SDA logo

Spelunky is a freeware platformer developed by Derek Yu, and version 1.0 was released in September 2009. The game's style takes inspiration from old NES platformer Spelunker and freeware platformer La Mulana, and the game also incorporates elements from the roguelike RPG genre - most notably, random level generation, inability to save, and a brutal learning curve that murders beginners again and again until they gain the knowledge and skill they need to survive.

Those sufficiently masochistic can download the game for free at


Best time as the Spelunker: 0:02:53 by Mark 'ExplodingCabbage' Amery on 2010-07-27.

Get Flash to see this player.

Author's comments:

Back in January I submitted a 3:02 run of this game, but my arch-nemesis ortoslon shaved 2 seconds of it moments before dex was going to post it on SDA and I pulled the submission. Now I have at last taken the record back from him.

I find it hard to figure out quite what to say in the comments of a run of a game with randomly generated levels. Should I comment on what happened in my particular run, or on everything that could have happened and how a speedrunner should deal with the various possible situations that can arise in this game? I figure both are potentially interesting, so I will write about both.

Levels 1-4: The Cave

There are two main objectives for a speedrunner in the cave. The first, and most important, is to luck-manipulate important items - a jetpack or cape is pretty much essential if you want a fighting chance of competing with the fastest runs at present. Secondly, you want to luck-manipulate good level layouts so you can finish the cave quickly - this is more important here than in any of the later areas both because it's the start of the game so retrying for good levels is less painful, and because, especially before you get a cape or jetpack, the range of possible level times you can get here is huge and very luck-dependent compared to the other areas. My usual policy now is to restart if I'm doing worse than 9 seconds per level, though I'll allow some slack if I get multiple useful items early on.

There's only one special level type in the cave - levels with snake pits. You know you've got one if you get the "I hear snakes... I hate snakes!" message when you enter. Unfortunately I don't get one in this run since they are always a good thing. If you don't have a mattock, you can arm a bomb and hurl yourself down one, survive by landing on the snakes at the bottom, and blow the bottom of the pit for a guaranteed mattock. If you don't need a mattock, you can just ignore the pit and probably get a faster than average time since the pit takes up a big chunk of the level, effectively making it smaller and therefore quicker.

There are two main things you need to get good at to run the cave effectively. The first is robbing shops. I always use the method you see here: grab a jetpack or cape, run out of the shop, jump the shotgun blast, then either run (which usually works unless you have unfavourable terrain) or, if there's a mattock or teleporter to be had, stomp the shopkeeper, go back, grab it, and use it to escape before he wakes up.

The second skill needed for running the cave is finding the exit quickly. This is much easier than you might think, and the rare tricky bits basically come down to intuitive pattern recognition which you will learn once you've played enough. The levels are actually usually generated in such a way that there are very few branches, and those that do exist tend to go into rooms with altars or idols - which are almost always dead ends and should be avoided - or are branches where there's one route downwards and another horizontal - in which case you should take the downward route, since these are almost never dead ends. The only genuinely tricky branches occur at the bottom of the level - you'll sometimes drop down in the bottom-centre of the level and not know whether to go left or right to reach the exit, although that doesn't happen in this run. Sometimes in this situation you have to guess; other times, if you've been above one side on the floor above, you can recognise from above common formations that always hold the exit and from that know which way to go when you reach the branch.

There are a couple of nice tricks that sometimes come up in the cave. One, if you have a teleporter, is to throw yourself down a snake pit and teleport out of it, which generally takes you right to the bottom of the level and is invariably faster than navigating the level normally. The second is a technique for dealing with giant spiders that may or may not be well known (I haven't seen it posted anywhere before) - if there's one on the roof of a 2-tile-high corridor, you can run and jump diagonally up into it and the game won't consider you to have taken a hit, but will instead wedge you between the spider and the ceiling, resulting in you repeatedly hitting it and doing massive - possibly fatal - damage. It's one of the coolest-looking tricks in the game and is generally preferable to bombing the spider or finding a way around. Alas, I don't get a chance to show it off here, for I encountered no giant spiders in this run.

I get a nice total time of 0:33 for the cave, complete with a Jetpack and Mattock, a very good combination of items. The cave was by far the worst part of my old 3:02 run, where I got a time of 0:46; the best time I've ever got is 0:23, but obviously that requires absurdly good luck. ortoslon got 0:35 on his 3:00 run. Basically this all reinforces my earlier point that the cave matters a lot to your total time and you should be prepared to redo it over and over.

Levels 5-8: The Jungle

If I get this far without a cape or jetpack, I usually restart - shops are too rare from here on for it to be worth continuing unless I've got an absolutely amazing cave time. The rules to follow for navigating these levels are very similar to those for the cave: go down wherever possible, avoid rooms with idols or altars unless there is no other path, and try to spot the exit from above so you don't end up in the bottom-centre of the level not knowing which way to go.

