Spelunky HD earned our Game of the Year award last year, thanks to its systemic difficulty and new Daily Challenge mode. But, should its smooth and unpixelated graphics feel like an afront to the almighty retro gods, you can now enjoy a modification to the game's original (and free) incarnation. Called Spelunky SD, the mod not only offers fixes, but also introduces a 2-player online co-op mode.
It was less than two months ago that top Spelunky streamer Bananasaurus_Rex smashed through Spelunky's $3,000,000 barrier to take the high score world record. It's an achievement I thought would hold, thanks to the incredible luck of finding a plasma cannon and jetpack on the first two levels. It wasn't to be, as now YamaYamaDingDong has broken that record by just $3,975. More impressively, he did the majority of the run without the level-blasting power of the plasma cannon.
Spelunky was our 2013 Game of the Year, and this is why. Streamer/legend Bananasaurus_Rex has beaten the previous, piddly world record of $2,980,000 with a titanic $3,105,850, and all it took was seven-and-a-bit hours of incredibly patient play, a deep understanding of the game and its systems, and a ton of skill. Man, Spelunky is easy. It's the polar opposite of Rex's recent full speedrun, which he completed in just under seven minutes, and you can watch it below if you have most of the day spare (alternatively, you may want to skim it instead). Rex's other achievements include killing the ghost, and making the first successful solo eggplant run.
Spelunky is brilliant. Part of the reason it's brilliant is the random generation, ensuring that each of your many retries are a chance to explore something new. Even the Daily Challenges - which randomly generate a new level each day, and share that level between every player - are brilliant. Here, then, is a community application that lets you completely bypass those randomised levels by setting your own custom creation seed. Will it still be brilliant? It's Spelunky, so probably.
It is done. In a heart-stopping descent, Spelunky caster Bananasaurus Rex completed a world-first solo eggplant run. The eggplant's purpose was one of Spelunky’s best-kept secrets, discovered only once hackers started digging through the HD PC release. But knowing its power and using it are two different things. One slip, one rogue bat, one angry shopkeeper and your precious cargo is purple goo.
"I see a bat. I couldn't be more prepared for this bat if I tried. OH GOD A BAT IS HERE WHAT DO I DO?"
That was the approximate commentary for my first ever Spelunky Daily Challenge - a game mode exclusive to the Steam edition of Spelunky. Every day it randomly generates a set of levels and every day you have just one chance at getting as far as you can. After you die (and you will probably die) you can see how far your friends made it and with how much cash.
The point of the Daily Challenge is to bring out the competitive aspect of the game and to make it social. In single player the competition was either with yourself or with the environment, but apparently if you add a leaderboard and the potential for watching friends die brilliantly theatrical or weird or stupid deaths, the whole game instantly becomes twice as compelling. This newfound potential also explains how I came to join the Spelunky Explorers Club, a collection of dedicated Spelunkers all recording their attempts to complete the Daily Challenge and then posting the videos on the internet to accumulate mockery or praise as deserved.
My first Spelunky Explorers Club video is below. It lasts 24 seconds and has been variously referred to as "pro", "inspiring" and "the alpha and omega of the medium".
I should have been more careful. Having reached the end of one of Spelunky’s procedurally generated levels, I turned my back on the exit, and decided to bomb my way inside a snake pit instead.
Snake pits are one of the game’s most exciting random elements, as they’re level-deep and filled with, yes, snakes, but also precious jewels, mysterious crates and, buried in the rock at the bottom, a mattock. The latter is always too good an opportunity to pass up; with the mattock in my hand, I can mine my way through the destructible blocks that form Spelunky’s world, avoiding traps and gathering gold in my rush towards Olmec, the game’s boss.
I placed a bomb at the bottom corner of the pit’s outer wall. It exploded. The explosion propelled a rock towards me. The rock hit me in the face. I tumbled backwards, stunned, and died on some spikes.
Part of the reason Spelunky works is that death isn't an ending. When you die, you can instantly reload to be given a brand new level to play; similar in theme, but totally different to the last. So naturally, the upcoming Steam version is getting an exclusive Daily Challenge mode, in which you can only play the featured level once, ever. While it might sound at odds with the point of the game, there's a reason why it could make the PC release of Nu-Spelunky the best version available: everyone else gets to play the same level, but only once, ever.
In fairness, the cheery platforming roguelike Spelunky never left PC - you can play the free version right now. But developer Mossmouth did delve deep into the dangerous (and possibly lava filled?) world of XBLA with Spelunky HD. Which was actually just called Spelunky. Now that Spelunky is also coming to PC.
This article was originally published in PC Gamer 236.
Spelunky is a platformer with randomised levels. Creator Derek Yu is working on a prettier Xbox version that may also come to PC, but I'm still playing the free original. It's my coffee break game, my netbook game, my 'I really want to play something but I don't have time to play anything' game. I also think it's the future of games, or a large part of it.
I've played over a thousand games of Spelunky, so I know roughly what I'm doing. But I still have no idea what level 1 is like, because it changes every time. So I leap into it with a weird mix of bravado and caution: dealing with enemies and traps quickly, but edging into the next area pixel by pixel to spot what's ahead.