Saturday 23rd October 2021,
XP4T Brave.Bold.Banter.

Getting Funky with Uncle Spelunky

SPEL - Shop Spaz

I forget how it happened that his little friend got killed, but this is one of the Shopkeepers’ legendary berserker rages. If this was a .gif, you’d all be on the floor having seizures right now, such is the speed and ferocity of the angry Shopkeeper.

The problem is, it’s not only stealing, inadvertent or otherwise, that angers them. For example, enemies can freely walk around inside the Shops, and will chase you into them too. I had it a couple of times where I whipped one and accidentally knocked an item out too, which caused a retailer meltdown. More usually, you’ll explode some terrain with a Bomb without realising a Shop was even there, or because you thought you were far enough away to do so safely. Most evil of all is the fact that when a level is generated in Spelunky and you first appear at the entrance to it, if you take a moment to just listen, you can often hear all the mobs and traps making their initial interactions with each other all around you, as they spawn inside the level. It’s like in Elder Scrolls games, when objects are set too high from a surface and they fall and settle onto those surfaces when the area is loaded in. So, in Spelunky the Shopkeepers and their Shops can sometimes be the victims of these interactions too. For example, a Bat might spawn too close to an Arrow Trap, and as soon as that happens, an Arrow shoots out and kills the Bat. Good for you. But when the arrow from an Arrow Trap hits its target, it continues to exist in the world and will then fall down. Perhaps it falls on the head of a Caveman, stunning him and knocking him into a Powder Box that blows up near a Shop – instant spaz, all Shopkeepers now hate you for the rest of the game, and you haven’t even moved one pixel yet! There’s another way of annoying them too, which we’ll come to in a minute. In short, just try not to anger the Shopkeepers. (Especially if you want to go to the secret Black Market level in the Jungle, which is basically one level composed of every type of Shop possible). The final thing to mention here are the Shopkeeper’s Vaults. Occasionally, you’ll see a Shopkeeper inside a tiny stone vault, completely encased in earth. This is (we presume) where they keep their earnings. The Shopkeeper will have his shotgun out, but is not actually angry at you. Needless to say, the chests he is guarding are packed with high-value gems, and he does drop large pieces of gold ore when he dies…

SPEL - Slave Shop

Happier times for our slave-owning friend. Notice how I’m teetering on the edge there. If you look under my lives counter top-left, you’ll see a tiny pair of glasses. When you get items, they appear here in a little row. The Glasses let me see buried stuff, such as the gems in the ground. Gold ore is always visible.

The Bad Guys

Okay, so maps, movement, weapons, loot, what else? Ah ha, traps and enemies! We’ve mentioned a few already, but let’s cover them properly here. I won’t go into details on the enemies in the later levels, because I don’t want to spoil your fun – I’m just here to give you a fighting chance in The Mines. Anyway, there are 8 or 9 different enemies in The Mines. The basic foot soldiers of the game are Bats, Skeletons, Snakes and Spiders, which can be encountered nearly everywhere throughout the four main sets of levels. Bats hang from the ceiling and fly down to get you when you approach them. Because of the cramped nature of the levels, they are largely unavoidable. They can also detect you through walls, and will try uselessly to get you then too. Skeletons begin buried in the ground, visible as just a skull and some ribs. Upon your approach they’ll suddenly lurch up and start moving. They’ll only go in one direction though, and if they hit a wall, or drop down a few tiles, they’ll re-bury themselves and wait for the next time you come by. The evil thing about Skeletons is that not all of them are, um, undead. Sometimes a skull and ribs on the floor are just a skull and ribs. In that case, you can pick up the skull and throw it, to kill enemies or trigger traps. Snakes are fairly easy-going customers. They just mooch about back and forth, waiting to bite you. But beware the blue hooded snakes (Cobras). These dudes spit nasty venom that will zap a whole life from you. They can kill your Damsel and detonate Powder Boxes too. Shopkeepers are immune to them, but they will spaz out if one of their kissing Damsels or Hired Hands  are hit. (Oh yes, you can buy AI dudes that run around helping you!).

SPEL - Mad Spiders

This is one of the ‘Spider Theme’ levels. Look at all that mess. My character is holding a torch, which means that the level before this was a Darkness level too. Sometimes, the game can be very kind to you. Other times, like here, it just hates you.