I do end up in the aforementioned situation at one point in this run: at the end of level 7, you can see that I don't know whether to go left or right, and try left, quickly discover it doesn't hold the exit, and go back to the right - taking an avoidable hit on the way since I'm concentrating on figuring out where the exit is rather than focussing on the Spelunker. I don't think there was any way I could've figured out in advance which way held the exit here.

One important skill to learn for the jungle is predicting the jumps of frogs so you can land on them to kill them easily and so you can avoid getting hit by them - health is precious in this game.

There are two special level types in the jungle to learn to deal with, neither of which comes up in this run and neither of which is very different to a normal jungle level. Firstly are the Restless Dead levels, which are usually a mild nuisance since the enemy composition is more awkward than on a normal jungle level and you're more likely to take a hit, but which can be a blessing if you get to the jungle with a good time but without a jetpack or cape, since vampires drop capes when killed. Secondly are "rushing water" levels, which are completely normal except for a big water pit at the bottom. If you don't have a jetpack and have to go through the water to find the exit, it's advisable to let yourself sink while you travel through it, since you can spam jump commands in water to build up vertical speed and shoot out of the water.

Here, I match ortoslon's jungle time from his 3:00 run and maintain my 2 second lead.

Levels 9-12: The Ice Cavern

Here's where you're just totally fucked in a speedrun if you don't have a cape or jetpack - and even with a cape it can be tough. It's also where it suddenly becomes a lot harder to figure out in advance where the exit is; there are no telltale formations like in the cave or jungle, and there are multiple routes down, so often I find myself having to fly across the entire length of the bottom of the level to find the exit. Level times generally vary between 3 seconds and 8 seconds, in no small part due to the very reason just mentioned. I get pretty lucky with finding exits in this run - all the exits turned out to be wherever I dropped down.

I do, however, have to deal with the absolute worst special level type for a speedrun - a "wet fur" level. Besides the possibility of having your path blocked by a giant Yeti, which is a difficult situation to deal with, these levels are bad because they have full floors like in the cave, rather than letting you drop all the way down from the top to the bottom of the level like on most Ice Cavern levels. Fortunately, my mattock saves me from losing much time here, although I do lose my 2 second lead on ortoslon.

The other possible special level, the "psychic presence" level, makes very little difference in a speedrun; there is a guaranteed jetpack in the wall behind the psychic alien, but if you don't have a jetpack by this point in the run it's probably not worth the time it would take to get it.

Levels 13-15: The Temple

This is where the game decides it really wants you dead, and puts you up against corridors blocked by mummies and smash traps, large rooms filled with cavemen and jumping cultists, and those damned arrow traps, which are now neatly camouflaged and can easily be the death of a hasty player who doesn't spot them. These are all extremely difficult problems for a speedrunner (or, sometimes, even a normal player) to deal with, and frequently the quickest and least risky solution is to bomb or dig through the floor. Unsurprisingly then, this is the area where you really, really want a mattock more than anywhere else in the run, and indeed it is certainly thanks to my mattock that I managed to gain a fresh 7 second lead on ortoslon here.

Exits in the temple are always located either on platforms 2 tiles high and not connected to the floor or walls, and the exits can sometimes be concealed by smash blocks - so when you see a smash block resting on top of such a platform, you should always move it to check for the exit. The only possible special level type in the temple is a level with a lava pit (like a snake pit, but with lava instead of snakes). These are always good, for some of the same reasons snake pits are good; if you have a teleporter, you can throw yourself down it and teleport out at the bottom instead of navigating the level normally, and if you don't, you can just do the level normally and it'll still probably be shorter than a normal level because the lava pit takes up a lot of space. I get a lava pit in the middle of level 14 and you can see how short the level is as a result.

Level 16: Olmec I use the same boss strategy as last time, for which the credit goes to zuluman. There was some talk of clipdeaths and other awful things on the forum, but honestly I have found this strategy to work consistently every time I have tried it.

You may wonder - especially if you have seen me post on the SDA forum or elsewhere about the potential for the mattock to save time on the boss - why I don't use the mattock here. The answer is that while the mattock can save time on the boss - potentially as much as 10 seconds, in fact - there's a substantial risk that it will just break early and screw you over (chance is 5% per strike). Since my main objective with this run was to beat ortoslon's time, and I knew I was already ahead of him by the time I reached level 16, I opted for the safe approach. If someone (probably ortoslon) wants to beat this run and finds themselves entering level 16 a few seconds behind me with a mattock, though, they would be well-advised to take the gamble - you want to dig down as fast as you can, then dig out several whole layers of blocks underneath Olmec and dig yourself a cubby hole to hide in when he reaches you. I believe the chance of the mattock surviving long enough is about 20%.

That's about all I have to say. I hope you enjoyed watching the run. Good luck to anyone who tries to beat this - there's certainly still room for improvement, and I reckon sub-2:40 looks more achievable than ever in light of this run; there's 10 seconds to be saved with the mattock on level 16, and then you'd only need 4 more seconds shaved elsewhere, which is very much possible given that I've done the cave 10 seconds faster in the past.

Finally, thanks to:

Return to the Game List, the FAQ, or the Home Page.