Enigma Studios must really miss the old days when video games made you want to punch your television, because their latest game, Alien Spidy (published by Kalypso Media), is definitely a frustratingly punishing game that is the epitome of “easy to pick up; hard to master”. While I normally don’t mind this sort of masochistic mechanic, there is something to be said when the difficulty is not necessarily just in the game-play, but in the implementation of the controls.
Our story begins with Spidy (a six-legged alien creature – much like a spider) manning a control center somewhere in deep space. His lady friend, Virgi, sets off to explore the universe; but shortly after she leaves, Spidy loses contact. He hops into his own vessel and tears off across the cosmos to find her – only to crash-land on Earth. With pieces of his ship lying all over the place, and Virgi somewhere else on planet, Spidy must set off to find her (and the pieces of his ship) so that they can fly home together. Of course, the fact that there are tons of hazards is only going to make it difficult to get the job done in any sort of easy fashion.
Lieutenant Commander Data is good at this game. I am not.
Alien Spidy is a game that will definitely catch you off-guard. First of all, the characters (both friends and foes) are cute as hell – this feeling of “aww” disappears shortly after you start playing, though. When you first start the integrated tutorial, you learn that you have to run across the landscape and collect a series of orbs (blue, green and purple – each hold different scoring values) to complete the level. But wait: there’s more! Collecting the orbs is only the beginning. Essentially, to attain the best score (the top being awarded a five-star rating), you have to: collect the orbs in batches (effectively cashing in on multipliers); avoid dying (this reduces your score); do the level as fast as possible (your score is constantly counting down). Even these factors do little to dampen the spirit of optimism that we all have when faced with a challenge. That is, of course, until you find out about the most important movement device in the game: the web swing.
Running is done with the left analog stick; jumping is performed by pressing a button. Web-casting is performed with the right analog stick; basically, pushing the right analog stick in a particular direction will fire off a stream of strong, sticky string that will allow you to swing your way along – as long as you actually hit the target you’re aiming for. Hitting the target isn’t the only challenge; I found that the swinging physics were a little weird. Conservation of angular momentum seems to be a bit of a lost concept here, as the exit velocity from a swing doesn’t always make sense. I have even done the same swing twice – in practically the same way – with startlingly different results.
The environments are pretty awesome. They will lull you into a false sense of security before crushing your hopes and dreams.
What’s amazing is that even with this rage-inducing randomness, the game is still charming. The art style of the title looks like a well-produced cartoon. Expressive characters move smoothly, and each have their own unique animations. The sounds are well-matched with the characters and the background music is actually catchy and not-at-all annoying like a few other similar games out there. Each of the stages are interesting in their own right; from overland to underwater, you will find that everything works together to create a great sensory experience1
If you are a perfectionist, you will find yourself attempting each levels over and over again to attain the elusive five-star rating. Although, it’s important to note that unlocking later levels requires lots of stars. Given that there are over 70 stages, you may be plugging at this game for a while (and perhaps longer if you want to dominate the leaderboards). Alien Spidy is definitely a game for those with patience, or robot-like skill. However, for around $10 (or 800 Microsoft Points), it’s actually not a bad buy2 – just don’t expect to be amazing at it the first three hundred times you try it.