Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Here’s a game that’s a 2D platformer which uses physics capabilities as a core dynamic, has a striking art style and soundtrack, and requires skill and precision through repetition. Now that sounds like ….. just about every indie game made since about 2006. There are however few things I love more than a good platformer, so I happily sat down to play the demo of Enigma Software’s Alien Spidy and see what it’s all about.
And you know what? It’s pretty damn great.
The story setup is told through a charming cutscene. Spidy, a spider from another planet, crash lands on Earth and must navigate nature’s harsh environs to find his friend Virgi using his jumping and swinging abilities. In addition to those abilities, throughout the game he acquires temporary power-ups to overcome obstacles like high ledges and water. While it is de rigeur to point this out, the art style is really quite beautiful, and Spidy’s character design is expressive and adorable.
The first few levels are tutorials which teach you the basic mechanics of the game; run, jump, and shoot a web at a stalactite in order to swing over danger. However, it’s not too long before the game introduces multiple hazards, pinhole openings, and physics-defying power ups which incrementally add layers of complexity onto what seems so simple. By the end of this demo I was scratching my head trying to figure out how the hell I was going to navigate an area. I can only imagine some of the ridiculous scenarios in later sections of the full game.
Thanks to the smooth controls, getting around never feels like a problem. The only issue (but it’s kind of a big one) is with the right joystick as the ‘fire web’ prompt. It works well enough, but by far the biggest killer for me was pushing ‘up-left’ when the way to go was ‘up-up-left’.
Alien Spidy is reminiscent of a game like Super Meat Boy in that it recognizes the importance of maintaining the player’s momentum, thus minimizing the time between death and respawning. You will likely fail often on a level (especially some of the later ones which require pinpoint timing), but you respawn immediately at the most recent checkpoint. That seamless transition ascends (or descends depending on your point of view) Alien Spidy into the exclusive and addictive realm of a ‘just one more turn’ game.
At times it can be difficult to determine which environmental items are navigable (as opposed to fatal) and which ones aren’t. Two factors make this less of a real problem however: First, the immediate respawn time ensures you never lose more than a few seconds of play time and second, with a bit of experience you can follow the ‘coins’ in the level to figure out the optimal path. Alien Spidy also contains co-op, competitive multiplayer, and a level editor. None of those were available in the demo which is unfortunate, but the core game is undeniably strong.
In an indie gaming landscape where it feels like you can’t swing a stick without hitting three platformers, Alien Spidy has carved out a nice little spot for itself. It is set to be released on PC, Mac, PS3, Vita, and XBox 360 on December 31, 2012 and based on the demo this might be a nice thing on which spend some of that Christmas money.