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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (384)

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Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5
Lands of Lore II: Guard... 1/5
Lands of Lore: Throne o... 2/5
Rage 2 4/5
EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5

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Spelunky   PC (Steam) 

Better to Git Lucky than Gud    0.5/5 stars

It was the early 1990s. My parents convinced me that I wanted a Sega Game Gear instead of a Nintendo Game Boy due to the former’s ability to display color and the optional TV tuner. I picked out a few games for the thing, and didn’t really care for most of them. However, the one Game Gear experience that scarred me for life was a little title called “Dragon Crystal,” which was my first experience with the anal reaming that is the Roguelike subgenre. I’m not some Johnny-Come-Lately Roguelike-hate bandwagoneer, no, I’ve completely loathed every single whiff of that abomination of Arcade Mentality mashed-up with the Glorious RPG Genre for as long as I’ve been aware of it. A brief resurgence of Roguelike proliferation during the PS1 era saw me unwittingly butting heads with the subgenre again, as titles like “Azure Dreams” and “Torneko: The Last Hope” confused me with their inviting box art and fantastical settings, yet wholly loathsome gameplay.

The modern resurgence of Roguelikes amongst Indie PC games has, obviously, been of great disappointment to me. Instead of sad PC Master Race neckbeards playing “Rogue” or one of its spawn on DOS or the even more obscure and hipster Amiga format, Roguelikes have somehow, against all odds and sanity, gone mainstream. And the infection has begun to spread, as thanks to modern hardware and software capabilities, Roguelikes are no longer limited to being crude, simplistic RPGs, but can now exist as Action games, like Platformers. The Platformer in question that is the current subject of my ire is one “Spelunky,” a spiritual successor to the hatefully-difficult cave-exploration Platformer, “Spelunker,” released on a variety of dusty old platforms in the early 1980s. While “Spelunker” featured a static map and one-hit kills for the player’s extremely fragile character, “Spelunky” has adapted the formula for the truly self-loathing Masocore gamers who must absolutely hate every moment of their existence in order to subject themselves to such a thing.

Looks, sounds, and technical stability are “Spelunky’s” high point. The game is built in GameMaker: Studio, and the original version was – and still is – made available for free on Windows. For some reason, though, an HD version appeared on the 7th Generation HD consoles (yet another affront to add to the list of war crimes committed or caused by the PS3 and Xbox 360), which was backported to PC, only this time with a price tag attached. The visuals in the original have some decent character as far as pixel art goes, while the HD version looks clean and sharp, though with a deceptively childish art-style. It may look like a game for kids, but it’s actually the type of thing that will ruin a childhood, and even reduce grown men to fits of weeping.

Audio is fine. The soundtrack comes from 3 different contributors, and makes a nice thematic backdrop to the horrors the player will experience.

Technically, “Spelunky” is sound. It supports Xinput natively (why anyone would try to play this thing with a typewriter and make it even more impossible is beyond me), and automatically picks-up on up to four controllers for local, shared-screen cooperative play. There’s no online functionality, though, so players hoping to share their suffering with their friends from a distance are out of luck.

There is no real story here. “Spelunky” stars a nameless cave delver hero who looks a bit like chibi Indiana Jones. The player is also free to choose from three other starting characters, a British foreign legion trooper with mutton chops and a pith helmet, a Muslim in a turban, and a token female character. None of them have any personality traits whatsoever.

The story, as it were, involves the spelunker and/or his friends following in the footsteps of a lost Chinese explorer in some ancient South American ruins in search of a fabulous treasure at the bottom.

And that’s it.

Outside of the tutorial, which introduces the late Chinese explorer via some journal entries, there’s nothing to see. Well, maybe there is toward the end, but nobody should subject themselves to this game for long enough to see it. With roughly 20 levels, one would expect the game to last a few hours, or so, but that is sadly not the case. Instead, anyone who picks-up “Spelunky” with the purpose of experiencing it instead of just dicking around in the first few levels is in for a long, hard, grueling road paved with broken glass, rusty nails, and AIDs.

“Spelunky” is a stage-based 2D Platformer. Characters start at a door near the top of the stage and must make their way to an exit at the bottom. Along the way, they will run, jump, grab ledges, whip enemies to death, grab power-ups, hunt secrets, bomb walls, climb ropes, and die.

They will die. A LOT. They might take an arrow to the face, a rock to the back of the head, be impaled on spikes, eaten by wildlife, crushed by a boulder, murdered by an irate shopkeeper, or just spattered on the ground by falling from too great a height. Everything in “Spelunky” wants to – and is perfectly capable – kill the player.

“Spelunky” would actually be a somewhat fun Platformer were it not for the fact that it is, indeed a vile, detestable Roguelike. The player is given one life, and when they inevitably die, they get to start all over at the beginning. All items, all progress, lost as though a puff of ephemeral smoke. Sure, the character starts with 4 Hearts, and typically only loses one when they get hurt, but there are plenty of insta-kill obstacles that only become more common and prolific as the player delves deeper into the caves.

Also, due to its Roguelike nature, “Spelunky” is never the same game twice, as every stage is procedurally generated on the spot. This naturally leads to some attempts that feel good, as the game places useful power-ups, Heart-boosting damsels in distress, and relatively benign quantities of traps and enemies; while other attempts are abortions straight from the outset, with the spelunker dying within moments of entering stage 1-1.

To make things even worse, "Spelunky" has a hidden-by-default stage timer. If a player takes too long (more than 2.5 minutes) in a given stage, an indestructible ghost appears and begins to chase them. Thus a game that should be played slowly and cautiously to avoid permanent death devolves into a mad rush to beat the clock, resulting in sloppy play and, naturally, more death.

Having friend(s) to coop with makes the game ever so slightly easier in certain ways, while making it more difficult in others. In coop mode, stages will randomly generate coffins that allow a living player to resurrect a dead one with full Hearts. On the other hand, the camera only follows the lead player (who has a white flag strapped to their ass), which makes basic group navigation quite problematic. Oh, and there’s friendly fire. Of course.

The furthest the MeltedJoystick Crew managed to make it was stage 2-2, that’s 6 stages in… out of 20, after putting about 5 hours into it. I was enraged by the entire experience, Chris wanted to play “The Binding of Isaac” solo instead, and Nick couldn’t understand why the game has no continues or save points, at which point I shouted “WHAT PART OF ‘ROGUELIKE’ DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND!” We will not be going back to this abomination ever again.

“Spelunky” is one of the worst non-broken games I’ve ever had the dubious privilege of playing. While the core Platformer gameplay is competent and vaguely enjoyable, the savage brutality of the procedurally generated stage layouts and the Einsteinian-insanity-incarnate Roguelike gameplay treadmill absolutely ruins any true enjoyment that could be found here. “Spelunky” is not for those who expect their videogames to be ‘experiences,’ but is instead for those who either like to dick around in the shallow end of the pool without ever making any progress OR for those who are obsessed with overcoming imaginary ‘challenges.’ The best way to enjoy “Spelunky” – or any Roguelike, really – is to uninstall it, delete the installer, reformat your drive, and then run disk-wiping software to ensure that no trace of it still exists.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 1/5
Gameplay: 3/5 (minus 5 for being a Roguelike)
Overall (not an average): 0.5/5



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