Back in October, I wrote a preview for Alien Spidy, Enigma SP’s platforming game, which was slated for release at the end of 2012. It was delayed for a few months, but it has finally been released onto Steam. One thing that really struck me about the demo was that while it was fun, it suffered from the lack of precision with the web-shooting mechanic. Playing the full version has demonstrated that the gameplay is largely unchanged from the demo and feels almost identical in every way that matters, for better and for worse. Having now had the opportunity to experience the whole thing, I can say that while the platforming and animation is definitely fun and charming, there are some hair-pullingly frustrating moments that drag it down.
Alien Spidy tells the story of an adorable little spider from another planet who crash lands onto Earth’s surface and navigates a series of levels in three main zones; Forest, Pond, and Crystal Cave, in order to rescue his friend. That’s about the extent of the story, and the main focus is on gameplay achievements. One thing that really struck me then and now about Alien Spidy is its fantastic presentation. It’s colorful, pretty, and is full of bright power-ups and animations that evoke the glory days of arcades. It also has a bouncy soundtrack that I’m sure has been designed to provide a soothing effect preventing me from throwing my monitor out the window.
Alien Spidy starts you off with a few levels of handy tutorials that give you a feel for the controls. It is useful and easy to follow, but before long you will find yourself engaged in some crazy platforming situations that require pinpoint accuracy and ice-cold nerves. To its credit, this game’s running and jumping controls are strong and rarely pose a problem outside of my admittedly limited skill set.
Extreme difficulty can be a fun aspect to the game, but it works against Alien Spidy in a couple of ways. First, because success in this game is measured by achieving a score based on completion time and items collected, it makes dying incredibly high-consequence. There are many games where you die easily and often, but they don’t punish you to the degree where you actually have to scrap your progress and restart the entire level because you didn’t hit a jump absolutely perfectly.
Second, the web-shooting controls (as they were in the demo) are hard to pull off consistently which can be incredibly annoying considering the level of precision this game demands. It didn’t seem like such a big deal in the demo due to its decreased focus on swinging, but it is something that wears thin in the full release. I can appreciate a game rewarding skill to navigate a tough level on a time limit, but if you’re going to place that expectation on my you’d better make sure your controls are tight. What this game does feels like being given a disassembled IKEA bed and being told that you have 10 minutes to put it together, and the only tool you’re given is a butter knife with which to tighten screws.
Within each level, Alien Spidy provides you with numerous checkpoints and immediately respawns you when you die. While it is appreciated to have many of them available, there is a flaw to the system that struck me as being incredibly annoying. In some levels where you are climbing and fall; if you accidentally come across an old checkpoint it respawns you back at that one. On top of that, if progression requires you to use items from the level it makes it impossible to move forward because those items never come back. Your only option is to restart the level again. While you won’t lose more than a minute or two (assuming you are able to get to that point without too much trouble), having to go all the way back to the beginning is a design choice that hearkens back to the 8-bit era and just seems completely unnecessary considering how challenging this game already is.
This has been a tough review to write because there is a lot that I really do like about this game. Looking back at my preview from six months ago, I was immensely charmed by Alien Spidy‘s beautiful presentation and aesthetic. All of that brightness and joy is still very much present the final product and for the sheer vision of what the developers have created I think it’s worth dropping $9.99 to experience. With that recommendation however comes the caveat that for every enjoyable feature present in this game, there is a ‘kick-you-when-you’re-down’ design choice that will make you want to flip a table over.
[+Beautiful visual style] [+Excellent presentation] [+Variety of levels] [-Frustrating design choices] [-Imprecise controls] [-Checkpoints can screw you]