Alien Spidy is a cute 2D puzzle platformer that looks perfect for the kids. But does it leave you swinging with joy, or looking for a rolled up newspaper to swot it with?
As Alien Spidy started up I was immediately enamoured by its cute design and great animation. You get the impression you’re in a game aimed at small kids, but just enough character has been put in for more grown up types to join in the platforming. The tutorials slide that scale more towards children, with one level dedicated to jumping, another to the web line, and one for the scoring system. The basics. Then the proper levels kicked in, small children were forgotten and my smile was quickly replaced with a furrowed brow of anger and frustration, expletives spewing out of my mouth.
Alien Spidy sees an alien spider crash land on Earth and set about… navigating strange levels? Look who cares. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer. It has the presentation of a child friendly Super Meat Boy, but it’s far more frustrating than Team Meat’s effort ever was.
Super Meat Boy always felt fair. Sure, it was difficult, but any mistakes felt fair. I actually went back to the meat grinder during this review to check it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. It wasn’t. There the errors always felt like your own: you missed the jump, you went head first into saws. Alien Spidy feels like it’s punishing you and half the time you have no idea why.
Games like this are best when they slowly introduce new elements. You start to master the game and then it throws a curve ball which has you rethinking how to play. Alien Spidy wants you to have no idea what is going on and just frustrate you. You’ll die with no explanation, repeat the section five or six times, and it’s still no clearer. Then, suddenly, you’re past it, but not sure what you did differently.
It doesn’t help that nothing is properly explained. Apparently, the web swing only works on black surfaces, not that the tutorial tells you. The first time you discover this is hurtling through the air, throwing the web in a deft attempt to stay alive, only to watch it bounce off a surface just before you hit the thorns below. Another cheap death. I think I figured that one out after three more impalements, and only because my web hit the right spot by chance.
Incy wincy spider
However, one of the main sources of frustration is the score orbs. The entire game revolves around its scoring system. After completing a level you earn a ranking of one to five stars. As you scamper along Spidy collects orbs, gaining bonus points for collecting many in quick succession. However, these orbs are along the perfect route, so if you miss one you already know you’re doing something wrong. Probably within seconds of death too. There are also minus orbs to contend with, sometimes within millimetres of the normal orbs, so even a slight mis-step causes massive penalties. Finally, the last factor in this is time. Time is constantly eroding your score. Hit a particularly difficult section and no matter how well you’ve done up to there, your points will evaporate. The checkpoints don’t save your score either. They do reduce how much you lose from dying, but three deaths and you’re sitting at zero again.
It’s obvious that Alien Spidy has been set up in such a way that you replay the levels again and again to achieve higher rankings. Only you need a damn near perfect run to just complete them the first time. There’s just no room for error. I can only guess that the developers got so good at their game they kept upping the difficulty in an effort to make it a challenge, forgetting most us don’t have the months of familiarity needed to navigate these levels from the start.
At the end Alien Spidy looks and sounds wonderful. Perfect for the kids. But give this to any child and expect a temper-fuelled tantrum within minutes from even the most well behaved one. The swinging and scampering is frustrating to the point of smashing controllers, and I don’t really suffer from “Rage Quit”. It might appeal to more hardcore Super Meat Boy players, but even they might find themselves frustrated by all the factors in play here that constantly make you feel like you’re doing something wrong.
Alien Spidy, from Enigma Software Productions and Kalypso Media, is available now for Xbox 360 (reviewed), iOS, Mac and PC.