Spelunky

There is no saving. There is no level the same as any other, but neither is there a level much different from any other. Level by level you go down as far as you can into the cave, until you die.

It's easy to die in this world composed of limited elements lifted from Indiana Jones. There are snakes (you hate those), homocidal Oriental musclemen, rolling balls of stone twice your size released when you steal a golden idol, bats, spiders, animated skeletons, and most lethal of all (because easy to forget), arrow traps.

To replenish your life, there are damsels. From the corners of this infinitely rearranged maze, these blondes scream "HELP!" They go limp when you carry them in your arms, and sometimes limper when you throw them into the paths of arrows to disarm traps or at creatures to bludgeon them to death with her body. If dead they are excellent body shields, if alive, they are cashed in for longevity at the maze's exit. She walks through the doorway, and you gain a heart: You can now be hit once more before dying. Where they go is unknown. When you go follow through that same door, you enter another, deeper maze.

So long as you live you may acquire money. On the surface this is your only desire. Your greed for gold coins, idols, and gems is as insatiable as it is casual. It is, seemingly, your reason for exploring. You use your ingenuity to access the riches scattered throughout the caves. When you die, none of this capital is preserved.

When you die, the path you have forged through the cave is not a path at all, because you can't retrace your steps. Nothing you did matters any more. Yet you continue to spelunk, the reborn you. What carries over between your numerous deaths at the bottom of each new but very similar cave? You learn better how to navigate these caves, to go further down into the world that never translates.

While it becomes a familiar background, you nonetheless attune yourself to the sonic quality of the caves. Unlike the caves themselves, their sound repeats. Each iteration is a perfect reproduction of the previous. What you attune to is the difference when the cave's patience with your presence is running out. Sound slows down, distorts. At first this is not alarming, or even noticable, because the cave's sound is defined by an eery bending of square waves. After the first time you die from a haunting of a cave ghost, the ambiguity turns over: The mundane bending sounds like it might be the end of your days. You develop an anxious ear. The familiar repetition is ever on the brink of an intimation of doom. You begin to really listen.

7 July 2012