Spelunky Review

Derek Yu's roguelike platformer reveals two essential truths: Death is constant, and Vita makes a fantastic format for this kind of game.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Spelunky has always been ahead of the curve. Nowadays, tons of independent developers look to classics for inspiration and incorporate roguelike mechanics into their works; Spelunky did it years ago.

And now it's a little ahead of the curve again: Spelunky has hit PlayStation Vita in advance of the coming onslaught of indie conversions for the platform. And while that's nice enough on its own, the real revelation here is just how well Spelunky works on Vita.

With its high difficulty level and simple play mechanics, Spelunky lends itself to quick sessions of play. Until you get the hang of the action, your sessions are likely to top off at around the five-minute mark (though if you're reckless enough, they can be over in a matter of seconds). Spelunky draws on Tim Martin's classic Spelunker, a ridiculously difficult game that found surprising life as a cult favorite in Japan, all the way down to the indestructible ghost that homes in on you if you muck around too long in a given stage. At the same time, it incorporates permanent death, total item loss, and random level generation: All concepts borrowed from the roguelike genre, and all carefully calculated to make a hard game even more challenging.

Yeah, that laser gun looks cool and all, but you're still gonna die over and over again.

Difficulty for difficulty's sake can make for a poor experience, but in Spelunky it all simply clicks. The brevity of each play session calls back to the old, old days of portable games (e.g. the Game Boy era) where handhelds were meant to provide quick diversions rather than the expansive adventures and RPGs they tend to host today. By and large, mobile games have overtaken portables in this capacity, but Spelunky proves the combination still works perfectly. Play for five minutes, die within inches of your next goal, grit your teeth and put the system to sleep in irritation, pick it back up again a few minutes later to give it just one more try (because you just know this time it's going to work out, despite several dozen previous failures).

Likewise, the fundamental design philosophy at work behind Spelunky feels pleasantly old-school as well. The more you play, the better you get. Through repetition and effort, you steadily become a more skilled player, and over time you manage to delve a little further into the game's world. Oh, you won't reach new levels of success with each effort; there's too much randomness, too many unexpected hazards for that. For every great success you'll encounter half a dozen annoying setbacks. But each time, you learn a little something about the game, whether it's the way monsters get caught in spiderwebs or the physics of bombs. No, the spike shoes that let you stomp monsters more effectively provide no protection against carnivorous plants. You have to fail in Spelunky in order to learn, and that's fine, because every time you screw up you lose only a few minutes' progress.

Players can choose any number of player avatars, and also any number of characters to play the damsel in distress role. I'm a big fan of the girl characters rescuing the helpless boys.

Along the way, you can ease your pain somewhat by helping a miner dig shortcuts to advanced areas. The miner's requests grow more arcane and difficult to fulfill each time, though, and ultimately these are your only perks. There's no leveling up, no permanent inventory, no carried over skills from one game to the next, no microtransaction "win" buttons. In order to succeed in Spelunky, you have to advance via your own merits. This is not a game designed to let you win if you just keep playing, and that makes each minor victory -- or a true victory (something that admittedly continues to elude me) -- all the more satisfying. When you reach a new area, you can take pride in knowing you earned that progress through your own efforts.

The move to Vita also allows a useful adjustment to the game's multiplayer mode -- each player can move independently around the area rather than having to share a single screen with their competitors -- but honestly the competitive play feels superfluous. The meat of Spelunky comes from its endlessly varied, endlessly difficult single-play mode, and that feels more at home on Vita than on any other platform the game has graced to date.

Essentially the same game as last year's Xbox 360 rendition, Spelunky takes on a new and better life on Vita. Its tragically brief play sessions fit perfectly in a portable format. Just don't throw your system in anger, OK?

4.5 /5

Spelunky Review Jeremy Parish Derek Yu's roguelike platformer reveals two essential truths: Death is constant, and Vita makes a fantastic format for this kind of game. 2013-08-27T08:01:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for monty_79 #1 monty_79 4 years ago
    Woo! Will be getting this tomorrow. I am absolutely obsessed with the Steam version of this, so being able to play it on my journey into work is a god send.
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  • Avatar for RandomTerrain #2 RandomTerrain 4 years ago
    Hurray, I've been looking forward to this, sounds like a lot of fun, nice review!
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  • Avatar for Toplinkar #3 Toplinkar 4 years ago
    Well, well, well. Yet another game that I'll be getting for the Vita then.

    It will have to share it's time with Soul Sacrifice, but if play sessions are supposed to be that short, that might actually be a good thing.Edited August 2013 by Toplinkar
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  • Avatar for soupbones #4 soupbones 4 years ago
    One of the few games I'll gladly double dip - can't wait!Edited August 2013 by soupbones
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  • Avatar for helpfulmole #5 helpfulmole 4 years ago
    It took me 299 deaths to finally get a "Win" in Spelunky Classic but I keep playing it. I am definitely going to get this for the Vita. Thanks!
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  • Avatar for kingaelfric #6 kingaelfric 4 years ago
    It's weird. With all the charming indies on Vita, I feel like somebody pulled a Freaky Friday and now we have the Ouya's spirit in the Vita's body and vice-versa...wait, wasn't that another movie? Q.E.D.
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  • Avatar for weevilo #7 weevilo 4 years ago
    This game is so much fun I'm thinking about buying a Vita just to be able to play it on the go.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #8 Mad-Mage 4 years ago
    Is it sad that the main reason I want a Vita is for a game I've already bought twice?
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #9 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @Mad Mage Not at all! There's a great deal of value in being able to take a game like Spelunky on the go.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #10 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    Hope they consider porting it to 3DS, since I'd love to have the game on the go, but I don't own a Vita.
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  • Avatar for onyxbox #11 onyxbox 4 years ago
    Really can't wait to get home and download this for Vita. It just looks like a perfect game for the portable :)
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  • Avatar for onyxbox #12 onyxbox 4 years ago
    @DiscordInc go get SteamWorld Dig from the eShop (3DS)... it's not the same game but it certainly will scratch the same itch :)
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #13 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    @onyxbox True, I've heard good things about that game. Maybe I'll pick that one up soon.
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