PC Gaming Highlights: Killing the Spelunky Trader
Great PC Gaming Moments are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
When I was younger, more curious, and less hardened, attacking harmless NPCs was something I did for fun. Like a screaming toddler, I hope for an answer, but usually get nothing. The big exceptions to the general rule of NPC imperviousness are, obviously, Bethesda games, lots of old CRPGs, the Dark Souls series, and yes: Spelunky. God bless the game that trusts you not to kill its goodies, and when you try, punishes you mercilessly.
It took me a while to realize how deadly the angry trader could be. Not understanding Spelunky’s systemic approach to action-platforming, I just assumed for a while that he would be invincible. Because, like, why have a store if you can just kill its owner? To which Derek Yu says, of course you can kill the shopkeeper, but only if he doesn’t kill you. And he will. Hundreds and hundreds of times.
What I like about the trader is the extremity of his reaction. Give him a few light, playful swipes with your whip and he’ll transform into a hyper-fast war machine, sprinting and bouncing in supreme, bloodthirsty rage. The accompanying music has been my ringtone for a while, and it perfectly captures the frenetic hilarity of the store’s irregularities. (One thing I didn’t like about Spelunky 2 was that the angry shopkeeper music changed.)
Even after learning not to hurt the angry trader, that doesn’t mean the trader won’t get angry. If the shit hits the fan and the trader takes a piece of it, the blame is always on your front. If an explosive frog explodes within range of the trader’s abode, of course it’s your fault because you are the invader, you are the intruder.
The bastard is also chasing you. 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 foaming fury the moment our doomed caver comes within reach. If you manage to kill him: happy days. But he will have told all his other trader friends, and there will always be an angry trades union representative waiting for you, ready to mow you down in a hail of bullets.
The trader is dangerous, basically. But as you get better at Spelunky, you come to understand the meaning of killing him as soon as you see him, the better to be armed with his shotgun early in the game. If his store also has a jetpack, there’s really no doubt that you should kill him or not: you absolutely should. There’s a trick where you can whip a bomb at a certain angle from outside his shop, which stuns him and therefore easily suppressed. Many of Spelunky’s top streamers don’t even bother to do that anymore – they kill it as casually as you would a bat.
The angry shopkeeper’s rage thus becomes a tactic rather than a threat, a pattern that comes up again and again in Spelunky. If you follow this macabre path of obligatory trader death, you will eventually enter the Black Market, a secret area where Seven poor assholes do their thing – to assassinate each and every one of them in a delightfully tense game of cat and mouse. Why buy when you can fly? If Spelunky teaches the adept player anything, it’s that life is short and cruel, so best to kill every trader in sight. Seriously, the Angry Shopkeeper is a nice display of one of Spelunky’s core pleasures. Yes, there are rules and yes, you have to follow them, but only until you are good enough to ignore them.