I don’t like spiders, no matter what planet they are from.
Spiders are not known for being cute, and neither are they particularly known for being particularly popular amongst the general populace. Spiderman may have gone some way to popularising arachnids, but that is mostly because he doesn’t look like a spider. And Incy Wincy spider does its best to enamor the species to children, but even that nursery rhyme can have a particularly dark ending for the spider, depending on which version you were told as a child.
So when Kalypso Media and developers Enigma Software Productions chose to release Alien Spidy, a platform game based around a spider, they must have realised that they had an uphill battle ahead of them. Admittedly, they have tried to diffuse some of the arachnophobia by having the spider come from another planet. And they have made the game visually impressive and look very cute. But it seems that Alien Spidy has a lot more problems than a rather fear-inducing hero…
The style of game will be instantly recognisable to anyone who plays games on their smartphones. The player simply guides their alien spider through level after level, avoiding hazards and gathering various orbs, score multiplyers and power ups, to reach the exit and be awarded stars depending on their performance. The levels are longer than most similar games on mobile platforms, and there are generally many more ways to improve the score, finish quicker and get a higher star rating.
But things start going wrong with the controls. Early evidence that the game was designed to be played primarily with a gamepad presents itself in the form of a menu which cannot be clicked using the mouse, only controlled with the arrow keys.
So we switch over to a controller, which feels much more natural. The game begins by revealing a simple story involving the alien spider crashing on Earth, and then launches into a straight forward tutorial which explains all of the different ways to improve your score and what to avoid.
Then it starts showing the player the core mechanic, web swinging. This mechanic is essential for avoiding the various pitfalls of the game, such as water, but also for gathering those high scores. The problem is that, using a controller, there is more luck than skill involved. Point in the right direction and launch your web, grab onto something and then swing. This is all well and good if the thing you are trying to attach to is huge, but most of the time your target is small and easily missed.
Changing over to the mouse and keyboard combo does make things a little easier, but not by much. Using the mouse to move an aiming reticule is all well and good, but doing it while moving at high speed, or flying through the air in between swings, really is an exercise in frustration. The controls are just too loose, too imprecise for a game which relies on precision. Collecting orbs and score multiplyers, avoiding hazards and red orbs that reduce your score, goes a long way towards getting a good star rating. But the speed with which the level is finished is also important, and the game just makes it too difficult to do anything quickly, especially on the later levels.
And by later levels, I mean the early levels, because the game starts off hard and then gets harder. This is more due to the controls than the level design, which is actually quite good. The levels are split into stages and opening the next stage means getting a certain number of stars. This means going back and playing through earlier levels again just to get some more stars and proceed in the game. This may work well in certain mobile games, but the levels are longer in Alien Spidy and, frankly, much more difficult. There is nothing wrong with a game being challenging, but Alien Spidy seems to leave too much up to sheer fluke, and that doesn’t make for much fun.
Perhaps the saving grace in Alien Spidy is the way it looks. Using what is now a fairly common silhouette on foreground visual style, with some very colourful backgrounds, the game does look really nice. It is also a lot of fun to watch as the little alien spider swings or runs through the levels. But you won’t have time to watch the gorgeous levels, as you will be too busy concentrating on getting a good score, or swearing at the screen.
Alien Spidy is a really good looking game with great potential. But a high difficulty level combined with imprecise controls will leave the game more frustrating than fun for most players. Priced at £7.99 on Steam, Alien Spidy may be a good purchase for those gamers who really want to challenge themselves, but others may end up placing a giant cup over their computer and throwing it outside.