The PlayStation Plus offering for October 2014 is pretty impressive, including FOUR PlayStation 4 games: DriveClub, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Spelunky, and Pix the Cat. I’ll be touching on DriveClub later in the week, but today I wanted to focus on one of my absolute favorite titles: Spelunky.
The game has been around for some time, launching on the PC back in September of 2009, the Xbox 360 in July of 2012, the PlayStation 3 in August of 2013, and now the PlayStation 4 this month. Each iteration has brought something new to the table, with the PlayStation 4 being what I consider to be the best offering in the series thus far.
But before I get ahead of myself, it’s time to touch on the basics. Spelunky is a procedurally generated action/adventure title. Each new play through will offer a completely random dungeon. This makes replayability one of my favorite features, as no two sessions (or levels!) will ever be the same. This is actually a good thing, because you’ll be re-exploring levels again and again thanks to the punishing skill level. The notion of death is actually discussed in the brief tutorial stages, indicating to each player that progression will ultimately be made from “lessons learned” as opposed to raw reflexes.
Your character (there are a few to select from, as well as hidden ones in each of the game’s unique zones) is a softie: four hits and its game over. Sustainable damage comes from enemies, such as snakes, bats and giant spiders. These are the hits you can take but quest on. The instant kill deaths, such as spike traps and arrow-shooting traps, are plentiful in each level. A player will learn to tread carefully as each step may be their last. And just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of a particular set of traps, you’ll enter a new phase of the dungeon, in which new enemies (and traps!) will emerge.
A small arsenal, consisting of bombs and grappling hooks, will help you slowly traverse each level. Hidden maidens (who can now be heard on the DualShock 4 speaker!) will cry for help. Successfully getting them (alive) to the end of each dungeon will reward you with a precious kiss and some additional health. In addition, random merchants will gladly take your hard earned gold bars and gemes in exchange for some great items, including the all-powerful shotgun, the automatically deploying parachute (for those ledges you got a little too excited on!) and the sticky glove (great for sticking to any vertical surface), just to name a few.
You’ll find that you die a lot. Each new encounter is documented with a journal entry. The journal breaks down various enemies, items and traps of the game. It’s useful for players who take a break from the title and do not wish to relearn all of the game’s nuisances. Since your character is seemingly immortal, it’s funny to see a journal entry, “I was squished like a bug” next to the description of a boulder. Looking through the various journal entries is a breeze thanks to the integration of the touchpad on the DualShock 4. A simple swipe to the right or left is all that is needed.
What makes this game so enjoyable to me is that there are numerous paths and routes to take in order to feel successful in a single session. Whether you prefer to play conservatively and focus solely on getting to the next zone, or whether you prefer to try to unlock some of the game’s hidden characters via the hidden stages, each victory will feel hard earned. Since death is permanent, nothing is more frustrating than falling just short of a goal and being forced back to the beginning. While each character plays identically, enthusiasts will want to see each of the game’s hidden areas while unlocking each of the characters. (You haven’t lived until you’ve played a match or two with “Cyan,” the Spelunker with the goofy blue fuzzy ears.)
At the end of each zone, a mysterious figure named The Tunnel Man will offer to provide you safe passage to each new zone… for a price. Sometimes it’s just cash, other times he wants supplies (bombs or rope). This makes a play through focusing solely on level progression a challenge as you’ve got to conserve materials, gain treasures, and ultimately avoid the dangers of the dungeon, all at once!
The PlayStation 4 includes a new feature called the Daily Challenge, which will not only require a specific action to be completed, but will also show you replays of your friends and their deaths. Although this feature is supposed to be utilized to help you progress at your friend’s expense, in my circles it is primarily used to laugh at your friend’s misfortune. Since deaths can very swiftly, watching a carefully timed jump go horribly awry by one of your friends is a humorous way to pass the time. In addition to the new mode, the PlayStation 4 version includes some new soundtracks to jam out to. Although the standard music is pretty catchy, a few new tunes are more than appreciated.