I have a serious deficiency of friends who play this game or can even understand why I often dream about it. My wife is supportive of many of my endeavors, but this is one of the few that she will often respond with a facepalm.
Wife: Dylan, what are you playing?
Me: Oh, ya know, Spelunky.
I have logged about 26 hours into the game so far, and I have not completed it yet, by any means. My latest accomplishment was bringing the golden key all the way to the end of the ice caves in order to make a shortcut to the temple world. In that instance, my wife did appreciate that I made some progress.
I'd say it took me about 20 hours until I actually got to the ice caves and secured a shortcut for it. I'm usually one who either appreciates a good multiplayer experience or single player mode that shows definitive payoff for your progress, and since Spelunky's multiplayer is fun, but way too quick and frantic to be more appealing, the game does not meet either of those categories. Your sense of progress in Spelunky is more intangible, even if you can claim that you beat the game the hard way. Your progress is mostly represented by an accumulation of experience and knowledge, because whenever you start the game, you're always at the beginning of something.
In a way, Spelunky reminds me of playing games as a child, when everything seemed incredibly hard and mostly impossible, and for whatever reason, I kept trying again and gain, to no avail. Progress was a sweetness that was always just a little out of reach.
But what separates Spelunky from these old games — most of which were probably terribly designed in hindsight (and I defer to the Angry Video Game Nerd's numerous complaints about this) — is that Spelunky has a very specific set of rules for every possibility in the game, and it all makes sense. Everything happens for a reason.
Death isn't so much of a disappointment, but a reminder that you were foolish and forgot about one of the many ways the game works. After playing Spelunky for 26 hours, I have a good grasp of the rules and mechanics, but I am still human, and that means I will often overlook one of those rules and make a terrible mistake.
Even when I just hurt myself and lose one heart, I put myself in anguish for not realizing that rock I just threw would bounce off the wall and fall right back into my face. The most unexpected death of recent times was when I jumped on a crumbling platform in an ice cave level, and it fell right onto a mine, blowing me up into tiny bits.
I can rant on and on about the game, but the point is this: I have a pretty huge crush on Spelunky, and I need to make sure that I'm not the only one.