may seem simple but I found that to be pretty amazing that they programmers/developers thought to add little touches like that in the game.  There are a few other unique interactions in the game that makes certain places seem more memorable and not just reskinned versions of the previous section of town.


Pink shirts are a hot item in River City.

So much naughtiness to correct.  Alex’s lot is a hard one..


Think a smile can’t brighten someone’s day?  Just think, Alex might not make it to save his girl if it wasn’t for the kind smile of the nice chicken-lady.

So in today’s world of amazing games RCR may not hold most people’s attention for long, but certainly if a chance ever arises I would recommend taking Alex out for a stroll across River City and see what kind of trouble the two of you can get into.  If you have a friend handy bring his brother Ryan along for the full experience.  Oh and stay out of the pits in the construction zone.  I’m pretty sure they are bottomless.  River City is a dangerous place, after all.

Plant Powered Ratings:

Fun: 9/10 Lunch-money coins –  To this day I still can have a pretty fun 30-60 minutes roughing up the trouble-makers of River City and I have finished this game countless times.  Its peculiar uniqueness just makes it timeless to me though I do admit that nostalgia probably colors it a bit rosier than it deserves in my eyes, so I am pulling a point from it for that sake.

Grow Strong. Game On.

Dancin’ in the Dungeon with Crypt of the Necrodancer

Have tons o’ fun Dancin’ with Skeletons!

Crypt of the Necrodancer – Brace Yourself Games April 2015

Rogue-like, Rhythm

Take a pinch of pixel graphics, a drop of rhythm gaming and mix them with the ridiculously fun rogue-like mechanics.  This weird recipe calls forth Crypt of the Necrodancer, and the mad alchemist forming this brew will never be the same..

The game lays out the story in a clever cut-scene sequence that leaves the player with the vague understanding that movements and actions can only be taken “with the beat”. This is reinforced by the fact that all monsters in the crypt follow the same rules, so your movement with the beat can be planned out to foil that of the monsters, most of which follow pretty predictable movement patterns. Sound too simple? Don’t be fooled, when watching the movements of several monsters while also timing your own and trying to avoid certain trapped tiles it can be shocking how often a mistake can be made which can cost anywhere from a slap on the hand (a half a heart of damage) to severely punshing and brutalizing death spirals (dead before I realized what was happening even though I was at full health).  Speaking of death spirals, this guy is often to blame..CoND_RedDragon

(Those red dragons have a tendency to catch me with their sizzlin’ breath all too often.)

The game has loads of unlockables that you “purchase” with in game currency – diamonds. This is really fun as you can look forward to finding that new item or spell you recently unlocked to see how it affects your next dungeon run. There is also gold to be found so that if one is lucky enough to find the shop in each level then items can be purchased to power up the player.


(Apples for 10 gold, broadswords for 30… guess you make prices up as you go if you live in a musical crypt.)

Speaking of shops.. hear that singing? In the crypts? Weird… Shopkeepers actually sing with the music; not words exactly, but it is very clever and pretty amusing. You can hear them increase in volume as you get closer, letting you play “hot and cold” to meander your way to the shop. There are loads of items which alter the game mechanics a bit or give the player bonuses or even reusable spells. It is one of the hallmarks of a good rogue-like in my opinion to make the player want to keep going to see what interesting, powerful or silly combinations of power-ups and items might be discovered in the next attempt.

In addition to unlockable power-ups there are even unlockable characters, each possessing different abilities and attributes that alter the way the game works.  Take Eli, the first character I unlocked for instance.  While Cadence, the main character typically uses only a few bombs per game, Eli has unlimited bombs and can even kick the bombs around.  They are very powerful and it allows him to dig his way through any walls with ease but it can be a real pain if you get cornered or swarmed with little room to maneuver and place explosives – leaving the big guy wishing for a trusty dagger.  This can really add some nice variety as the games initial charm begins to wear down and starts to leave the player wanting some additional variety other than different power-up combos.

