11 January 2010

Journey Through The Dark

Derek Yu is a bit of a madman. Anyone who can make as fun and sadistic a game as Spelunky has a bit to account for. Initially I wanted to make this a post an insightful, comparative essay covering various other, subterranean games (including LotRO: Moria) but, as the after action reports piled up and I found myself loving and hating this game with severe gusto, I opted instead to log my failures in Spelunkyworld. Like Dwarf Fortress and other games like it, being an open, randomized, roguelike game lends itself very well to fictional inspiration. It's non-linear and always new so there's always some wild experience to write about.What follows is an account of my time there in the mines.

Let me preface these accounts by saying I generally suck at platformers to start with and Spelunky is an especially challenging one. As of yet I'm about 50 games in with 0 wins. So grab your whip and start your sobbing.

On one of my earlier adventures the cave was black as pitch. All I had to supplement was a box of torches; unusual but illuminating. I struggled through the dark cave with every step. Thinking the way clear, I slipped off a cliff and cost myself a heart. After dusting myself off I proceeded, finding a little loot to compensate for my earlier fall. Then there were spiders to deal with. Not just any spiders: jumping spiders. The fiends leaped everywhere and it was all I could do to swat them away. I'm not very handy with a whip. The fight cost me 2 of my remaining 3 hearts. This was getting very irritating.

Luckily, a subsequent game led me to a shop on level 2. Not just any shop, but a gunshop. Overjoyed, I quickly found a pistol and bought it without a second thought. Now, feeling much more like a man, I proceeded and soon found myself in a predicament. I had the gal, the caveman, and the gun. What is one to do? If I rescue the caveman and bring him out of the cave with my I'll be heralded a scientific hero, lavished with some kind of Nobel prize and all the riches and women that come with it. If I save the woman I'll be a hero to her and save a human life, directly enriching my story and, again, still coming out a hero. But the gun...the gun would be a more faithful companion. This gun would save me and get me out of this hell-hole in one piece. I would have to go with the gun. Before I could react the caveman snapped out of his unconscious state and killed the woman, me, and probably took my gun. Damn that thick neanderthal skull of his.

A later adventure found me more cautious, taking things at a slower pace and not killing myself over every drop of gold on the level. I was more careful with my drops, more composed with the whip and slashing up bugs with ease. So cautious was my step no trap in town could surprise me: all they got were pots and rocks for targets. And, what's this, another fine shopping establishment! Sadly all the lout had were parachutes and bombs. I opted for the bombs and was on my way. A few more gems and ingots of gold and the ever-intriguing key! I was about to exit when I espied some gold a floor above me. Looking up I saw that the cavern also held the chest to my key, but the space was inaccessible. As I had no stikk bombs I could no bomb vertically but it looked like it could be entered through a point next to the old man's shop. Perfect. I climbed back up and entered the shop, readied the bomb and let fly. At that point two things happened: the bomb bounced off the wall and landed where I wanted it to and the old man pulled a shotgun on me and blew my brains out. Shortly thereafter I had posthumous revenge as the bomb detonated, killing the old geezer and destroying his shop. I guess he didn't like bombs in his place.

I made the mistake of looking at my record. 0 for 29. This is pretty pathetic so I decided a fresh start to be in order. I was feeling confident. Luck was on my side too: the first stage was a simple one with few traps, no tricky climbs, and lots of gold within easy reach. Having to bomb my way through the second level brought me an unexpected treat: a mattock! The path now led me straight to another helpless woman. Easy pickings, more money (though, lucky for her, no altar of sacrifice nearby). We came to a drop and, per usual, I tossed the sturdy young lady down where she landed with a thud in a dazed state. Time for the explorer to head down. Before I could drop, the pick fell from my hands and landed square on the woman. She had to be dead. Luckily it takes sterner stuff to end this little lady, it just looked like there was a lot of blood. She was still alive. Now here I was with the treasure, the woman, and my trusty pick. What to do...

Before I continue this story, know that another exciting and Indiana Jonesian aspect of Spelunky is the golden head treasure which, as you may have figured out, triggers a boulder. The boulder is generally easy to dodge but takes a little preparation. This same level put me in this very situation, but I also had a woman and a pick to think about, not just a golden bust of Dr. Robotnik. With superior intellect, I tossed the helpless woman down the nearer shaft towards the exit where she landed with the usual bounce. Quickly and carefully I grabbed the treasure, tossed it down the shaft, grabbed pick and leaped onto the nearest ledge thinking it safe from the oncoming boulder. Such was not the case. The boulder smashed me, the woman, and the treasure without prejudice.

If you're not quite getting the picture, I'll put it plainly: this game is unforgiving at best.

There were many instances where a failed button press ended in a clumsy, painful death (though I do have a pretty crappy gamepad). I once picked up an item in the shop and instead of putting it down I accidentally threw it, causing the cranky shopkeeper to pull a shotgun and end me, though I was quite sure I'd pressed down properly (though I should think if I kept a shop in some godless cave I'd be a little trigger happy myself). You cannot sluff off: one misstep puts you in a pit of spikes, a careless move and you've been shot with a poison dart from a trap. There were even times I thought I had the drop on a giant spider but jumped too far down and wound up unconscious on the cold cold floor, spider bait. It's a horribly difficult game - remember, I admit to sucking at platformers - and I can't get enough. The randomization, the careful thought, the endless challenge beg for more like a dog at the treat buffet. Nevertheless, this dog keeps getting beat.

Where there's a whip there's a will, my slugs!

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