Spelunky

Every once in a while, I need a break from XBLIG.  I love you guys, but a girl can only take so many punishers before she needs a vacation from that.  So, I’m going to review Spelunky, a recent punisher on Xbox Live Arcamuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Damnit.

Spelunky is a game made by assholes, for assholes.  Having put somewhere around ten hours into it since this last weekend, I’m wearing a jumbo-sized asshole badge on this one too.  I couldn’t help myself.  I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t even having fun, but at the same time I was practically hypnotized by what was transpiring on-screen.  A series of colossal dick moves, one after another, so random and so spiteful that I’m pretty sure this is a game designed to specifically take players down a peg.  I’m know people will say that I just sucked at Spelunky and thus I suck at games and life in general.  You know what?  Fine, guilty as charged.  But Spelunky is a bastard.

The idea is you’re a little explorer dude who has to go through a series of randomly-generated levels, looking for treasure, items, and exits.  The game plays out like a platformer, but the first sign that Spelunky shoots baby giraffes with bullets made from the ground-up hoofs of their own mother is the fact that it’s also a Roguelike.  When you die, you go back to start, and any progress you’ve made will be lost.  And you will die.  You’ll die from falling too far.  You’ll die from getting squashed by giant boulders.  You’ll die from being shot by arrows.  Annoyingly, you’ll die from dodging arrows, only for them to bounce off a wall and land on you.  You’ll die from bats.  You’ll die from trying to avoid bats.  You’ll die from trying to throw a rock at a bat, missing, and having the rock land on you.  Everything seems to want you dead in this game.  If Gandhi was in it he would probably spray you with bullets.

Oh yea, he’s fucked.

I didn’t make it very far into Spelunky.  Most of that is on me and a little thing called greed.  I’m incapable of doing a bare minimum to survive.  The game is filled with tons of treasure just lying around, and I wanted all of it.  But the game sends a bit of a mixed message, because Spelunky seems to actively discourage exploration.  You only have a couple of minutes to “enjoy” each stage before a giant ghost monster thingie comes to kill you.  Thus, you’re forced to rush through each stage, which has far more things to explore than you can reasonably hope to grab.  However, rushing means you don’t have time to check to make sure there isn’t something just out of sight that will immediately result in your death.  In a way, I like how you have to calculate the risk versus reward.  On the other hand, filling the game up with so much shit and forbidding a person from trying to collect it all makes me want to slowly insert a lit cherry bomb up the developer’s piss pipe.  Well, not too slowly.  I’m not trying to blow my own fingers off here.  In fact, maybe I should wait to light it until it’s inserted fully.

Honestly, Spelunky isn’t really that good of a game, mechanically at least.  The controls are kind of weird.  Jumping and movement are mostly fine, but I was constantly and unintentionally clinging to walls and leaving myself wide open for attack.  Aiming your throws is a bit clunky too, and not without risk.  If you try to throw a rock in the air, you’re just as likely to kill yourself doing it when it ricochets off a wall and hits you upside your noggin.  Items that are allegedly there to help you aren’t safe either.  I got a glove that allowed me to throw stuff better.  And by better, I mean the shit you throw just keeps going until it hits something.  This one time I threw a rock, and then about two seconds later the sound of the shopkeeper declaring his intent to murder me rang throughout the stage.  Well fuck.  Another time I bought a green glove, which allows you to climb.  Sounded great, but remember that “stuck to the wall” bit I was talking about earlier?  Multiply that by every fucking jump you make to get an idea of how useful it ultimately is.

Don’t let the cute graphics fool you. This game is evil.

I think the biggest problem is Spelunky relies too much on just plain old stupid luck.  This is mostly due to the random level design.  Fans of the game disagree with me, while others have said that Spelunky is only 25% luck.  I would suggest 1% is too much for certain games, but fine, it’s only 25%.  What does that mean?  Well, most of the “damsels” that you need to fill up your health will be right out in the open.  But sometimes she (or he, or a dog) will be stuck behind a wall that requires a minimum of three bombs to get through, and  those are usually in short supply.  Or sometimes the game will just randomly make a level dark and practically impossible to navigate.  For a while I tried to work my way through those, but after hours of failure after failure, I said “fuck it” and started to commit suicide as soon as those godforsaken things popped up.  I figured fate dealt me a shitty hand, and so fuck fate.  I won’t give it the satisfaction of watching me fall on a spike.

