Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
When I was younger, more curious, and less hardened, attacking harmless NPCs was a thing I would do for fun. Like a screaming toddler I’d be hoping for a response, but usually get nothing. The big exceptions to the general rule of NPC imperviousness are, obviously, Bethesda games, a lot of ye olde CRPGs, the Dark Souls series, and yes: Spelunky. God bless the game that trusts you not to kill its goodies, and when you do try, punishes you mercilessly.
It took a while for me to realise just how lethal the angry shopkeeper could be. Not understanding Spelunky’s systemic approach to the action-platformer, I just assumed for a while that he’d be invincible. Because, like, why have a shop if you can just kill its keeper? To which Derek Yu says, sure, you can kill the shopkeeper—but only if he doesn’t kill you. And he will. Hundreds upon hundreds of times.
What I love about the shopkeeper is the extremity of his reaction. Give him a few light, playful lashes with your whip and he’ll turn into a hyperspeed war machine, sprinting and bouncing around in supreme, bloodlusting rage. The accompanying music was my ringtone for a while, and it captures the frantic hilarity of shop impropriety perfectly. (One thing I disliked about Spelunky 2 was that the angry shopkeeper music changed.)
Even after you learn not to hurt the angry shopkeeper, that doesn’t mean the shopkeeper ain’t gonna get angry. If shit hits the fan and the shopkeeper cops a chunk, the blame is always laid squarely on your forehead. If an explosive frog explodes within range of the shopkeeper’s abode of course it’s your fault because you’re the invader, you’re the odd one out.
The bastard chases you around too. If you anger the shopkeeper and manage to escape, he’ll be back at the end of the next level, stealthily guarding the exit door, driven to a frothing fury the moment our doomed spelunker comes within his range. If you manage to kill him: happy days. But he’ll have told all his other shopkeeper friends, and there will always be a representative from the angered shopkeeper union waiting for you, ready to mow you down in a hail of bullets.
The shopkeeper is dangerous, basically. But as you grow better at Spelunky, you come to see the sense in killing him the moment you see him, all the better to be armed with his shotgun in early game. If his store also has a jetpack, there’s really no question whether you should kill him or not: you absolutely should. There’s a trick where you can whip a bomb at a certain angle from the exterior of his shop, leading to him being stunned and thus easily quelled. A lot of top Spelunky streamers don’t even bother doing that anymore—they murder him as casually as you’d whip a bat.
The angry shopkeeper’s rage thus becomes a tactic rather than a threat, a pattern that emerges again and again in Spelunky. If you follow this gruesome path of mandatory shopkeeper death, you’ll eventually be marching into the Black Market—a secret area where seven of the poor sods carve their trade—to murder every single one of them in a delightfully tense game of cat and mouse. Why buy when you can steal? If Spelunky teaches the adept player anything, it’s that life is short and cruel, so you best be killing every shopkeeper in sight. More seriously though, the angry shopkeeper is a neat demonstration of one of Spelunky’s core pleasures. Yes, there are rules and yes, you should follow them—but only until you’re good enough to ignore them.