Review – Spelunky (Switch)
Derek Yu’s Spelunky is already considered a classic among indie games. It was part of the first wave of memorable indies to actually make an impact in the gaming industry in the mid-to-late 2000’s, alongside games like Super Meat Boy, Braid, Limbo, and Fez. It’s also yet another game I hadn’t played back in the day, for reasons beyond my comprehension. That’s fine, I’m here to fix another mistake from my past, playing it on the best platform to enjoy these kinds of the games: the Nintendo Switch.
Spelunky might possibly be the first big indie roguelike. It’s one of the first games to actually popularize the gameplay loop comprised of randomly generated levels whenever your character dies during an exploration run. Considering the fact that many of the indies we tackle at WayTooManyGames are actually roguelikes or roguelites, this means I’m reviewing the grandfather of them all, the big boss, the OG. Unlike most small-budget titles we review here, Spelunky carries a lot of importance, historical value, and therefore, hype. I have big expectations towards it.
In Spelunky, you play as a cute, almost chibi-esque rendition of Indiana Jones who wants to explore a gigantic haunted mine left behind by an ancient tribe. This mine is located in the middle of the desert, yet the architecture and traps you find inside are largely reminiscent of Mayan/Aztec culture. That confused me a bit, to be fair. Then again, that isn’t the point. The point is that the mine completely changes its layout, amounts of treasure, and puzzles every time you die and re-enter it.
Exploring the mines is pretty easy, at least when it comes to controls. Spelunky is a traditional 2D platformer, so the controls are very simple to learn. You jump, climb ladders, use the shortest whip in human history to kill enemies, throw bombs at foes or the floor itself in order to open new routes, and pick up items. Occasionally you’ll pick up a damsel in distress with the objective of taking her to the end of the level, in order to save her. I am not here to question how the hell a lady in a red dress showed up inside a mine. It’s a neat loop while you’re exploring each new level inside this mine, which gets progressively harder and even more unfair.
Spelunky couldn’t care less about your well-being. Your fate lies in the hands of RNGesus. You may spawn in a level with very few enemies or traps, or a hellscape of a level where you’ll already be shot by a blowdart-spitting statue the second you move a muscle. The quality of your run will only be partially dependent on your abilities as a player. Unlike other roguelikes, however, Spelunky is so simplistic, and its presentation is so charming (both its visuals and sound aged quite well, even if its soundtrack is limited) that I didn’t exactly get annoyed with some of its shortcomings.
The only thing that irritated me quite often was its hit detection. I never felt confident on the reach of my whip attack. Sure, it’s always stupidly short, but there were times the damn thing felt more useless than touching enemies with my pinky. Occasionally, I would get attacked by a foe not located right next to me. Almost as if the hit detection was sometimes dictated by the same RNG that looms over Spelunky as a whole. But as previously mentioned, even with these setbacks, I would rarely get angry at the game itself.
Some aspects related to Spelunky‘s gameplay loop and the quality of its RNG features have aged poorly when compared to more modern and feature-rich roguelikes. Yet considering this was basically the progenitor of half of the indie games in the market, I have to commend it for still being visually appealing and tons of fun after all these years. I am more than sure that its 2020 successor, Spelunky 2, is a lot more robust, but if you want to take a deep dive into the history of modern indie gaming, Spelunky is a pretty good starting point.
Considering its age and its original budget (or lack thereof), I’m impressed with how well Spelunky has aged visually. It looks pretty sharp on a small screen.
The hit detection can be a bit finicky at times and the level design is completely dependent on a very punishing random number generator. With that being said, Spelunky features a very simple and responsive control scheme that works very well.
The soundtrack, while iconic and even occasionally catchy, can get a bit repetitive after a while given the small amount of tunes included in it.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Spelunky is really fun and very replayable… as long as you’re not hampered and/or bothered by the evil mastermind that is its RNG.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Spelunky is available now on PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Spelunky was provided by the publisher.