Spiders also spawn on ceilings, and drop straight down when you pass under them. Their drops are usually easily avoided, but they will then start jumping from side-to-side in your direction. They take about a second’s pause between jumps, so one strategy is to stop right by them, then turn and whip them when they land. Like Bats, they can detect you through ceilings and floors, too. There’s another Spider too, which is the Spinner Spider. These buggers live in a sticky web on ceilings and drop down every few seconds in incremental steps, getting closer and closer to the ground (and your yummy head). Incidentally, spider webs are a big part of the Mines. You see them everywhere, and anything – you, enemies, objects, thrown objects etc – can get stuck in them. For you, this means being slowed down for a few seconds. The web will slowly and visibly dissolve as you run through it, and you can hasten the process by jumping up and down like a maniac at the same time. (In Darkness levels, they burn quickly with your torch…). The third kind of Spider is the Giant Spider, which behaves like a normal Spider, but can also scuttle after you through narrow gaps and occasionally pauses to shoot out loads of sticky webbing. Just, yuk. Very bad news. All of these mobs are quite common, and then we have the slightly less common Scorpion. Scorpions are heavily armoured, and if they see you, will leap at you like an Olympic Leaping Bastard. Avoid them if you can. Finally – Cavemen. These small, fat, bearded buggers appear only occasionally in the Mines. They wander back and forth until they see you, at which they point they sprint over to smash your face in. Like Scorpions, they can take some punishment. Whipping or head jumping stuns them, and note that a stunned enemy can be picked up and carried! This means you have a few seconds to throw them away from you, or onto Spikes, or to trigger an Arrow Trap, or down a deep shaft, etc.

SPEL - Spider Bat Skelly

Lots of things to see here class, so pay attention. We’re at a (damaged) Kali Altar, carrying a Golden Idol. Our doggy Damsel is top-left, three key enemies ahead of us, and the exit right below us (slightly obscured by some earth).

Mind Your Step

What would an Indiana Jones-like adventure be without some traps? Spelunky does not disappoint in the trap department. First up, Spikes. We’ve already said nearly everything worth saying about them, but let me just reiterate the key points: they’re fatal to both you and enemies when landing on them from height, but can be walked through side-to-side without doing any harm to you; you can land on them gently – with a Parachute or Cape – and not take damage, and they appear in The Mines and The Jungle. Right. The next most common trap is the Arrow Trap. These are distinctive stone blocks with carved faces that shoot out a single arrow at anything passing within 7 tiles of its face. Be aware that the arrow can continue to be a threat even after hitting another target, by falling or rebounding onto you. Also, exploding an Arrow Trap with a bomb can cause the arrow to jump out and possibly hit you too, so watch out for that. But the arrows can also be picked up and used to trigger other Arrow Traps, or for doing one good, strong stab to an enemy before breaking in half. Spider webs will stop and hold the arrows, and it’s worth noting that the impact of an arrow hitting you will send you flying across the level like Superman’s super snot when he super-sneezes. This means you get: 1) the arrow damage; 2) impact damage when you land, 3) damage from landing on mobs and traps, and 4) a stunning, leaving you vulnerable.

SPEL - Arrow

I am SO pleased with this screenshot. Textbook Spelunky action. Look: I had grabbed a skull (see the ribs behind me), dropped it over the edge and triggered the Arrow Trap. You can see the arrow about to hit the wall; behind it are the two halves of the now-broken skull, and a little puff of dusty air coming from the trap itself. Awesome.

