Indie Innovation: Spelunky


Hello everyone and welcome back to Indie Innovation. This week, I will be taking a look at Spelunky, and indie platformer from Mossmouth, LLC, based out of San Francisco. Originally starting off as an open source freeware game, Spelunky grew in fame when it’s procedurally generated dungeons made their way onto Xbox and Playstation consoles. Having roguelike characteristics such as permanent character deaths, Spelunky has grown in fame to become the Dark Souls equivalent of platformers.

At first glance, Spelunky may seem like a light-hearted and kid friendly game. However, after spending about 30 minutes, your view will drastically change. While visually still light-hearted and full of wonderfully designed creatures and items, the gameplay is very much the opposite of kid friendly. Upon starting the game, you discover that you are an unnamed spelunker looking to pillage the caves of the almighty Olmec for treasure. In order to do this, you must travel into the caves and avoid the various traps and enemies that are found in the ever-changing levels ahead. In order to overcome these obstacles, your character utilizes various items such as ropes and bombs that make traversing the terrain just a little bit easier. You can find various shopkeepers throughout the different levels, each with items to spend your hard earned treasures on. The items range from weapons that give you an edge in combat and clothing that gives your character different moves, to useful items like pickaxes which allow you to mine through the terrain. In order to proceed deeper in the game, you’ll want to use every single item you possibly can.

The real draw of Spelunky is found in its simplicity. After playing for about five minutes, you can already grasp essentially what the bulk of the game is going to be about. Every time you find green snakes, they will slowly go left or right. Every time you come across a spider, they will fall straight down. Every single time you see a bat, they will slowly fly towards you. It’s these different layers of simplicity that come together to show you that the real adversary in this game is yourself. Whether it’s badly timed jumps that lead you into a spike trap, or an unfortunately placed bomb that destroys your footing, there are near limitless ways that you screw up. By shifting the blame on yourself, Spelunky creates this almost compulsive need to immediately jump right in after you fail to try and overcome your missteps from the life before. This forged a relationship of self one-upmanship, where every time I jumped in, I was competing aggressively with myself to prove I could beat my last failure.

Spelunky does a great job at keeping things fresh, which is imperative in a game where you die a lot. Some playthroughs I would make it to the second or third world and then the very next time I jump in, I would die 10 seconds into the first level. I found myself carefully examining the levels and finding the intricacies of each newly designed map, which really helped me feel like I was spelunking in a new game every time I loaded it up. In addition to the level design, when you make it into the next available world, there are new enemy types to encounter. There are quite a wide variety of enemy types, and, upon encountering one for the first time, it was very suspenseful interpreting their move sets and trying to plan accordingly. Pair that with the thrill of finding a shopkeeper and experimenting with new items, and you have a perfect formula for success.

After my initial playthrough and subsequent ones after that, I still find myself drawn to Spelunky. If I have a short period of time between classes or perhaps when I’m waiting for another game to download, I find myself going back to Spelunky. Spending 15 minutes trying to see how far down I can go can be exhilarating and quite a bit more challenging as I don’t have the luxury of time and patience on my side. If the simplicity of exploring and progressing through the game aren’t enough for you, however, there are other incentives to play towards. For those of you who have a more competitive side, you can take solace in the fact that there are community leaderboards. While collecting gold and gems isn’t required in order to progress through the game, it is imperative to collect them if you want to climb the leaderboards. Along with gems and gold, there are other treasures scattered throughout the levels. They often set off traps and other hazards when you collect them, but if you are able to make it to the end of the level with them, the risk is worth the reward.

Having essentially two distinct ways to play adds yet another layer of playability to Spelunky, making it an absurdly approachable title with tons of value. Whether you want a casual experience and are simply trying to make it to the end or you want to climb the leaderboards and show people who’s boss, you can do either in Spelunky. A deceptively simple game with harsh consequences, Spelunky is sure to keep you entertained long after you set down the controller.