Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Spelunky

Of all the games that have made me ragequit, Spelunky is the only one that I'll giddily return to five minutes later for "just one more round". I cannot stress how amazing of a complement this is.

Spelunky is a platformer where you explore a series of randomly-generated caves trying to loot as much treasure as possible while dodging traps, enemies, and chain reactions of death caused by your own stupidity. Please take note, Spelunky is a very hard game, and you'll probably die hundreds if not thousands of times before you finally beat the game. That said, even with the win condition so far out of reach, you can still get a hefty sense of enjoyment from just getting that little bit further in the caves, or grabbing a little more gold than last time, or whatever goal of self-improvement you can muster up.

But for as many times as I've had a "good run" that I've felt proud of, I've had probably twenty times as many runs where I wanted to punch my ramen broth-stained monitor in the face. From giant frogs to angry cavemen to shotgun-wielding shopkeepers, there are tons of ways to die, and death is often instantaneous. And that's probably why Spelunky is so rage-inducing: Death can happen at any moment, in the blink of an eye, for reasons you couldn't possibly have anticipated. For contrast, consider another super-hard randomly-generated game like The Binding of Isaac. Seemingly everything is out to kill you in every room you enter, and you've got a limited amount of health you have to sustain throughout the entire game, but out of your cache of three or so hearts, getting hit by an enemy knocks either half a heart or, at most, a single whole heart off of your supply. You have a second of recovery time, then you're back up and running from danger again. In Spelunky, you start with four hearts, and can lose them all less than a second after starting the game (if you've got mad skillz like me). Falling on spikes instantly kills you. Standing next to a tiki trap when it goes off knocks four hearts off your life, which is usually your entire supply. Angering a shopkeeper turns him volatile and getting in the way of his shotgun is almost certain death. Suddenly dying is not fun at all.

But yet I keep going back for more. In the same way that dying sucks, narrowly avoiding death is absolutely glorious. I've never beaten Spelunky, but I've had plenty of moments of sheer awesome that I just want to keep playing it. And while I've loved hating/hated loving Spelunky for a while now, the game I just finished was the motivation for me to write this blog post. And I wish that I was recording that game, because it was possibly the most insane round I've played yet. And I wish I could relay that story to you so you understood all the dramatic highs and lows I experienced. Dodging the timer ghost of instadeath not once, but twice. Stealing seventy-some-odd bombs from the black market and somehow not dying with six angry shopkeepers chasing after me. Getting thrown down a chasm to my death by a yeti and screaming in horror, before realizing that I was being revived because I (accidentally!) picked up the ankh in the black market. Defeating Anubis and stealing his scepter, then eventually falling prey to it in one final showdown with a shopkeeper. According to the in-game statistics, it was my 640th death, and it was my favorite death by far. I've won 0 out of 640 times, but I don't mind. I just hope the next 640 deaths are equally as thrilling.