Review: 'Alien Spidy' (PC)
Most game reviewers are looking into games like BioShock Infinite, but I’m not even going to try and stretch the question as to whether Big Daddy is anthropomorphic, cause I’m sure I’d get drilled. Maybe StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm? Well, zerglings get kinda close, but xenomorphy… are there any aliens out there that have more animalistic qualities?
Ah, here we go, a game about an alien spidy named… well, Alien Spidy. Who'd have guessed? Let's see if the game is out of this world, or just a space case.
Story and interface
Our story begins on the planet Aracnia. Yes Aracnia; I guess the sentient spiders of this planet are very humble – I mean, what if we named our planet Humania? However, the point is your girl spider goes out to planet Earth, for some reason. Something goes wrong, so the male spider must rescue her (if she’s even alive). I guess if you’re going to make a platformer, the best way to start is the tried-and-true princess chase. (I don’t know if the lady spider is a princess, but at this point she may as well be.)
The opening cinematic is certainly pretty, though for some reason the dark cartoonish characters seemed to clash with the colorful environments they interacted with. It got the point of the simple story across relatively shortly before bringing you to the menu screen to start your adventure.
Alien Spidey starts you with tutorial levels; what game doesn’t these days? Unfortunately, I was using a keyboard; while the in-level control directions were correct, the ones for the end of level menus acted as if I were using a controller; saying to use “A” to continue instead of space (the A key does nothing). I get really agitated when ports do that. I shouldn’t have to do key translation; the game should do that for me.
Another mistake was in the pause menu, which gives you no obvious option for leaving the level. Holding my breath, I tried “Exit Game”, hoping that was the option. Luckily it was; however, from a design standpoint, “Exit Game” should only be used to exit the entire game. That should be named “Return to Menu” or “Return to Level Selection” – especially when (as I’ll explain) you’ll be skipping around to previous levels quite a bit.
The tutorial left many tricks out, such as that you can lengthen or shorten your web while you are dangling from it by pressing up or down. This made collecting arches of blue circles much easier than before. Wish I didn't have to discover it by accident.
Anyway, enough with my game design pet peeves. You use your web to swing across gaps, like Spider Man— well, it makes sense, since spiders were doing what spiders do before the Spider Man did. While making your way to the goal, you attempt to collect blue spheres while avoiding red ones. Collecting the blue ones in rapid succession will get you combo bonuses. Dying or pressing the suicide button will cost you points; you also lose points as time goes on.
It’s not enough to just finish a level – you really want to get as many points as possible, so you better be Tarzan-like with your web. The first levels use control icons in the background to try and teach you the timing, but even with those it’s not easy. More often than not, I didn’t get more than two out of five stars on my first run. Only the most OCD and speediest spider will make the elusive five out of five.
The gameplay is very tight and precise; any mistake you make is your own, and by golly will you make a lot of them. There are many ways for a spider to die on this planet. It soon began to remind me of Super Meat Boy, which was far too tough for me. In fact, the girlfriend angle was also used by that game, which makes me think this one might have been inspired by it. I quickly gave up on points and concentrated on survival.
Just surviving is fine for the short term, but in the long run you’ll end up running into a wall as you can’t leave the first world until you have a total of 40 stars. If you do as poorly as I did, you’re going to have to backtrack. The tutorial hinted that stars were good, but I didn’t realize they'd halt progression until I reached the wall. It took staring at the menu for a bit to go: “Oh, maybe I need 40/40 to proceed.” For a game that requires revisiting levels, switching between them isn’t very fluid if you want to go backwards. I recommend going back to the beginning of the world and playing it from start to end until you have all the medals you need. It’s faster than jumping around based on how poorly you did the first time.
I liked the flow of the game before I had to get more stars – it took me four rounds of going through the first world to get enough to proceed. To me, this broke the immersion. Perhaps instead of making it a necessity, they could have used it to determine the kind of ending you'd get; a bad ending for a very low star count, a medium ending, and a good ending if you got them all. That would encourage replay without forcing it.
Acquiring sufficient stars unlocks a ‘final stage’ for the first world. There are no spheres to collect here, but the game more than makes up for it with hair-pulling precision-based stunts needed to pass. Prepare to die a lot. (One small annoyance is that the cursor indicating where your web is aiming is a constant light blue color, and will disappear from view in levels with light blue sky backgrounds.)
Finally I got to the second world, a pond. What’s great is this world feels very different to the forest stage, and requires you to master new skills, including bouncing across the water with Buoyancy, moving around the depths with Bubble, and dancing through the air with an Amazing Jump. Once again, I hit the wall, only getting 30 of the 50 required stars in the first pass. I’ll go back and try again, but I think I’ve seen enough for a fair review. This is a good game, but frustratingly hard. The childish exterior hides a maniacal Castlevania level of harshness.
Alien Spidy's gameplay is solid and there's a good plot premise; the menu interface was probably the game's greatest weakness.
If you like challenging, momentum-based platformers requiring precise control and repetitive practice of treacherous stunt after treacherous stunt, you’ll like this game. If you don’t have a lot of patience and dedication, it may not be for you and you won’t get the most out of it. Trust me, the game is rated E for everyone, but the string of expletives coming out of your mouth as you fail the same part over and over again will not be.
Comedians often point out how soft we are on kids with their IRL sports, making everyone a winner. It’s nice to know that video games like this will always be around to remind them how loss feels. Only though that sense, can one gain that blissful feeling of perseverance.
All I can say is, that girl spider better be worth it…