The last few days I’ve been fussing over Derek Yu’s Spelunky. I know that it’s been around for a while; it’s just one of those things I never got around to. I downloaded it, and then got distracted. Time moved on, and there was always something else to pay attention to. As often happens, I’m rather disappointed that I didn’t jump in sooner — and also glad it’s new to me now, with all the endorphin rush you get from that kind of new relationship.
I’m sure the game has been discussed to death, so I don’t intend to labor the point. For context, the game is a Roguelike platformer released for PC about a year and a half ago. By Roguelike, I mean it randomly generates its levels and fills them with both traps and treasure. Until you know the game inside out and can make an effort to beat it, the point of playing is to see how deep you can go, and how much you can achieve, before dying. The random level layout means the game is infinitely replayable. The easy death means that you’ll be restarting often.
The game is basically an attempt to rehabilitate, or reenvision, Tim Martin’s Spelunker, an early PC game mostly known for its NES port. Although on the face of it the game seems really neat — a tale of exploration and adventure and treasure hunting in the deep places of the Earth — Spelunker is nearly impossible to play, in that the controls are a bit awkward and nearly everything that you can do will kill you. Even falling from slightly over the height of your character spells death. It’s ridiculous, and has gained the game a sort of cult reputation for its perceived sadism.
You can see the thought processes; Roguelikes are difficult and arbitrary, yet within an addictive framework. Spelunker is difficult and arbitrary, and no fun at all. Why not combine the discipline of the one and the premise of the other, and create the game that Spelunker might have been? Good thinking, too, as Spelunky is rather marvelous and instantly claimed a place amongst the most respected of indie games.