25 June 2012

Getting into Roguelikes: Spelunky

In the last post, I gave instructions on how to get started with Transcendence, a shooty roguelike set in space. This time around, we're actually going down into a dungeon, although not in a classical roguelike-fashion, but via old-school jump 'n run gameplay. Let me introduce to you: 


Spelunky is a rather interesting game, the PC version is free here. Grafically, it looks like something that might have come out in the era of the Super NES or its more powerful competitor, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, as does the gameplay. The mechanics behind all of it though are those of a hardcore roguelike: The levels are procedurally generated, the difficulty is steep and unforgiving (you die, you restart. No save-points or such things), you can loot gold and some items that you may trade in at stores that are inexplicably set in the dungeons depths and you can even worship a goddess via unholy sacrifices in order to gain advantageous items in-game. The mixture of Super Mario and Indiana Jones is, once you get some practise under your belt/fedora hat, highly addictive and can be quite fun.

The problem that some people may have with this game is its steep difficulty curve. In your first few plays (and the exact mechanics are all covered in the in-game tutorial, so I won't explain them here), you will die A LOT, feeling pride once you reach the fifth level of the dungeon and thus the second 'world' for the first time and then realizing that there are sixteen levels to this, right after dying on level five because the carnivorous plants cannot be killed by jumping on them... Unlike a lot of other roguelikes (but similar to last posts Transcendence), your characters skills do not get upgraded throughout the game. You have got to exercise your own gaming-skills in order to get better and find the right equipment. And be lucky about the level-generation. You may get into situations where you cannot get back out, which requires you to kill yourself and start over. Still, don't give up! The other big difference compared to most other roguelikes is that it's actually possible to beat this game. Here's the basics:

The first four levels are not as hard as they may seem to an inexperienced player. Once you got going good enough, with some luck you'll be using these to gather items and health. You get health by finding the damsel in distress and get her to the exit alive.Yes, that's an escort-mission but you can use her as a weapon as long as there are no deep pittfalls, carnivorous plants or spikes involved. Toss her at that oncoming monster and pick her back up. You can sacrifice anything that leaves a corpse or gets stunned on an altar to Kali, which will eventually get you special items. I wouldn't bother as a beginner though. There are plenty of times where you will need both bombs and climbing gear so keep them stocked. Bombs are your best bet against large enemies, especially the giant spider, which you can one-shot without getting it aggressive by tossing a bomb into its net. Bombs can also clear a path to the level exit. Remember that you have a limited time in each level. When the music slows down and gets creepy, hurry but do not panic. You can panic once the ghost appears on screen.

Once you're comfortable using jumping, running, climbing and your whip, it's time to get some better equipment. There are stores in some levels, which allow you to trade gold you've found or even the golden idol for equipment or health (prostitution?) here. You can also steal but that would make you a wanted man, with a shotgun-toting shopkeeper at every single level-exit waiting to kill you. Know what you're doing if that is what you want. What items are worthwhile though? Like I wrote before: You need bombs and some ropes all the time, especially later in the game, when you need to cross large open spaces. If you find an adventure-equipment store, definitely get the compass first. It shows you where the exit of a level is, which can and will save your life often. The next important thing is probably the cape or, if you can find one, the jetpack. The cape allows you to sail across large distances and breaks your fall if you use it correctly, something that will possibly become an actual necessity in the later levels. The only thing better than that is the jetpack, which actually replaces it on your back. If you find yourself a cape and a compass, you're already quite well equipped for the game. Having sticky bombs makes boss-level monsters easy to kill but isn't really necessary as you can avoid most monsters.

So, go out there and find that giant idol! It's only a matter of patiently mastering the game and, if you think about it, that's very much old-school. Consider that back in the day you'd have a gaming system (a Sega Game Gear in my personal case) and just a scant few games for it - but they kept you entertained because they were hard. How often has someone who beat the original Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog seen the first few levels of these games? Often and that's how it's going to be with Spelunky but once you do get to Olmec, the difficulty makes it all the more rewarding...

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