Review: Spelunky (PS3/PSV)

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Title: Spelunky
Format: PlayStation Network Download (331 MB)
Release Date: August 28, 2013
Publisher: Mossmouth LLC
Developer: Blitworks, Mossmouth
Original MSRP: $14.99 (US), €14.99 (EU), £11.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 7
Spelunky is also available for Xbox Live and PC. It is a Cross-Buy/Cross-Save/Cross-Play title.
The PlayStation Network and PlayStation Vita downloadable versions were used for this review.

My first go playing Spelunky lasted seven seconds, I walked off a ledge inadvertently setting off a trap, an arrow fired out and landed in my characters gut. Just barely alive I made my way to an innocent looking vase only to have it break open revealing a nasty snake with a penchant for naive explorer, after one bite it was game over.

Spelunking (or Caving) in the United States and Canada and Potholing in the United Kingdom is the recreational activity of exploring cave systems.

Gameplay:
A simple premise, go deeper and deeper into new and unexplored territory whilst gathering as much treasure as possible. But each time you play, the levels are different, procedurally generated. Except they look as if each one was expertly crafted with care and a cunningly masterful skill that must have taken ages to perfect.

Derek Yu, the brains behind this insanely addictive game, deserves high praise. Not only are the levels devilishly good but the difficulty is perfect. When I say that I mean it is far from an easy game, but that’s partly what makes it so damn good. Even my wife, who only plays the occasional game, is hooked.

Your first explorations into the caves will have you come face to face with the usual spiders, bats and snakes that would frequent those areas and none of them like visitors. Like good old Indiana Jones you to have a trusty whip used to dispatch the subterranean inhabitants, but timing is crucial and something you’ll have to master. You can also pickup and throw almost anything from stones, broken arrows even your fellow players; which can be great when wanting to set off traps or kill incoming enemies.

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Not everything wants to kill you in this game, admittedly most things do. But there are Damsels who need rescuing and shops complete with random items and a crazy shopkeeper with a shotgun. One word of warning, don’t mess around in that shop, the owner is a bit trigger happy. Some items you buy or find can drastically change your go and make life a lot easier.

You are not to question how or why there are Damsels in distress, lost in the levels of this game. If you manage to get one to the exit, she’ll reward you with a kiss which adds a heart to your precious life counter. If those hearts are all used up then its all over, no continues or checkpoints. You start back at the beginning of the game on the first stage never to replay that level again.

Any Spelunker knows the most important items you take when you venture into the depths of this earth are not torches and a safety harness, it’s a few spherical bombs with a short fuse and a couple of ropes. That’s what you begin with and they’re essential if you want to survive, along with maybe a shotgun and some climbing gloves from the shop. Some people will race to the exit not worrying about all the valuables in the level, while others will try to amass a substantial hoard and splash out in the shops. Spelunky allows the choice and freedom to play however you wish.

Visuals:
Droplets of blood look almost cute in this game, the same goes for the snakes which creep along waiting for a bite to eat. It all has a very 32bit look with some fancy graphical effects thrown in for good measure. From small dust clouds when you run, to the glow of a small fire in a creepily dark stage.

There are various themes which not only change the look of the entire stage but the enemies which inhabit them and were an unexpected delight on my first visit to each of them. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of emerging in a new area and stumbling upon a new creature or trap, that’s another part of what makes Spelunky great.

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Audio:
The game has simple and charming music which is instantly recognizable. You’ll probably find yourself whistling some the great tunes during the day. Combine that with some great sounds when you collect the jewels and gold.  There are certain instances when the music will change due to a new situation, let’s just say it adds to the effect of panic and urgency. Always a brilliant moment when my wife hears it, I laugh every time.

Online/Multiplayer:
Local Area Network (LAN) or Ad-Hoc play is available in either the adventure (co-op) or Deathmatch with up to three other players. Both game modes are fun, but co-op is my option of choice. Cross-play on PS Vita and PS3 means you can bring friends or loved ones on your adventure to help or potentially hinder you. So much fun and laughter can be had in this mode.

Now I’m slightly puzzled with the lack of a split-screen when more than one person plays on the PS3. Everyone shares the whole view and if someone falls, they are replaced with an arrow pointing to where their character is, hoping they aren’t in any danger? Also, only the flag carrying leader can buy things from the stores, which can become very annoying. These are just minor gripes which mostly get lost in the sheer fun that is had every time I play.

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Conclusion:
I’m admittedly terrible at Spelunky, I’ve died countless times and loved every minute of it. I’ve never reached the end of the game but that doesn’t matter as each play is refreshingly new. With so many little secrets and items to find in an ever changing world it’s like a new game every time I play.

Even if you doubt the brilliance of this game I urge you to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. Especially if you own a PS Vita as it’s taken pride of place on my home screen and has become my system of choice when playing this excellent game. Spelunky is now one of my most treasured games of this generation.

Score: 
9.5

* Many of the screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the PlayStation Vita’s built-in screen capture functionality.

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