The game increases in difficulty at a reasonable pace with the game divided into 4 “zones”. Each one contains a different selection of monsters with some classic “palette-swaps” to show the player that certain dancing skeletons may behave slightly differently than previous ones, but there are actually quite a few new monsters to be seen and outsmarted.. out-patterened? Out-danced! A mini-boss stands in the way of the stairs to the next level at the end of each with a final boss at the end of each zone’s 4th level. All bosses are randomized and some are certainly trickier than others. My absolute favorite was “King Conga” who leads a massive conga-line of zombies that must be defeated before he can be harmed.  Coral Riff is a close second with an entire band of possessed water-elemental (maybe?) instruments that teleport about and attempt pincer attacks.

CoND_CoralRiff(Behold, Coral Riff in all of his Glory.  Don’t blink, those are some aggressive instruments!)

For a game themed around music, rhythm and dancing, at least at some level, one may have mixed opinions. Having grown up in the NES and SEGA era, retro tunes tend to appeal to me and Crypt of the Necrodancer certainly didn’t disappoint. Grant and I are especially fond of the first zones and I honestly play through it on occasion just to hunt up the shopkeeper and hear him sing his jingle along with the zones music – its really catchy! Good job Brace Yourself Games!


(Golems, skeletons and mushrooms, oh my sweet pixels!)

The Plant Powered Gamers’ stat breakdown:

Fun: 9/10 dancing skeletons. Getting into the beat of the game as a neccesity makes it easy to zone out and enjoy; clever and funny monsters present adequate challenge; the silly theme is a perfect fit for how the game “feels”.

Replayability: 6/10 bouncing slimes. It is a really fun game, true, but after the initial charm had worn off I find that I usually play it for only 15-30 minutes at a time. It is a nice game to have on hand as a small time-gap filler and even now after several months I find myself playing it on occasion.  Additionally, Grant likes the music and I still get a silly smile over the singing shopkeepers.  One might increase this score if access to the Steam Workshop is viable which adds even more variety to the game.

Value: 10/10* wailing banshees. Picking this up on sale makes it feel like a steal. It is probably worth the $15 price on Steam as of the writing of this article, but as often as it comes up on sale it may be silly not to wait and get it for half that price. The Plant Power Gamers have certainly been happy with our purchase.

Make new friends with Kirby – then eat them..

“Hey!  Why did you eat me mom!?” Grant cried.

“Oops!  Oh well, I needed that ‘flame power’ to light this fuse anyway, ” Suzy explained. “Don’t worry, I’ll spit you back out when I’m done.”

“No way you shot me into the pit!”

“Well you ran off and left me earlier and I was after that last puzzle piece.”

Fun for the whole family..

Actually, to be a bit more objective, this one really is a blast. Kirby Star Allies for the Nintendo Switch was a gift from Suzy to us guys to play together over Spring Break this year.  It has been quite a hit and we have had several evenings of fun and I’d love to share our thoughts regarding this adorable and quirky game.

First it must be noted that this game is a return to the more basic Kirby formula.  Platforming and adventures with a pretty low difficulty curve that should be comfortable for even the little gamers in the family are in large supply once again.  In this game Kirby is able to throw “friend hearts” at enemies to convert them into allies.  He can also go the traditional route and just eat them “old school” but a lot of the game plays off of the friend mechanic so one might as well play around with it a bit.  Oddly enough he can still eat his friends, which we all found hilarious, in order to use them as projectiles or consume them to gain their powers.  This friend eating power adds to the normal chaos of multiplayer games and has led to a lot of laughter and amusement.  Some of the enemies/allies have elemental powers which can be combined with other powers to produce either special attacks or augmented weaponry.  I always loved the mix and match powers in Kirby Crystal Shards, originally on N64 but also included on the Kirby’s Dream Collection: Special Edition, so I was happy to see something in that vein returning.


As mentioned, this game is very “little gamer” friendly, as the ally players cannot lose by falling into pits and even if they run out of health they can commandeer a new friend so there is minimal repercussion for the ally players’ errors.  The teams fate really hangs on Kirby, because if he falls in battle the whole team loses and backs up to a checkpoint, though as far as we have gotten the game is pretty gracious with checkpoints and I cannot think of one yet that took us more than two tries to pass.  This keeps the game’s potential for frustration very low but does suffer, as Grant noted, from being a bit too easy at times.  The level of frustration and risk is very low and while this is good for casual players and little ones, anyone looking for a challenging game may be a bit underwhelmed.  This is a Kirby game, though, and the little pink puffball sort of has a tradition for being a bit softer on the difficulty curves in the last several iterations.  Grant also pretty much hated “friend bridge”… one really must experience it… but I’ll agree, not the most entertaining “mini-game challenge” by a long shot.


