Spelunky review (Xbox 360)

The first time, it was spikes. I mean, it just happened so suddenly. I was jumping a gap, missed the edge on the other side, and tumbled to a gruesome, ignominious death on the stony ground below. Then it was a snake. Or maybe a bat. Or a scorpion. I don’t remember now, there were so many.

Then there was that one time I inadvertently triggered a trap, and an enormous rock went rolling through the dungeon. I managed to avoid it by lunging to safety on a ledge above, but it smashed through a shop somewhere under me, and I got the blame for it. The shopkeeper’s shotgun didn’t leave much of me for the snakes, bats, and scorpions to gnaw upon, there in the dank and dark of Mines 1-3. Okay, so to be completely honest, that might have happened more than just that one time too.

And that? That’s it. Game over. Next time, try not to do that again.

Spelunky is a game for the hardest of the hardcore. Fundamentally, it’s straightforward enough – just get from the entrance to the exit, and grab everything on the way. But there are no checkpoints, and when you die, you lose everything, including all your gold and gems and that super useful pickaxe you paid loads for and that you’ll probably never get again.

So that’s bad, but to make matters that much worse, just about everything in the game is designed exclusively to kill you, and sooner or later (but mostly sooner), something will – and when it does, it’ll be your fault. Besides, Mom told you not to dig in the yard.

The rules are simple, obvious, and easily to learn. An arrow trap will hit the first thing that goes past it, for example. So when it hits you and bumps your last heart off the list and sends you back to the start, it’s because you weren’t paying attention and didn’t lob something ahead of you to set it off. Safety first, boys and girls.

“Whatever,” you think. “I’ll just memorise where everything is.” Except you can’t, because every dungeon in the game is randomly generated, and every new game is a new episode of How Will It All Go Instantly Regrettably Wrong This Time? Guest-starring piranhas, giant spiders, and an invincible ghost that turns up if you take more than two and a half minutes to complete a level.

In the interests of full disclosure and journalistic integrity and perhaps a sort of cautionary injunction to would-be treasure hunters, I must confess that, in the five or six hours I’ve played, I’ve only made it through the first four levels once, and that was in co-op with two other players. Then there may or may not have been some kind of incident with a misplaced bomb.

On the other hand, a friend of mine has already finished the game solo and is ranked #5 in the world on the game’s leaderboards, so clearly, I just don’t pay enough attention. Or Claudio is a machine. I can’t decide, but I’d add that his status as a human being has been a matter of some speculation since he five-starred pretty much everything in Rock Band on expert drums.

Back to Spelunky’s multiplayer features, though, and the game also includes a deathmatch mode that most closely resembles a hypothetical scenario where two to four weasels are placed in a hessian sack to see what happens. “Mad” isn’t even close to describing the chaos that ensues, but there’s something undeniably poetic about a round ending in three seconds with no winner, and everybody impaled on spikes.

This is definitely not a game for everybody. It’s brutal, it’s frustrating, and it’s entirely without mercy, but if that’s something that appeals to you, Spelunky’s unmatched inventiveness is sure to win you over. Then it’ll turn off all the lights, and make you work stuff out from there, just to keep things interesting.

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Spelunky review (Xbox 360)

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