Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Chasing the First High; or, How One Game Ruined Everything

It was 2012.

I made my way slowly through the mine, slow enough to avoid making any of a myriad dumb mistakes I've made before. Watching ahead for traps, behind for spiders, above for bats, and below for spikes. Every step had to be sure, calculated. But time was not a luxury I could afford for long. A ghostly specter of death waited just off screen for any careless or arrogant enough to dilly-dally. With a limited number of bombs, was it worth it to use one to obtain the items within that wooden crate? Why, it could be a horribly non useful catcher's mitt item, or it could be twelve more bombs. A net profit! Is it better to spend all the money at the shopkeeper on more ropes? Or should I save it and hopefully find an incomparably useful jetpack down the line? Was that a damsel I heard? If I went out of my way and found her I could regain some lost health. But I'm also running out of time. These thoughts and more shuffled in and out of my thoughts as I creeped my way through the deadly catacombs. Finally, amazingly, the exit comes into view. I only had to not get hit by the damn bat tenaciously flying in my direction. It's a position I've been in before. Close to safety, with one wrong move meaning everything I had done was lost.

But this time, I remembered. I grabbed a nearby clay pot and threw it in the bat's stupid face. Direct hit. The exit was clear. I've made it! Hours of hard work, memorization and trial and error and learning. But I've cleared the mines! I've made it to the jungle! I'm making progress.

Then I get to the mines and immediately die to a spike trap. Everything I had done was pointless.

But it wasn't really, because everything I had just done will better inform future endeavors. I'm getting better at the game, one failure at a time.

LIFEHACK: When in doubt, throw small animals at the problem until it's resolved.

This is Spelunky. Derek Yu's platformer/roguelike released on Xbox 360 in 2012 (and subsequently released on just about everything else), at a time when mainstream audiences didn't really know what a roguelike was, let alone the original Rogue from which the like-games...liken. I bought it on little more than a whim (the very attractive sale price didn't hurt either). At the time, I was becoming more and more entrenched in the idea that I wanted narrative experiences from my games. A good story, and a good atmosphere were what I came to games for, gameplay mechanics being an afterthought. Then here comes along this thing that's just, like, all gameplay and shit. The story is "go in a cave and look for cool stuff", the characters are "mute knockoff Indiana Jones" and "mute guy with mustache". For the first time in a long time, the actual act of playing a game was exciting to me. It was difficult, punishing even, but it rewarded your persistence. It gave to you for learning and understanding its rules, and had secrets aplenty for those who bothered to look deeper. It is very close, in my opinion, to a perfect game.

But this article is not about how good Spelunky is (very good, by the way). I've played close to 200 hours of Spelunky probably, all versions of the game combined. I still have things to do in it, if I really wanted to be a completionist about it. And I probably would have done them if my progress wasn't wiped a half dozen times now (seriously, just patch in Steam Cloud support please). But at some point I decided to maybe try playing some other games.

The issue is, I really just want to be playing Spelunky.

Since 2012, almost all of my gaming time has been an effort to find "The Next Spelunky". There's plenty of games with similar features. Procedurally generated levels and items. Permanent death. The whole Rogue business. As soon as even one person describes a game as being "kind of Rogue-y", I want it. This is my Steam list of games I've played in a desperate attempt to fill the void.

There's some damn fine games in that list. Rogue Legacy kept my interest for a few dozen hours. Invisible Inc. is a cool rogueish stealth game. After buying Rebirth on Xbox One, the Binding of Isaac finally clicked for me and I had fun with it. But as cool as any of the games had been, they all have the same issue. They're just not Spelunky. I don't want a similar game. I want the same game. Forever and ever. But at the same time I feel like I have to move on. It's just not working very well.

1 comment:

  1. Spelunky is pretty damn good. I'm glad I have it, even though I'm terrible in comparison to you at it.