And then there are the fun random deaths.  I’m willing to concede that 19 out of 20 deaths were entirely my fault.  Having said that, in a game this brutally difficult, having just 1 of those 20 be something I had nothing to do with is just vile.  And probably hilarious if you’re a spectator.  This one time I got to level 1-4 and I was having my best run yet.  I had taken no damage, gotten my health up to seven points, built up over twenty bombs, ten ropes, and had enough items that I was better equipped to invade a small country.  I start the level, walk a little bit to the right, and then an explosion happens somewhere off-screen.  And then something that sent a shockwave down my spine occurred: the “TERRORIST!” splash that pops up when you “attack” one of the shopkeeper dudes popped up.  When that happens, they pull out a shotgun and open fire on you, and it’s nearly impossible to fight back.  Sure enough, we ran into each-other not long after and I was killed.  Fuck you, Spelunky.

Do you know what Spelunky really needed?  A video sharing function.  Without a doubt the most fun I’ve had from the game is swapping tales of my biggest failures with my fellow masochists.  They’re all over Twitter.  Spelunky is the new “Big Fish Story” game of choice.  Everyone that spends at least an hour with it walks away with stories of comical ineptness.  Being able to send your friends videos of your most spectacular deaths would have been a huge selling point for the game.  But alas, it’s not to be.  In fact, other than some lame leaderboards, Spelunky doesn’t take advantage of Xbox Live at all.  There’s a way useless death match feature that’s local-only.  It’s so badly done that I’m not sure why they bothered.  Matches last just a few seconds, and finding three other people capable of lasting longer will be tough even for those of you with an actual social life.  There’s also co-op, but don’t even bother trying it.  Save some time and stab your nearest friend in the knee with a screwdriver.  Trust me, this way is faster.  You’ll just end up wanting to do it anyway.

One of the most pointless modes I’ve seen added to a game in a long while.

Here’s a thought: combine the death-match with the co-op, remove any bullshit about working together, and put the fucking thing on Xbox Live where it belongs.  Make it a race/death-match where the four players are not anchored together on a single screen.  A race to the exit, or the last man left alive.  That would have been awesome.  Hell, it might have even justified the 1200MSP price tag.  Seriously, $15 for this?  Out-fucking-rageous.  This isn’t an XBLIG we’re talking about here.  This is an Arcade game, yet it lacks some of the fundamental bells and whistles of the service.

I can’t recommend Spelunky, because I feel doing so would make me a horrible person.  Any fun you have playing it slowly vanishes, yet you can’t stop playing.  It owns you.  God help me, I’m going to go play it some more as soon as I finish this review.  And then when I’m actually playing it, I have trouble tearing myself away from it.  One time I only quit because my battery charge went out.  This isn’t a game.  It’s a drug.  And not one of those fun drugs that rock stars overdose on in the grand suite at a five-star hotel.  Oh no.  This is one of those drugs that hillbillies cook up in their bathtub in Bumfuck, Wyoming.  One that’s sold to you by a ragged-looking teenager that’s missing half his teeth.  One that you should know better than to try, because just one taste will hook you for life.

Oh fuck it, just buy the damn thing.  Just make sure you cancel any plans you have pending in the coming weeks.  And absolutely no faking German Measles to get out of work.  I already did that one.  By the way, chances are you won’t have any more fun than I am having.  I’m just telling you to buy it in hopes that Spelunky is secretly running some kind of bizarre version of a video game Ponzi Scheme and if I convince enough people to buy it, the game will suddenly become magically easier for me.

Spelunky was developed by Mossmouth

1200 Microsoft Points have never laughed harder than the time they spent a fortune on one of the helpers in Spelunky only to watch him jump up and impale himself on spikes only five seconds later for no reason at all in the making of this review. 

