So, the Gameplay Notebook returns. This time, ten of the games I’m going to be looking at will come from a list of assigned titles. Frankly, I’m glad to try them; these aren’t games I’d usually play, and I definitely welcome new gameplay experiences.
First up on the resurgent GN is Spelunky. At first glance, Spelunky appears to be a cutesy, retro-styled action platformer. The main character is clearly styled after Indiana Jones, and most of the interaction consists of running, jumping, and attacking with a whip, while ropes and bombs represent a finite resource the character must use carefully. Judged by these elements alone, Spelunky might be considered a charming and entertaining, but average, platform game. What really sets Spelunky apart is the difficulty (if you die, it’s game over, and you start from the beginning) and most importantly, the randomization. The entire game is randomized, and as far as I know, it’s never the same game twice. This is a very interesting mechanic with two important effects: the first one is that each playthrough feels unique and precious. Your chance to explore the level is fleeting; if you play poorly, you’ll never again have the chance to do it correctly. This also adds weight to your choices of where to spend your consumable items; if you waste one at a bad spot and then need one later, you cannot restart and play the level differently with knowledge from a previous playthrough. The second main effect this has is to alter the perception of difficulty and reduce frustration. On the one hand, you cannot get “stuck” in a specific area or get frustrated with a specific challenge; it will simply not be there again. On the other hand, there is no memorization; with traditional platformers, players often memorize the various levels and enemy patterns of the game (leading to the speed-run phenomenon). With Spelunky this is simply not possible.
I find Spelunky to be a fresh take on the platformer genre; it’s both a throwback and an original concept. Still, with its relatively limited variety of interactions and having little to no narrative, I doubt I’ll play it as anything more than an occasional diversion. I can see how the challenge and unpredictability would be very appealing to some, however, and I applaud the concept.