It would be maddening, if it weren’t such a refreshing escape from the usual cocoon of safety.
Spelunky, originally released for free on PC in 2008, has been thoroughly refreshed and polished up for its Xbox Live Arcade debut this week. Its gameplay mechanics are the product of roguelike design principles applied to a fast-moving side-scrolling platformer visually reminiscent of the classic Broderbund game Spelunker.
Its levels are randomly generated, and the difficulty level is sky high, made even higher by the fact that there are no continues. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played through 75 percent of the game and amassed a fortune in coins; one death strips you of everything.
And there will be many deaths. The game’s moment-to-moment action feels like a more vertical version of the old-school Castlevania games — especially since your default weapon is a short whip. You’ve got a limited number of bombs that can be used to blast through any part of the environment, and ropes that can be placed anywhere to make scaling large surfaces easier. Most any object in the world can be picked up and thrown, even the people and dogs that you can escort to the level exit for a health bonus.