Dungeon Defenders

Early on, when conceptualizing Indie Gamer Chick, I intended to review Xbox Live Arcade games, along with Playstation Network titles.  That idea got scrapped when I decided that those types of games have no problem getting attention.  Of course, I didn’t take into account that many titles on those platforms come from smaller studios working on a shoestring budget and the big gaming sites can’t be bothered to touch them because they’re too busy going gaga over Batman or Uncharted.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m right there with them.  Batman is awesome, even if I find it pretty far-fetched as far as video games go.  A man dressed like a bat fights an evil clown?  The fuck is that about?  I would sooner believe in a giant turtle-dragon kidnapping a princess from a group of sentient mushrooms than a man in a bat suit fighting a clown.  It’s just not as plausible.

Dungeon Defenders built up decent sized following when it debuted last winter on iOS and Android, but it still has been well under the radar this Fall gaming season for its console debuts on Xbox Live and Playstation Network, while also putting in an appearance on Steam.  Thankfully, by total happenstance I caught up on Vintage Video Game TV’s  live feed of a play-through of the game and was totally mesmerized by it.  I had to play it.

Dungeon Defenders is a co-op-focused game that’s one part tower defense and one part hoard-slasher.  You choose one of four character classes: the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, or the funny one.  Each has specific skill sets and attributes.  I was Sir. Rimjob, the brave squire who was a hands-on type of dude.  Brian became Mr. Fuzzyfat, a wise apprentice wizard who could fire on enemies from a distance and do pretty much squat in the way of damage.  Bryce, the indecisive cunt that he is, alternated between using a huntress and a monk that I swear looked like it was ripped right from the Last Airbender.  The cartoon, not the crappy movie.

Characters selected, we entered the game world.  Naturally the first thing I noticed were the graphics.  They were stunning.  If someone had handed me a video of this game and told me to guess who developed it, I would have said Rare Ltd.  By the way, that’s meant to be a complement.  I know good games and Rare have long since parted ways, but the visual style made me think of their Nintendo 64 games from way back when I was a wee one.  It reminded me of the line queues at Disneyland, with attention to detail given even towards areas of the game that are off-limits and just for show.  I also want to offer a shout-out to the amazing score of the game.  Dungeon Defenders is one of my favorite audio-visual experiences this year.

Once you actually get going, the game itself is a total blast.  You enter a dungeon that contains an enormous crystal “core” that you have to defend from waves of enemies.  Like a hack-and-slasher, you can fight the baddies hand-to-hand if you wish.  But you can also set up towers in strategic locations to either directly defend the crystal or turn the hoards into a goblin mixed grill.

For the most part, the playable characters are well-balanced.  The squire is good in the thick of battle but is slow in movement and casting time.  The apprentice is useless in direct combat but has nifty long-range towers and a swift casting time.  The monk is average in most categories but is a well-balanced character.  The huntress.. well.. she’s actually kind of useless, or maybe the dude we designated to use her was.  Either way, because of the perfect difficulty curve, we were quickly able to get our shit together and work as a cohesive unit.

Dungeon Defenders is at it’s best when you play with people you know.  It does offer random pairing, but both times I tried it were unmitigated disasters.  Maybe on Steam or PSN you might get good players.  Xbox Live is populated by pit vipers that would shame some of the most obnoxious griefers I encountered when I played Warcraft, and they managed to make my life a living hell.  I can’t blame the developers for it, but I figured you should know what to expect when you enter random matchmaking on Xbox Live.  As if you didn’t already know what it’s like.  Hoarding all the mana needed to cast spells.  Picking up all the items and immediately selling them.  Tearing down my towers and replacing them with the same towers of their own so they could win MVP each stage.  Talking so much empty shit that I muted my TV altogether.  Just generally being losers on such an epic scale that if they were imprisoned with the most horny serial rapists on the planet they would still manage to die virgins.

With friends, it works.  Coming up with a system of how to tackle each stage is rewarding and engaging.  Each level is designed uniquely, offering different challenges in how to apply your towers or where each player should be positioned to directly fight the hoards.  The actual combat is pretty simplistic: hit the trigger button to swing your weapon.  You can also use more powerful attacks that are mapped to the D-Pad, at least if you’re the squire.  I could do a spinning attack with my dude that was not-unlike the spinning move Link does in every Zelda game.  Alternatively, I could go into “blood rage” mode, where my squire goes into a mad, blood-fueled rage and tears into everything in sight.  That happens to me at least once a month so I can relate.