Arrow Traps are a huge pain in the arse, as often you’ll be zooming along, perhaps fleeing a monster, and get shot in the face by one that was just off-screen. The main strategy is to trigger them with a decoy first. This could be a vase, a chest, any item or weapon you might be carrying, a Damsel, a corpse, a skull, a rock (there are little rocks dotted about all the levels that can be used as weapon or to trigger traps), or even a Critter (these are the tiny little animals that hop around adding atmosphere to each set of levels. They’re otherwise pretty much useless though). What else? Ah, the Powder Box, or in other words, the exploding barrel of the Spelunky world. These are very sensitive, and will detonate if hit by a thrown object, or even particle effects like blood or Mummy Vomit (just you wait for that one!). You can push them like a push-block (big stone blocks that can be used to crush and squash things), or walk on top of them. It’s nice to push one off a ledge and blow up some stupid monsters below. Heh. Bear in mind that if you throw, say, a stone at a Powder Box in order to safely detonate it, the force of the blast can blow the stone back into your face. Spelunky’s evil like that. There’s another kind of trap too, the Boulder, but we’ll come to that next as it’s a little more involved. (WARNING! The next four sections cover some fun, surprising things about the game that you may want to discover yourself. If so, scroll quickly down to the section entitled ‘Grand Strategy’).

SPEL - Where it Begins

1-1. Start of a new game. Ahhh, the potential! It all lies ahead of us, my friends. Note here the UI – this is the “Standard”, default UI. The minimalist UI in the other screenshots is what the options menu calls the “PRO HUD”. For a long time, I couldn’t see the point of it tbh, until the day I lost a life because I missed something that had been hidden behind all that facking papyrus.

Pop Idol

Throughout Spelunky, you will also come across Golden Idols. These look not unlike the golden head that Indy grabbed at the beginning of Raiders, and in The Mines they have an entire section of the 3×3 grid to themselves. That’s because they’re presided over by giant stone statues. As soon as you touch an Idol, a gigantic boulder will burst out of the statue’s head and roll through the current layer, and at least down to the next layer, destroying and killing everything in its path. One way to avoid it is to throw a rope up first, off to the side, away from the head. Then grab the idol and immediately run and jump onto the rope and climb up it, out of the way. Note that although the idols are worth good money (paid when taking them through the exit or (less) when brought into a Shop), if the boulder rolls through a shop… Apocalypse Nao!! In later levels, you don’t get the giant stone statue, but grabbing the idol will trigger an equally dangerous trap, depending where you are.

“The Death Mother”

Another feature that gets its own entire section of the grid are the Kali Altars. These are blood-stained stone altars to the Hindu goddess Kali. (In the game, she looks quite evil, although the reality is more interesting and complex). Carrying things to these altars, mainly corpses and Damsels (living or dead) and placing them on top sees the item dissolved in a magical light, and a small reward bestowed upon you. Now, frankly, the entire business with Kali is waaaay beyond the scope of this guide. It’s safe to say that it’s almost an entire game in itself, with a system of favour and reward that, ultimately, leads to another of the game’s many secret zones. It also ties in to the afore-mentioned Eggplant Run, which is on a level of Spelunkying that I personally can only dream of. One fun thing you can do at a Kali altar is to sacrifice a Golden Idol on it. I promise, the result is well worth it (ook ook, paaarp!). It’s important to remember that damaging the altars (with Bombs or Powder Boxes etc), will enrage Kali and cause a huge shower of Spiders to burst out. If you destroy or damage two or more altars in one game, she will magic a heavy Ball and Chain onto your ankle. The Ball and Chain slows you to a crawl, unless you pick it up and carry it. Which, of course, means no carrying of weapons or Damsels or anything else helpful. Pro tip: don’t annoy Kali. (“The Death Mother” is what my 8-year-old son calls her, which is his bonkers way of saying what I call her – ‘The Goddess of Death’).

The Crystal Skull

On certain Jungle levels (after the Mines), there are tombs with Crystal Skulls in them instead of Golden Idols. These are worth much more than the golden ones, but as soon as you touch them, the Ghost appears to slowly chase you around. (This is the giant Ghost we talked about at the beginning). If you grab the Skull when your timer has already run out, a second Ghost is summoned. Ha! Crystal Skulls can also be sacrificed to Kali, for a similar effect. Note that the Ghost cannot be harmed, but can be slowed down for a moment with the Camera.

The Tunnel Man

As you complete each set of levels, you will meet a friendly dude in the tunnel/loading screen between x-4 of the last set and x-1 of the next set. This is the Tunnel Man, and he’s the only person in the game (apart from Yang, the tutorial instructor) who doesn’t want to tear your limbs off, eat your face and crap your soul out into the Abyss. Instead, he wants to build handy shortcuts for you, between the entrance to the mountain in which the whole game is located, and levels 2-1, 3-1 and 4-1. Each time you meet him, he’ll ask for some money or items. After giving him what he wants three times, the next shortcut will be completed and can then be found by his cabin at the main entrance, at the start of each new game (except Daily Challenges, because cheating).

