The literal jumping spider.
is like a bad relationship: It's that game that you obsess over for days at a time, eyes bleary from lack of sleep as you try to perfect your score but quietly, resentfully, wonder why you aren't quitting it at the same time. It's the kind of game that would have thrived on the NES: simple in concept and basic design, but at the same time obtusely difficult and uncompromising in gameplay and its objectives. It's a bit like getting slapped in the face with everything that's good and bad about independent platformers.
On the face of it, Alien Spidy
is a great, cute little platformer with a swinging mechanic. You die if you touch anything dangerous or fall into water, unless you use some specific power-ups. You can run, jump, and shoot a web in any direction and swing on it, while picking up little energy globs. Pick up enough in a row and you get combo bonuses to your score total. Pick them all up in enough time and your rating for that section of the game will go up, increasing the overall point total.
The swinging mechanic is reminiscent of Q Games' Pixeljunk Eden
, but the resemblance ends there; where Eden
was a nonlinear in design, Alien Spidy
is relentlessly directional in its level design. This has a positive in that you always know where you're going since the options are so narrow, but it's also a negative in that there is really only one way to navigate a section of gameplay successfully. At times, it's so specific that it reminds me of the original NES Ninja Gaiden
, where sometimes you just have to beat your head against the wall until you memorize the sequence of button presses necessary to get through an area correctly.
's controls are a little iffy, in the same way some of those old NES games were. You can't always jump when you'd like to. This appears to be because the terrain is uneven and Spidey can only jump when he's in contact with the ground; however, the physics-based running sometimes means that Spidey may lose touch with it over what might appear to be flat surfaces. Additionally, the directional web-shooting mechanic is attached to the right thumbstick and jumping is assigned to the A button (or the X button on the PS3 controller); I generally don't mention controls, but you often have to shoot a web after jumping, meaning you have to press A, then move your thumb to the thumbstick and perform a precision movement to shoot the web in the right direction.
This wouldn't have been a problem if jumping had been mapped to something controlled by a different finger, like right trigger, but that move from jump button to thumbstick is often the frustrating difference between success and falling to an untimely death (the controls are not mappable). It's not a deal-breaker, and the controls can eventually become second nature, but it can be annoying to fail at a swinging jump for the third time because you have to rush from the jump button to the thumbstick.
Worse, this isn't Alien Spidy
's biggest problem, which is that the progression from one of the three areas to another is dependent upon achieving a set number of stars. These are rewarded based on point totals accrued in individual levels. To get multiple stars often means stringing combos and performing well in individual sections of levels. The issue is that with the specificity of design, this means having to play the same sections over and over until you meet the requirement.
The game also removes points continuously whenever you aren't grabbing energy blobs and
removes a set sum of points every time you die. In other words, you are punished both for standing still and for failure, which not only means being set back to the last checkpoint, but also having your point total lowered and your chances for higher star ratings squandered. This means moving from one of the game's three areas can become a slog of playing the same levels repeatedly, until you can get through some of the more difficult sections without dying and picking up enough globs in combos to increase your score enough to move on.
On the other hand, level design in Alien Spidy
is fun (at least on the first level playthrough), addictive, and challenging. The game does a good job of setting up short platforming, web shooting, and swinging puzzles that are challenging and fun to figure out. This is especially true once you leave the first area and encounter cool power-ups and environmental differences where the game mechanic changes. The swimming sections of the swamp level are particularly fun, especially when they suddenly move from one power-up mechanic to another, like swimming, bouncing on the water's surface, and super-jumping.
That diversity, from section to section and from puzzle to puzzle, is a highlight of the game. Moving from one area to another never feels like you're entering the same challenge, consistently mixing things up while keeping them familiar enough that you always know exactly what you need to do and how it should be done.
On a whole. Alien Spidy
is a platformer whose fun gameplay is slightly overshadowed by its overly stringent level progression mechanic and iffy controls. It's not a bad buy for $9.99 (800 Microsoft Points) especially if you want a mindless perfection-based platformer to throw yourself against for a while.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on XBLA version. Also available for PSN, PC, and Mac.