Spelunky: Snakes, I Hate Snakes!

Spelunky is a roguelike, but not like any roguelike I’ve ever played before. Rather than being a top-down dungeon crawl viewed from overhead, the game is a side-scrolling platformer. Not content with the characteristic ASCII symbol set that comprises most roguelikes’ graphics, it features fully detailed pixel art tiles and sprites.


As the title suggests, you play as a whip-cracking cave explorer, sporting a fedora and leather jacket to complete the image. You have at your disposal some bombs and ropes as well as additional tools found along the way to help you navigate the levels, overcome enemies, and find treasures. Inhabiting the dark caverns are various dangerous creepy-crawlies like snakes and spiders, and friendly NPCs like shopkeepers and damsels in distress.

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As is the norm for conventional roguelikes, every level in Spelunky is procedurally-generated, so every single time you start it up the experience will be fresh. And return to the start you will, many many times. The game inherits yet another trait from the genre - it’s bloody hard. Dying is all too easy, what with the dangerous heights to descend, baddies to face, shopkeepers to piss off, and … your own clumsiness to avoid. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh when I successfully dodge a dart trap, pick up the spent dart and aim at a spider - only to miss it and have the projectile bounce off the wall right back at me, killing me instantly.

The game is full of these unexpected, water-cooler story moments. Playing it I keep slipping back into ‘indie platformer’ mode - treating it as another Rick Dangerous, perhaps - and expect to have a predictable playthrough time and time again. But the game is first and foremost a roguelike, and therefore it continues to provide surprises, the kind of things that we tag with [Spoiler] so as not to ruin anyone else’s first encounter. Things like the complete overhaul of the graphics every few levels - which I’ve deliberately chosen to avoid showing in the screenshots - or what happens when you pick up a golden statue from its base. In this way Spelunky rewards persevering players who embrace the short life expectancy and put in the time and effort to get to the end. It retains that addictive nature that dungeon crawling fans know so well, and keeps you wanting to come back.

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The game was released in beta form last year1, so most people in the indie circles would have already had a chance to play it by now. However, only recently has the game reached version 1.0, and with this release comes the announcement that developer Derek Yu will be bringing the game to XBox Live Arcade next year. It won’t be just a straight port, either. Yu intends to lead the two versions down separate paths2 with the PC version becoming an open source project, moddable by the community, and the 360 version taking on the expected features like more levels and integrated achievements.

  1. http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=4017.0 []
  2. http://mossmouth.com/forums/index.php?topic=6.msg25#msg25 []