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Spelunky Guide - Introduction

This article is intended to introduce you to the game of Spelunky. It explains the basic features of the game, and how to initially set up your game to your preference.


As the name of the game conveys spelunking, which means to ‘explore caves’, your character the Spelunker travels through thematic zones in search of treasure, inadvertently finding damsels to rescue along the way and encountering traps and monsters to overcome. There are multiple levels per thematic zone, which are randomly generated, providing a new experience each time the Spelunker enters the caves. This varied experience is bolstered by Spelunky’s freedom in having multiple choices as to what your character can do; such as destroying the environment in a number of ways, rescuing the damsel in distress while avoiding danger to earn a health boosting kiss or sacrificing her to appease a god in hopes of a reward, to steal from the merchants or to pay for their wares with your hard earned gold, or even choosing alternative paths to find a secret level.

Another core facet to the game is that when your Spelunker dies you must start all the way from the beginning again, resulting in the loss of everything your Spelunker gained during that play through, sans any unlocked characters, even items like the jetpack or the climbing gloves. Although there is one way to partially circumvent the reversion of progress made to the next level, and instead establish more gradual progress throughout your game. There is a digger NPC that after enough play throughs of one of the thematic zones, such as the Mines, will ask you for something before you proceed onto the next zone. With a jolly grin and a shovel in hand, he will ask for a set of multiple items three times, requiring you to proceed onto the next zone that many amount of times, until he finally digs through the entirety of the tunnel, allowing you as the Spelunker to take a shortcut to the next zone should you start a new game.

Spelunky is a game that uses quick reflexes in order to avoid sudden death, a degree of persistence to accrue gold and gather items, and some skill to masterfully control your character to navigate the levels of Spelunky, zone from zone and to defeat mini-bosses and bosses that you encounter along the way. Although, just because you encounter a mini-boss, does not mean you must defeat it most of the time. It is possible you can just avoid it altogether, or rush past the mini-boss in some way, but typically any kind of mini-boss in Spelunky has a reward that the normal monsters do not. Sometimes, particularly when the mini-boss is not too difficult, the mini-boss upon defeat just drops a few gems, which can amount to around four thousand gold. But bosses can drop items, such as spike boots, or paste for bombs, or even royal jelly that gives you 4 HP, which is actually the amount of HP you start each game with. They might also be guarding some kind of item. In the end, Spelunky is challenging enough to drive you to play many hours, while continually keeping you on your toes. And sometimes, even when you think that you have everything under control, that you’re confident that nothing can go wrong because you’ve been playing for so long during that session and you’ve done this sort of level so many times, sometimes you’ll die in the stupidest, and quickest of ways. It is just that easy for it to happen. Like shrapnel erupting from a pot, stunning your character, only for your character to fall off a ledge, and impale himself or herself right onto the spikes, spikes that you would have avoided so easily if only you hadn’t been either unlucky or foolhardy enough to be stunned by that shrapnel, which likely was caused by you anyway.

Starting the Game

Once you’ve watched your Spelunker, dressed a lot like a small and young Indiana Jones with a wide brimmed hat, a beige jacket with a belt running up and across his chest and a coiled whip, cross a windy desert and wander into a mine entrance, while he muses about his discovery or journey, you’ll be able to enter the game’s menu. Before you start the game via ‘Play Game’, I suggest that you select what type of controls you will use, and maybe customize them to your liking, under ‘Help & Options’, and then ‘Controls’. If you have an Xbox 360 controller already plugged into your computer, then the game will have the controller set as your default. It’s possible that the game will actually do this every time you load up, regardless if you set your configuration to keyboard. So if you do not want to use your controller with Spelunky, do not have the controller plugged in prior to launching Spelunky. Regardless, to switch between control types, click on the red arrow that appears by the box labeled 1. For whatever reason you can’t customize the binds on the controller, but you can do so on the keyboard by clicking and pressing the key you want for that action.