We all agree, however, that what the game lacks in challenge it makes up for in clever ability combos, super powers, new allies to explore and learn and above all – that special Kirby charm.  He holds the place as the main game that can get Suzy to join in on the gaming action and really make for a fun “family game night”.  In my opinion that is the coolest power Kirby has to offer and it is one that keeps returning again and again.

Sound interesting?  Have little gamers that would like to join in or perhaps a significant other that is not typically a gamer?  This one may be the gateway you are looking for!  Do be aware that the game probably has a certain ceiling on likely replayability.  If we unlock anything that changes my opinion on this later then I will be sure to make an edit and note any opinion changes.

On the Plant Powered Gamers scales:

Fun: 9 out of 10 friend-flavored cupcakes.  Make friends.  Eat them.  Spit them at bosses until they are defeated, then eat them.  Recyclable fun!  Plus mix and match powers have been incredible fun to experiment with.

Little-gamer Friendly: 9 out of 10 mega-tomatoes.  It is harder than my son’s old V-tech toddler games, but not by much.

Aesthetics: 10 out of 10 “Super tough cream puffs“.  It is colorful, imaginative and accompanied by happy, energetic music – probably works as an antidepressant and with fewer side effects.

Replayability: 6 out of 10 sleepy Noddys.  Other than replaying the levels to collect missing puzzle pieces, there is not a lot to cause me to want to return to previous stages.  They are all fun, certainly, but not really any that I would truly say were memorable.



Super Mario Sunshine – Review

Super Mario Sunshine – the only game in which Mario runs about blasting baddies with a water-gun while frolicking acrobatically across the Isle Delfino Resort.  His water-gun isn’t just a random pick off of the supermarket shelves, though, it’s name is FLUDD and it is a helpful A.I. buddy on Mario’s sun-filled adventure.  FLUDD can blast bursts of water like a cannon but can also help Mario hover, blast-off like a rocket or even fire backward to increase running speeds to the point the team can run across water!  FLUDD is the main mechanic of the game and the whole world is a bit like a giant playground for the player to experiment and explore with Mario’s new buddy.

As usual, Mario is an acrobatics wizard, able to make amazing long jumps and triple jumps, wall jump in narrow spaces and perform his amazing ground pound maneuver in order to smash the baddies.  In Super Mario Sunshine, however, he adds an amazing helicopter jump that can be performed by rotating the analog stick while jumping, allowing a pinpoint high jump that can reach incredible heights and some pretty impressive distance when coupled with FLUDD’s abilities.

The story is a pretty solid Mario tale with a twist that I won’t spoil in case you haven’t played before, but it does run a similar course.  A princess thief targets Peach after tricking the island residents into blaming Mario for a huge mess that has been made on their island.  Eventually Mario must manage to not only clean up the mess and clear his name but also save his precious Peach from the sneaky thief.  All manner of adventure follows our plumbing powerhouse, as he releases sealed or captured “Shine Sprites” across the island (these parallel to the starts in Mario 64 pretty closely).  The sprites are very important to the island’s inhabitants as an energy source.  Mario will defeat zany bosses, collect red coins and clear obstacle courses like a parkour master on his journey and as the player increases in skill it can feel very satisfying to pull off some of the crazy maneuvers that can be performed.

All in all there are 7 levels with 9 sprites (Including the 100 coin shines) in each which is actually an increase from the 7 stars per course found in Mario 64, and that is counting the 100-coin bonus stars.  When enough sprites have been collected events will trigger, finally culminating in a final event in which Mario will confront the princess thief and save the day.  The events are triggered not by a set number of sprites overall but the player reaching a certain degree of completion in each of the 7 levels.  To me this can kind of make some of the “bonus” sprites seem kind of pointless, but as the game is so fun and most sprites are truly fun to save, I’ll give it a nod and pass.

Overall I will say that if you are looking for a platformer that is not too terribly difficult and has all of the polish you would come to expect from Nintendo then give Super Mario Sunshine for the Nintendo Gamecube a try.  Just don’t forget your sunscreen 😀

Check out my YouTube Channel to see what games I have been playing!