Excavating fun every step of the way

Spelunky is one of the most wonderful indie success stories you can find. It was previously released back in 2009 as a side project by Derek Yu, a developer who has dedicated much of the last decade of his life to the indie game scene, helping out other developers and generally being a force for good. After the original version of Spelunky proved a roaring success, Yu decided to go ahead and create a full-blown commercial edition of the game – and so we catch up to the present day, where Spelunky is ready and waiting for you to take up the challenge.

What makes this hard-as-nails randomly-generated platformer so wildly entertaining and worthwhile is the progression system. Unlike a lot of other games, you don’t gain upgrades and powers along the way that make you stronger. Spelunky is all about building up your own skills and understanding of the game, and then putting these into practice slowly but surely. It’s rare to find a video game experience this satisfying, and it’s the sort of game that should really be a part of every gamer’s collection.


You play as an adventurer who has discovered the entrance to an ancient tomb. When he enters, he finds himself trapped in a constantly shifting world filled with traps and monsters where, when he dies, he’s simply dumped back at the start. The only way to escape is to reach the end of the caves – but each time he starts the journey over again, the route is completely different and he needs to feel his way to the exit all over again.

Spelunky is a game about dying over and over and over again. When you first begin, games will last around a minute each. You’ll get hit by flying arrows. A spider will drop on your head. A mistimed jump will place you firmly on the top of some deadly spikes. There are so many ways to die in Spelunky, and you’ll no doubt explore every single one of them in your time with the game.

But what makes Spelunky so different, and so exciting, is that throughout play you’ll slowly build up your own skills, and work out the best way to put each piece of equipment into practice: the best way to sneak past traps and claim the treasures; the best way to deal with that annoying enemy that keeps knocking you back. Slowly but surely, and without even realizing it, you go from dying over and over again in the first world, to being able to dash through with relative ease and reach the halfway point of the game before finding the going tough.


And this is very much a game that you’ll want to keep playing over and over again. Because the world is randomly generated each time you play, no two runs are the same – and I really mean that. The situations you find yourself in are so wildly different each time, and Spelunky‘s replayability is just completely through the roof. There are only 16 levels to blast your way through, but the game throws so much variety at you, that you’ll want to constantly weave your way through each one time and time again.

That variety I mentioned – there’s just so much to see and do in Spelunky. You’ve got bombs that can help you forge a path (or dig up some lovely treasure), and ropes that allow you to climb back up to where you came from. Damsels can be saved along the way to earn your health back, while picking up the golden idols that you can find dotted around the place leads to an Indiana Jones moment. Every now and again you’ll also come across a shop filled with goodies to buy – although you can choose to steal them if you want. Warning: stealing from the shopkeeper is a dangerous game.

But it’s the underlying secrets and mechanics that really make Spelunky so very special. There are special items you can collect which will greatly enhance your journey, and finding these is always such a risk vs. reward scenario. You’ll find sacrificial pedestals on which to place things, and experimenting with that is great fun. Certain items can be used in certain situations to open up secret exits. There’s just far too much for me to mention here, and quite honestly, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. Exploring the real depths of Spelunky is a whole game in itself.


Put it this way – I’ve played the game for 20+ hours, and I’ve still not seen huge parts of the game. In fact, I’ve still not even reached the end of the game – and this is an experience that you can potentially play through in around 10 minutes if you’re good enough. For me, exploring what Spelunky has to offer, and building up my treasure score so that I place as highly as possible on the online leaderboards is way more interesting than trying to get to the finish line.

The PC version of Spelunky is special in that it plays host to a “Daily Challenge” mode. Each day a new world is generated, and everybody plays through the same level – however, when you die, it’s game over and you can’t give it another shot. In this way, it’s like a really tense and utterly scary version of the main experience. You’ll take fewer risks and move more slowly, and when you do need to take a risk, you’ll genuinely hold your breath as you make a deadly jump or dash by a crazy shopkeeper. Daily Challenge mode makes the PC version of the Spelunky the far superior experience.


The only real downside to Spelunky is the tacked on multiplayer. There’s local co-op and deathmatch modes, but neither is really that much fun. Co-op is silly for a short while, but the problem is that everyone just gets in each other’s way, and you’ll quickly wish you were flying solo. Deathmatch mode, on the other hand, is incredibly throwaway and not worth bothering with. There’s no online play either, so unless you’re happy to grab a few Xbox 360 controllers and sit around your PC monitor, you probably won’t bother.

But Spelunky is all about the gargantuan, twisted, wonderful single player excavation, plumbing the depths time and time again, digging up hilarious death, and wangling your way onto the high score tables. It’s impossible not to adore this game, and it’s fantastic as a social experience too, battling friends to get the top treasure score and laughing and joking about your adventures. You need Spelunky in your life, there’s no question about it.