By default, as you’ll see, your character moves with the arrows to the left of your number pad. The key ‘X’ is for action, the key ‘Z’ is for jump, and so forth, which would be used with your left hand. You could stick with those key binds if you wanted, but I did not find these to my liking. I found it more to my preference to assign the movement to W-A-S-D. W being up, S being down, A being left and D being right. Then for actions J being bound for whip or action, K for jump, I for bombs, L for rope, and P for purchase or door. Instead of using shift for sprint, I bound space. This configuration has your hands resting similar to typing from the position of the home row, resulting in the spacebar easily accessible by the thumb. Your right hand’s index finger would be resting on J, and that hand’s ring finger would be resting on L – a mirror of your left hand’s position on W-A-S-D. If this isn’t to your liking either, choose whatever you want.

  • Settings

Hitting esc, you’ll return to the ‘Help & Options’ menu, where you can access ‘Settings’ that’ll allow you to configure SFX and Music Volume, Screen Brightness, Language, and more importantly Damsel Style. By selecting one out of the four options, you’ll change what type of damsels spawn in the game. Technically there are only three models available for the damsels; and therefor three types of noises unique to each one, which you’ll come to learn as their ‘calls for help’ carry farther than you can see their model on screen. One is a blonde woman in a red dress and a big chest, with a triangular rosy nose; the second is a greatly muscled man with a prominent brow and nose, with dashing blonde hair and a red bow tie’ and the third is a pug puppy sitting on his haunches with adorable big eyes. The fourth option has the game randomly select out of the three models as to which will spawn in the level, provided the damsel does actually spawn. You can go back here at any time, even while your Spelunker is in a level, to alter what type of damsels spawn; although, at least if the damsel is on screen, the damsel’s model won’t change if you alter it to something else.

  • Resolution

Resolution is accessible inside of the Help & Options menu. There are two options to select for windowed mode – 960×540 and 1280×720 respectively. There are then eight options to select for full screen mode, ranging from ratios of 4:3, 16:9, 5:3, 16:10, and 5:4. Unfortunately these available resolutions are insufficient for larger, more recent computer monitors, such as the nearly industry standard 1920×1200. Furthermore, Spelunky’s graphics appear to be appropriately fully sized at the windowed resolution of 1280×720. Anything more and the models become slightly stretched and misshapen. It is best the game to your preferred resolution here and now, so that you become accustomed to the way Spelunky looks on your monitor, rather than adjusting it at any point later, where the graphics will look increasingly distorted or out of place.

Bear in mind, if the full screen resolution you select is less than the native resolution of your computer monitor, then there will be a black border surrounding the game, existing on the remainder of your screen where there are no pixels filled by the Spelunky game. This could be distracting, or immersive depending on how you feel. If you are uncomfortable with that black border, and neither have a screen resolution that matches the small amount Spelunky offers, then select the largest windowed resolution.

Because of these things, the most ideal resolution does seem to be the windowed 1280×720. And unfortunately, while the game is windowed, it is not possible to drag the edges of the screen to increase the size of the game’s window.

  • Play Game

Once you are satisfied with your settings, upon navigating to ‘Play Game’, you will be able to select your character on the upper left via the left and right movement keys. On a new game, you’ll start out with four characters, each with their own prominent color - as is the case for the unlockable characters as well. One of them is the featured Indiana Jones archetype. Once you have confirmed your selected character, your Spelunker will climb down a rope into a dark chamber. Crossing over to the left, there will be a journal, detailing the forays of a Spelunker before you in the Mines. This’ll bring up the tutorial, in which you will control the author of the journal, Yang.

Step by step, the tutorial will introduce you to the game, specifically how to control your character and some of the obstacles you will face, but not down to the details of what kind of enemies, what stages, bosses, and so forth. You’ll get that from reading this guide, along with the effective means to dealing with them, and playing the game - extensively. Since the tutorial brings up parts of the gameplay of Spelunky, this will then begin the Gameplay & Mechanics section of the guide.

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