Okay, so you didn’t come here to read what’s sunshine and lollipops about a game.  Despite being in love with Dungeon Defenders, there’s a lot not to like about it.  For starters, this is clearly a game that was designed to be interfaced with anything but a game pad.  The menus are clunky, the control scheme unintuitive, and the quick-actions mapped to the D-Pad not always helpful.  Why can’t I customize what the D-Pad does?  As a squire, I was not the character of choice for healing towers in the middle of combat.  My dude casts his spells way too slowly, and I’ll be damned if I’m wasting any XP upgrades on making him faster at it.  Yet that function is mapped to the D-Pad and I can’t change that.  It’s a waste of a button for me.  UPDATE: Um, actually you can. It’s really simple too.  You just press the D-Pad when the action you want to be quick-loaded is highlighted in the menu.  I’m going to fucking kill Bryce.  He was like “we don’t need a tutorial.”  And I was like “Uh huh!” And he was like “Nuh Uh!’ and I just gave in because we can do that for hours.  My bad.  Carry on.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the shop system.  When you use it, the selection is limited to three weapons, three pieces of armor, and three pets at a time.  Well that’s a bucket of lame sauce.  Also lame is that the selection doesn’t always logically apply to how much progress you’ve made in the game.  The first time I entered the shop, there was a pet that cost over a million mana.  I had just started the fucking game, mind you.  Following the first level I had maybe 2,000 mana tops.  It was such a tease.  Apparently you can lock an item in the shop so that it doesn’t go away, and maybe it will even be a good price for it.  I don’t really care what the reason is, but only three possible items per type is total horse shit, and the lack of scaling the prices to fit your current resources is a dick move supreme.

My biggest complaint is that this is a game that absolutely requires four players to proceed.  On your own, you might be able to handle a couple of the early stages, but once you delve further and further into the game, you better have a full party or you might as well not show up at all.  There are adjustable difficulty levels, but when it’s just you against nearly a thousand enemies, all coming from different directions, you’re hosed.  It’s a battle of attrition that you often can’t possibly hope to win, leaving you helpless unless the stars align properly and all your bestest buds have free time at the exact moment you do.

But those complaints are so minor compared to the big picture.  Dungeon Defenders is sublime.  The main quest offers a decent twenty hours of gameplay, which is pretty good for a $15 arcade game.  But that only scratches the surface.  There’s tons of side challenges too.  Some of them are pretty creative, like one where the core teleports randomly around the map.  This isn’t DLC, mind you.  This is all in the initial package.  There are plans for DLC that will add more characters, maps, and challenges, but I’m still at least fifty hours away from seeing everything the current build has to offer.  The amount of content here is staggering.  Dungeon Defenders might be the best total package of any Live Arcade game ever made.  Hyperbolic?  Maybe.  Truthful?  Absolutely.

If I was one of those twats that gave out a Game of the Year award, this would be an honest contender for it, and that includes stuff like Arkham City, L.A. Noire, and Portal 2Dungeon Defenders offers more gameplay than pretty much any mainstream game, but at a fraction of the cost.  With the right teammates, you’ll keep coming back to this one again and again.  In a perfect world, this would be an unprecedented hit.  Alas, we’re not in a perfect world.  Tibet isn’t free, gas is still expensive, and your mother is still a whore.  Trendy Entertainment could not have possibly picked a worse time than this gaming season to release this masterpiece to the masses.  In the history of bad timing, it ranks right up there with the Vienna Academy of Art running out of room for new students around 1908.

Dungeon Defenders was developed by Trendy Entertainment

1200 Microsoft Points think charging 50,000 mana to rename your character is criminal extortion in the making of this review.

A review copy of Dungeon Defenders was provided by Trendy Entertainment to IndieGamerChick.com in this review.  The copy played by the Chick was purchased by her with her own Microsoft Points.  The review copy was given to a friend with the sole purpose of helping the Chick test online multiplayer.  That person had no feedback in this article.  For more information on this policy, please read the Developer Support page here

Shortly after I posted this score, my right hand filed for divorce.

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