SPEL - Daily

The treat at the end of the Daily Challenge rainbow — seeing how far up the ranking you are. This is also how I found out about the other characters!

Grand Strategy

Welcome back, spoiler-free readers! Now, if any of you stopped reading right here, you would know enough to have a thoroughly good grounding in the Spelunky basics. At least enough to get you through The Mines. But before we wrap this up, I want to just go through some of the larger concepts of the game, and a bit of “the meta” as the Hearthstoners like to say.

On the surface, Spelunky is about running through four sets of levels, each with four sub-levels, collecting treasure to pay for things that make your journey easier, all while avoiding monsters and traps. At the end is a Big Boss, defeating which means winning the game. It’s a kind of arcade platformer with randomly-generated levels.

But there are several more interesting things embedded in there too. I’ve already mentioned secret levels, of which there are at least five that I know of. Some of them can be considered additional levels that extend the entire game experience, complete with secret bosses. Some of them are optional, and only provide bonuses, a bit more fun and a small ego boost. The entrances to some of these secret levels are accessed by having done certain things first, and the most basic process here involves what we’ll call The Artefact Run. (There is a different name for this, but it kind of spoils the surprise a bit by saying it, so I’m not going to). Essentially, you collect a special item from The Mines, which helps you enter a secret level (The Black Market mentioned earlier) accessed from The Jungle. In the Black Market, you buy another special item that lets you do a mad trick in the third set of levels, the Ice Caves. This trick rewards you with another item, which you then combine with another item that you obtain by defeating a right evil bastard in the fourth set of levels. Finally, on level 4-2, you use the combined thing to access another secret level, wherein lies your reward. And what a reward it is!

SPEL - Final

These delightful little toy Spelunky figures are available here. Now you know for sure that Spelunky is a bona-fide pop-culture sensation. (Heh. I said ‘bona’)

Then we have The Hell Run. This involves doing everything we just said above for The Artefact Run, as well as fighting another evil, dog-faced bastard in your super-secret reward level and retrieving another item from him. Then you carry on and beat the final regular boss in 4-4, where you then use your new item to access a special door, through which is a whole set of Hell-themed levels. Needless to say, they are bastard-hard and with an absolutely mega boss fight at the end, but the reward is a surprising treat that also brings the whole Spelunky experience full-circle again.

Conclusion

My point here is that there are many different ways to play the game. Most people will probably work on getting the Tunnel Guy’s Shortcuts first, then complete it using them (as I did), then try to get through and beat it in one sitting (as I am now). Then there are the various secret levels to access, the different ‘Runs’ you can make through it, and the quite hilarious co-op play which makes my kids wee themselves laughing every time (as do I). And the game is flexible enough that you can impose your own rules on yourself. ‘No Gold Runs’, ‘Speed Runs’, the legendary ‘Eggplant Run’, and so on.

Well, that wraps it up. I’ve been dying to write this article/guide ever since we last met, when we talked briefly about Spelunky as a game that works well with a joypad. It’s been hanging over me like a stone umbrella, and now that it’s done, we can look forward to more, different things. Hurrah! See you next time, and remember, if you have anything to add here, stick it in the comments down below!

Bonus Tips!

  • Head-jumping on enemies makes you bounce up *really* high.
  • The costs of Items and Kisses from Parlours grow exponentially as you progress through the game.
  • In Darkness levels, don’t let your torch get wet! If it does, you can try and relight it with an already-burning torch.
  • Be careful about whipping vases! They often contain Snakes and Spiders.
  • The Machete can be used to slice through cobwebs and open cocoons on Spider-themed levels.
  • The instant you hit RB to exit a level, you become immune to all damage.
  • Tiki Traps can only hurt you in the first cycle of their animation…
  • You have exactly 2:30s before the Ghost arrives…
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About The Author

Old London geezer, now resident in the Polish hinterland. Linguist, committed Trekker, old-skool D&Der and gamer since the Colecovision was cooler than yo-yos...

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