I love games like Super Meat Boy and N+; simple 2D platformers that provide often monumentally tricky challenges for those looking to push their gaming skills to the limit. The thing is, for a game of that ilk to work, to deliver that fine balance between challenge and gaming masochism, one thing above all else needs to be faultless – the controls.
Sure, the level design needs to be tight and it’s always nice if the visuals and audio design come up trumps, but all that is for naught if the controls aren’t bang on – case in point: Alien Spidy. A game that is by no means broken, but one that thanks to its core design, was completely dependent upon getting that one aspect just right. Sadly, despite being far from unplayable, the controls are simply too twitchy and unresponsive for the game built around them. Dying for the 87th time while playing Super Meat boy is fine. Fine, because you know it’s your fault. You know that failure was due to your inadequacies. It’s the core tenant by which the game lives and dies and sadly, in the case of Alien Spidy, the very reason that the game can’t compete with its more illustrious competitors. Dying for the 87th time because your rubbish is bearable, but dying for the 5th time because your little spider didn’t jump when you pressed A is unforgiveable.
It’s a shame too, as the level design throughout is well realised and certainly helps to imbue the game with that one more go mentality that is essential to a game of this ilk. Sure, if you can get past the occasionally twitchy controls and the somewhat unreliable swing controls (although that might be more down to my own gaming inadequacies), there is quite a bit to like here and certainly one hell of a challenge for those looking to ace this genuinely unforgiving platformer.
For many of the game’s 60 quick fire levels, just obtaining a basic 2 star rank is award unto itself, with any chance of 5 star glory reserved for those with the patience of a saint and the skills of a gaming machine. The 60 odd levels won’t last you all that long in terms of getting from beginning to end, but like Trials HD, the true value comes in replaying the same levels in order to maximise your score and move up the leaderboard. The problem with this, beyond the twitchy controls, is that, chances are, your friends probably aren’t playing Alien Spidy. It doesn’t have the immediate appeal of a Trials, the polish of a Super Meat Boy or the aesthetic beauty of an N+. Simply put, despite its admirable qualities, of which there are a few, Alien Spidy seems disappointingly doomed to relative XBLA obscurity.
It may seem like an unnecessary criticism, but Enigma Software haven’t done themselves any favours – the online box art is horrible. For a game as little known as this, things as simple as box art matter and Alien Spidy’s looks like it belongs to an Xbox Indie title. To put it simply: it looks cheap. Things don’t get much better in game either. While all the individual aspects of its visual design are decent enough, with the backgrounds in particular being imbued with a unique aesthetic style, somehow, it all comes together to create a game that looks like the kind of game you’d play for free on your PC rather than for 800 MS points on your 360. It’s not that it lacks polish or is even particularly ugly, it just looks, well, a bit bland. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something about the visual design as a whole that fails to attract any kind of attention. It’s just kind of there.
And that’s the problem with Alien Spidy – it’s just kind of there. Not accurate enough to challenge the likes of Super Meat Boy and too bland to capture the attention like N+ or Trials HD. The spider (Spidy) swing mechanic could have been its trump card, but thanks to its relative inaccuracy, makes perfect runs all but impossible. Nothing here is broken, but then, nothing here is good enough to merit a purchase either. Its visual style is bland, it’s lead somewhat forgettable and its gameplay, while solid and often addictive, is not quite tight enough to warrant extended play. The core of a solid game is here, it’s just a shame that a few poor design choices and some fiddly controls get in the way of all the fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.