Hello, fellow Spelunkers! Depending on how much Spelunky you’ve played thus far – available now on PS Vita and PS3, Cross-Buy / Cross-Save / Cross-Play for £11.99/€14.99 – you probably fall somewhere between thinking it’s a neat but masochistic experience, to a brilliantly crafted work of evil genius and one of the best things you’ve played in years. I’m firmly in the latter camp at this point, playing in every spare moment and endlessly iterating my strategies on my quest to see the game’s true ending.
Along the way, I’ve amassed a mental library of tips and tricks, both from my own playthroughs and from watching some friends in the indie developer community perform masterful runs of their own. For those just starting out, I’ve penned a list of some basic tips to shorten the time between Spelunky being the game you love to hate, and the game you just outright love.
- ABC: Always Be Carrying. A rock, a rat, a broken arrow – make sure you’re carrying something at all times, especially in the Mines (the first world). You’ll face arrow traps left and right, and tossing or dropping anything in their path will set them off, rendering them completely harmless. Once you get good at throwing diagonally (just aim and throw), rocks will be your best friend against bats and spiders as well. Never leave a level empty-handed, either; you can bring most objects between levels, so grab something on the way out to prepare for what may greet you at the start of the next stage.
- Always look down. You should never drop off a ledge if you don’t know what’s below you, but it’s easy enough to find out. While you’re standing or hanging, just hold up or down to pan the camera in that direction. You’ll eventually get used to how far you can fall without getting hurt, but for now you can at least avoid impaling yourself on spikes. (And don’t forget that hanging off of a ledge before you drop will save you one square of fall distance.)
- Learn the Spelunky economy. This one is a bit subjective, but I find that rescuing the damsel is almost never worth a bomb, or even a rope. The majority of your deaths will be from one-hit instakills (spikes, explosions, mantraps, etc.), so having extra health usually doesn’t mean much – whereas precious bombs and ropes will be your key to accessing the truly important items like the jetpack and shotgun, and getting yourself out of endless jams. Conversely, the wooden boxes that hold a mystery item are almost always worth a bomb to get to, since you’ll generally be rewarded threefold with more bombs or ropes, or something even better if you’re lucky.
- Predictability is your friend. The spring boots are great for some extra pep in your step, but until you’ve mastered the default jumping physics, they’re probably just going to get you killed. The cape is one of the best items in the game once you get used to it, but you’ll probably control your descent right into the mouth of a waiting mantrap a few times first. Same with the sticky bombs. And the shotgun. I don’t say this to dissuade you from trying all of the items and spending the time to master them – I just recommend easing into it, and don’t grab something you’ve never used before in the middle of an otherwise fantastic run, as it’ll just get you dead.
- Risk assessment! That’s what the game is all about, really. Spelunky is a constant decision tree where preventable death lies at the end of most branches. Is that emerald really worth going into the beehive for? Is that jump you’re not sure about really worth it to rescue a damsel? A kiss is worth nothing when you’re dead. Play methodically, play smartly, and don’t push your luck when you’re on a good run. Along these same lines, don’t bother killing an enemy if they’re not in your way and don’t pose an obvious risk – there’s no benefit (not even score, which is measured only in time and wealth), and you’re just upping your chance of getting hurt.
- Let the level do the work. Run past spiders then turn around and whip them after they drop. Set off spear traps before you cross their path, as discussed above. Whip every clay pot and pile of bones from a full square away before you walk past them. For the spiked tiki traps in world 2, jump in place two squares away from them, then while the spikes are retracting, climb on up. Let spiders and frogs jump next to you or over you before you deal with them, if it makes things easier. In general, if you can set off traps and let things come to you instead of rushing headfirst to your death, you’ll be a much happier, more successful spelunker.
- Practice practice practice. If you can bring the Tunnel Man that hangs out at the end of each world the three items he requires, you’ll open up shortcuts to each of the later worlds, allowing you to dive directly into them when you start. This is great for practicing worlds 3 and 4 especially, which are both a lot less scary than they seem at first blush. World 3 especially is a nice place to cool down (har har) after the hectic world 2 once you get used to it, so know that it gets easier before it gets harder again. Lastly, while I’ve never been able to consistently fight the urge to restart after every death, I find that limiting yourself to just one run a day will force you to focus and make smart decisions during that valuable run, and build a nice routine.
- Don’t anger the shopkeepers… yet. Robbing the shops eventually becomes an important ingredient to Hell runs, but if you’re reading this you’re probably not anywhere near there yet. So buy things politely with a smile, don’t engage enemies within the shops, and don’t grab the gold idol in the Mines if there’s any chance that the shop could be somewhere below it. Until you learn to consistently deal with the angry contingent of shopkeepers that will await you in all future levels, it’s not worth it.
- Play co-op! Or at the very least, alternate runs with a couch buddy. It’s a ton of fun, and seeing how other people play can really open your mind. Just be careful with that co-op shotgun!
Yesterday, we asked for your Spelunky tips, and you responded in kind with a bevy of expert advice — some of which we weren’t even aware of! Some highlights:
— William Manzo (@WillGuitarGuy) September 16, 2013
— Michael Powers (@PMowers) September 16, 2013
— sbf717 (@sbf717) September 16, 2013
— Ryan Schaefer (@Digitalistic) September 16, 2013
I hope this has been a helpful start for budding adventurers. If you’re already an expert, leave more tips in the comments below! I’m also happy to field any and all questions there – you will defeat Olmec — it’s just a matter of time. And that’s when the game really opens up.
(And if you still haven’t played Spelunky, what the heck are you waiting for!?)
P.S. Special thanks to Doug Wilson of Sportsfriends for contributing some great ideas and for making sure I wasn’t crazy.