Oh no there’s a … GAME OVER.

What follows is the scribbling from a tattered notebook found in a cave, surrounded by giant spiders and angry shopkeepers.

Alas my dearest Margarette, I fear that I will never see you again for this spike sticking through my chest seems to be lodging ever deeper as I write these words. Do please excuse the drops of blood on these pages, my torch dwindles and I must lean close to see. Wait, I think perhaps I am not mortally wounded, if I can just lever myself off this spike I can… wait, what’s that moaning?

Ah, dying alone in the dark with just a flickering torch, a worn journal, an ink pen, some ink, and a giant gold head to keep you company. What more could an adventurer want from life?

Basic concept sketch for Spelunky

Bouncing, looting, running. Everything needed!

 

That’s right, Spelunky is on the brain. The XBox Live Arcade (XBLA) version specifically.

If you haven’t played the PC version, go get it right now, it’s free!

If you haven’t played the XBLA version, maybe hold off for now. While there’s some great things that are new in the XBLA version, there’s also enough annoyances that $15 might be a bit more than is warranted. Like dancing around a car that’s moving without anyone at the controls, it’s just not quite a sane experience.

Reasons after the jump.

I used to be an archaeologist until I took an arrow to the head.

The Good

  • Great trap design!
    • They make you think about where you’re going while you play and how to avoid them.
    • They can be used offensively, they effect enemies the same as you!
    • Placed well so that there’s almost always a way past if you’re clever and/or careful
  • Innovative level design
    • The resources you need to get through the level are almost always available.
    • Some rooms can be only be easily entered from one direction
    • Theme levels add variety and excitement
      • Different kinds of cave systems unlock as you progress, leading to new “worlds” to explore
      • Random modifications of a “world” occur, leading to things like more spiders or darkness
  • Destructible environment
    • Every square can be destroyed (except the edges of the map)
    • Squares get destroyed by NPC and Environmental actions, not just by the player
  • Fun graphics
    • A bit cartoony providing a playful atmosphere
    • Enemies and dangerous terrain look mean and dangerous
  • Excellent controls
    • Smooth and fluid, the controls rarely get in the way of enjoying the game
  • Fun items
    • Lots of different weapons and resources
    • Interactions between different things lead to interesting and surprising results

The Bad

  • The Ghost!!!
    • One hit kills you
    • Appears after some amount of time on a level
      • Countdown clock is hidden so you don’t know how long you have left on the level
    • Often appears closer to the exit than you currently are, ensuring your death
    • Very large and ignores terrain, making it almost impossible to move past (although you can if you’re lucky)
    • Prevents you from thinking your way through a level
      • This turns the game into a twitch platformer instead of a strategic rogue-like platformer
      • Especially annoying in “dark” levels where you can’t see far
  • One hit kills
    • For the most part you have health and take a bit of damage, but some things kill you outright
    • The things that one hit kill you seem a bit random
      • Falling on spikes one hit kills you but running into them from the side at full speed doesn’t hurt at all
    • Having to restart a world or entire cave series with no resources upon death makes this especially annoying
  • Shopkeepers
    • Why are they in the caves and where do they get their stock?
      • Probably because it’s traditional in roguelikes, but they seem out of place in what is otherwise a very solidly thematic world
    • Sometimes they get mad for reasons out of your control and then try to kill you
    • Rarely provide things that don’t appear randomly in the levels without them
  • Items
    • Can only carry one item at a time, including people being rescued and treasure/keys
      • Only really annoying because the ghost prevents you from being clever about backtracking around the level and clearing everything

 

Summary

I almost really really really love Spelunky on the XBox. Instead I can’t bear to play it.

Every time I’m really enjoying myself doing some clever thinking around the well designed level puzzles, the ghost shows up and kills me. It seems like extremely poor design to make a game that’s so much fun, but right when the player is maximizing their fun you send them back to start with nothing to show for it.

On the PC version you can get a mod, and many many players have, that removes the ghost. This fixes nearly every problem with the game.

Until there’s some sort of DLC that removes that optionally removes the ghost (and I would gladly pay another $5 for that one feature), avoid the XBLA version and enjoy the PC one instead.

 

Images in this post by Derek Yu, creator of Spelunky and taken from the Spelunky web site.