Spelunky HD is a frantic and demanding action-platformer with a high-resolution old-school aesthetic and a catchy soundtrack. It is a game of seemingly two opposing philosophies: simultaneously rewarding patience and bravado, proficiency and luck, and playing by the rules or flagrantly breaking them.
Each of Spelunky’s increasingly challenging stages are rife with tricks, traps, vengeful Hindu gods, and enough deadly, poisonous and murderous wildlife that would make even the most stalwart of Australians take pause. Along the way you’ll be able to find, purchase, and even steal a wide variety of tools and weapons that help as often as they hinder in your noble quest for the chamber of Olmec. If it wasn’t obvious by now, you will die. A lot. Dark Souls feels like a Lego game by comparison.
So how does a game this challenging, this dense, and this #$%&!@ing frustrating stack-up as a cooperative endeavor?
To be blunt, it doesn’t really. To play Spelunky is to forge a deeply personal, singular narrative that is equal parts triumph and tragedy. Each successive run builds upon lessons learned in the previous iterations and even after almost 20 hours of play time, I am still learning new and different ways to approach a near limitless pool of potential scenarios. But in Spelunky’s multiplayer settings, which are of the local variety only, all players are confined to share a single screen. Only one player retains control of the camera, and this control is only relinquished through death. It’s this restrictive environment that makes cooperative play ultimately an exercise in frustration.
While Ashley was most often unable to keep up with the snappy pace that Spelunky demands, I don’t think playing with others of any skill level would be very enjoyable. In death you take the spectral form of your formerly spelunking self, who is able to activate traps and interrupt both enemies and living players with blasts of ghostly breath. While sharing a spirit-bond with your recently deceased partner might seem like a bonus, I found the constantly shifting and bobbing spectre to be a distraction. In fact most of the evidence out there suggests that cooperative Spelunky play often rapidly devolves into a contest of who can bring the proceedings to a grinding halt the fastest.
It’s for this reason that Spelunky’s multiplayer deathmatch mode is a welcome feature. Instead of the oppressive need to advance quickly through the perilous depths, multiplayer in Spelunky highlights the treachery that exists in everyone. It exploits and focuses the destructive power of the human spirit and the need to throw a lot of bombs in rapid succession over a flaming pit of lava. Whatever precision and technical mastery may have been forged in the depths of Anubis’ temple is leveled by the completely insane and chaotic dash to be the last one standing. With this kind of simple pursuit at its core, even computer-controlled bots are fun to play with.
Spelunky’s initial learning curve is rather shallow; the controls are simple enough that after about 10 minutes anyone should understand how to play. After that you’re left with a deathmatch mode that would be a hit at parties and get-togethers regardless of age, gender, or skill level. It’s actually a shame there isn’t more variety in the form of objectives and rule sets. Mix 4 players, 99 lives, 99 bombs, and go nuts.
For those of you looking for a game that performs double-duty as a challenging test of hand-eye coordination and a fun, easy-going distraction to play with others, Spelunky is a great way to go. Spelunky is currently available on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and digital distribution services everywhere.
- Charming visual style, catchy soundtrack
- Low penalty for death in co-op
- Entertaining, chaotic multiplayer
- Satisfying for both single and party play
- Mechanics present high barrier to entry
- Co-op in Adventure mode too distracting