Game Review - Spelunky (Vita)


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Game Review - Spelunky (Vita)
Perfectly Perilous Platforming
Release Date:
PS3, PS Vita
Age Rating:
Originally coming into being as a free to play PC title in 2009, Derek Yu’sSpelunky has had quite the life so far – going on to a successful release on XBLA, as well as a paid version on PC.

And now it’s got another couple of consoles to conquer as the game comes to PS3 and Vita.

Spelunky is all about a little explorer who ventures into a massive cave system one day and, spurred on by the journal of another intrepid adventurer, decides to delve deep into the mountain in search of treasure and glory.

And what he mostly finds is death. Despite the simple graphics and cheery tunes, Spelunky is a damn hard game. The basic controls are standard 2D platforming fare, including jumping and attacking with your whip, as well as the opportunity to use various items and throw things. And these mechanics are simple precisely so that, when you inevitably die, you know that its all your fault.

You’ll begin the game with just four hearts in your HUD – that’s four hits before you die, or a single significant injury. And there are no additional lives in Spelunky, lose your health and its game over. No restarts, no second chances.

And you will die. Everything is lethal in this animated world – from the leaping spiders to the lurking snakes and there’s mortality at the end of a slightly too long drop, a spiked crevasse or in the sudden ping of an arrow-laden trap.

Most games are almost entirely defined by progression – by killing a few more enemies to get to the next save point or powering through a number of levels. Spelunky has no such obsession with the linear conquering of the rooms and byways created by the developers. Here, no level ever looks the same and the entire maze of caves shifts and changes with each death and reload.

It’s this fluidity which helps to stave off the frustration other difficult games cause in the player. Every time you die, it’s like you’re playing an entirely new version of the game. In this way, even terrible players (like me) can discover new items and enemies and get a sense of the majesty of the challenges waiting deeper inside the caves.

It’s a concept that verges on genius and also one which works remarkably well in its new home. While buying Spelunky on Sony’s systems nets you a cross buy version that also works on the PS3, the game has found a surprisingly engaging new hope on PS Vita.

That’s because the high level of difficulty means most sessions of Spelunky only last a few minutes, perfect for impaling a few adventurers on your daily commute. And if you’re having a particularly successful run you can just throw the system into standby, ready to resume the tense clambering later.

The graphics looks sharp and smooth on the Vita, while the controls are wonderfully responsive and the screen dimensions perfect for a platformer. Better still, there’s no unnecessary touchscreen or touchpad implementation, just pixel perfect jumping.

The Vita’s older sibling naturally handles things with the same aplomb, and is also the ideal place to experience the game’s four player local co-op mode. The addition of other players changes up the game more than you might think, with tactics involved as one player tackles enemies and other careen away to find the (thankfully shared) loot.

There’s so much to think of as a co-op team, from the area effect of whip attacks (which can send unwary friends flying) to the many uses of a team-mates corpse – from triggering traps to tossing it around for fun. Expired companions lurk around as ghosts, and they can even spring traps while you search for a coffin to revive them.

For this new version, you can also join a co-op game on Vita, meaning more autonomy from the single screen experience and more fun to be had at their expense. Deathmatch challenges are also present, adding up to worthy package – regardless of which system you’re playing on.

I was initially put off by the level of difficulty presented by Spelunky on its Xbox 360 debut but the portability of the Vita brings genuine new life to a game that thrives on short bursts of thrilling gameplay. Rarely has risk and reward been as well balanced as Derek Yu has managed here, and never in a form as eminently pick-up-and-playable as Spelunky on the Vita. A must buy.

9 Stars
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