Golden Idol on Pressure Plate

Yesterday, Mossmouth’s Spelunky was released.

Yeah, it’s the best. Here’s why:


People like to learn. People like to find out new things and expand their minds.

Video games often have a bad habit of equating learning to a task. A task you must trudge through before you’re granted access to the meat and potatoes and allowed to have fun.

I dread the first several minutes of games because I know that’s when I’m going to get barraged with words. Words telling me what I’m supposed to be doing, inane story babble, and what this and that button does. I pay this tax because I know the real game is lurking somewhere after this tutorial level, upon which I realize all the tutorial words have already seeped out of my head like water from a sieve.

Spelunky equates learning with fun. It doesn’t pause the game and pop up a window explaining how to jump. It doesn’t lock you in a room and force you to listen to VO.  Instead, it lets you loose in the world and makes you flex your curiosity muscles.

“Hey, there’s a bloody sacrificial altar. What happens if I blow it up?”

“Look, there’s a golden idol sitting on a pressure plate. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Hi shopkeeper, you have a lot of things we want. What happens if we rob you?”

_“Well, that ended in tears.”_ Yup, it sure did.


Many games would work just as well, if not better, were they converted into literature or Michael Bay movies. (And no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Spelunky is an example of something that unquestionably works best in its current form. It does this by laser-focusing on systems-based gameplay, something very unique to games.

What’s systems-based gameplay? Basically, it’s when your various game mechanics are designed to poke and prod one another.

Basic example:  the Arrow Trap is triggered when someone or something moves near it.  How does one safely trigger an Arrow Trap?

Layering these systems upon one another results in wonderful chain-reaction situations the game’s developers never imagined. There’s something fantastic about creating a unique moment that will never happen again, but more than that, the game generates these unique moments with such apparent ease.

In short: a variety of these rich interplaying systems + 4-player multiplayer + my sloppy thumbs = good times with Spelunky.

Et al

Spelunky lets you screw yourself over royally. As a testament to how tightly the game is made, this self-screwage never feels unfair or out of the blue. The game doesn’t screw you over, _you_ and your dumb decisions screw yourself over.  With the looming horror of permadeath and lack of safety net checkpoints and savegames, the decisions you face suddenly become life-and-death in significance.

Mix all these things together, and you end up with a darn fine piece of work.

The Roguelike is a game genre I’m very fond of. Their main tenets are things I love: procedural worlds, player-generated narratives, systematic gameplay, and an adamant anti-chuffa stance. Spelunky takes and runs with these promising aspects, while doing that thing that great work does: that twist, of flipping the genre into a platformer, of making a roguelike that doesn’t require memorization of twenty-seven hotkeys, and letting (really, encouraging) you and your friends to throw one another toward giant freaky spiders.

So yeah, Spelunky is the best.