Monday, December 30, 2013

A Game Well Made: Spelunky

I had made big plans for the month of December, and then Spelunky came along. I recently received a Christmas PS Vita, and having enjoyed similar "rogue-lite" games such as The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, and FTL, it was a perfect match. It had never dawned on me how fantastic it could be to have a game like Spelunky be portable. The game's tight controls paired with the well sized and vibrant screen of the Vita elevate Spelunky to probably my favourite game I've played this year.

In my post about Resogun I mentioned about the importance of variance. Whether it's enemy variance, or objective variance - keeping the player active and attentive makes for an engrossing experience. Games like Resogun and Dark Souls require attentive concentration and memorization; in order to keep your multiplier going or just stay alive, you need to always be thinking a few steps ahead. When I began playing The Binding of Isaac, and Rogue Legacy, the idea of memorization didn't apply quite to the same degree. Of course, memorizing enemies, threats, and item uses is important, however the random generation of levels makes for a much higher level of variance. Prowling through castle halls in Rogue Legacy, I never knew which painting would suddenly leap to life. While being cautious would probably be the smartest approach in those games - I was often able to simply wave my sword constantly like a cheerleader, attack every possible threat, and usually escape unscathed.

But Spelunky is different. Compared to all those other games, Spelunky is a sensory overload of variance. Just like Dark Souls, this charming platformer has a set of unforgiving and unchanging rules, but the procedurally generated levels make for continuously new environments to explore.

The fragility of your character, along with the unknown factor of every play-through leads to cautious exploration. Rushing often leads to a quick death, and only through clear situation analysis along with precise execution will you be able to progress deeper into the game's levels. The little success I've had with Spelunky could be attributed to refining my decision-making - reaching that sparkling jewel tends to be fairly unimportant if I'm going to take damage along the way. Realizing when risks aren't worth taking requires experience, and then actually walking away from that treasure chest guarded by a giant spider takes a lot more willpower (and common sense) than I usually have.

The game's normal adventure mode is definitely sucking away at my winter break's hours, but what sets this game apart is the daily challenge. Every player gets one attempt at the same level, leading to tension and competition as you try to survive (at least that's what I do) and compete in the leaderboards.

Right now a lot of the game remains still undiscovered to me. I've only arrived at the jungle levels a few times, and I've heard that there's a lot more depth and variance to the game as the levels continue. This element of the unknown is what makes Spelunky practically impossible to put down. Finding new levels filled with incredibly dangerous enemies alongside treasures and secrets gives this game it's sense of adventure. Progressing and surviving are incredibly satisfying, especially when you're on your best run yet, seeing (and suffering) what the newest world has to offer. Spelunky has some fantastic music accompanying you in your travels which really ties the game together; forward-striving melodies and occasionally sinister accompaniments embody the game's venturing and dangerous spirit. The explorative and varying nature of the game fits well with its rigid set of systems, and the daily challenge mode really elevates the importance of survival, making for some truly adventurous and exciting gameplay.


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