July 12, 2012 11 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.