Notorious wit W. C. Fields once famously said, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it”. And while it may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, the above statement actually proves to be sound advice. Especially if you're playing Alien Spidy.
A spider's life must be a tough one. Building a web on the off chance a smaller insect will be daft enough to fly right in to it, running away from hungry birds, avoiding skittish humans waiting to whack you with a rolled up newspaper, generally speaking spiders have a terrible time of things. But it seemingly pales in comparison to the hardships experienced by their extra-terrestrial counterparts.
Take the hero of Alien Spidy. There he is, travelling the stars and minding his own business when out of the blue a hardware malfunction causes his ship to crash land on a strange new world. There, surrounded by deadly obstacles, he must retrieve the scattered parts of his ship and try not to get eaten by the various beasties and plants on the look out for a quick snack, all while using his speed and dexterity to reach his goal. Should he be successful then he'll retrieve the parts of his spaceship and reunite with Mrs. Spidy. If not, he'll end up a sticky mess.
Now the first thing that strikes you about Alien Spidy is just how pretty it all is. Dark shades of brown and greys intermingle with vibrant strokes of pinks and purples, creating stunning silhouettes and some outstanding visuals. The soundtrack is also quite enjoyable, a chaotic fusion of jazz and funk that injects a delicious energy in to proceedings. Both combine to form an impressive environment for our eight legged friend to shamble about in.
And the early signs are, in fact, extremely promising. Progress through levels is made by stringing together combos of jumps and swinging from webs. Points are gained by collecting floating orbs that fill up the screen, and special bonus items like the ability to jump higher or breath underwater can be utilised for a limited amount of time. The mechanics also harken back to classic platformers of yesteryear, with a playable character who's natural inclination is to go faster than is safe. Thus the challenge initially appears to be keeping your tiny black beast under control by utilising quick reflexes and momentum to guarantee safe passage.
It's a lot of fun, or at least it is when you first start. Indeed, the tutorial is a blast to tumble through. As you swoop through the first couple of levels and barrel towards the finish line, collection orbs, bouncing off spring loaded mushrooms, and avoiding nasty run ins with nettles and enemies in the process, you'll start to believe that this might turn out to be a bright and breezy gem of a title.
But it doesn’t last. Because however much you want to love it, Alien Spidy is a game that doesn't love you back. Instead it hates you. Actively, aggressively, absolutely hates you. You and everything you stand for.
Much like a pantomime villain it doesn't take long for Alien Spidy to reveal its true nature, that of a tremendously infuriating experience. For a start there's the constant war between the game's physics and its level design. While these two should in theory compliment each other, instead they appear completely at odds. As such simple things like collecting orbs by planting a web and performing a well timed swing often leave you feeling frustrated rather than elated, especially when it turns out you've left three or four behind. This becomes equally exasperating when you take in to count the scoring system, which rates your performance out of a number of stars. A certain amount of stars are required to unlock the latter parts of the game, so perfect runs and pin point precision are a must. Yet when the points and interactive platforms are positioned in such a way that it makes simply obtaining a decent score a needless hassle in itself, you'll soon start to wonder if you really care enough to see this adventure's finale anyway.
But those are minor quibbles compared to the two major offenders. Firstly there's the insane difficulty spikes than run through the levels like a river of liquid rage. Seemingly added in at random and with a lack of remorse, there are points where you'll respawn seven or eight times only to get creamed pretty much immediately. Thanks to some badly placed restart points that dump you head first in to danger, you're likely to spend a good while repeating the same actions over and over again only to end up meeting a grizzly end each and every time. You'll move on eventually of course, but even then it's probably by dumb luck rather than skill, and the sense of having actually achieved something remains largely absent.
Then there's the controls, which by themselves are enough to make even the most spiritual monk curse out loud. For example, firing a web is activated by a quick flick of the right analogue stick, but whether or not they hit their intended target is seemingly in the lap of the Gods. You can spend hours, days even, practising web-slinging until you think you've got it down to a T, only for it to randomly misfire at a crucial point and consign you to a brutal demise. And at certain points it fails to respond all together, something that also affects the jump command as well, which again likely ends up with our multi-limbed voyager meeting his maker. A game that mercilessly challenges you is one thing. A game that takes away any possible chance you have to meet that challenge is quite another.
And the crushing problem with Alien Spidy is that without those issues it would actually be a fantastic little game. Certain elements - such as the underwater sequences - work wonderfully, and there are some neat touches here and there that hint at a very pleasant platform romp.
But you may never get to see those highlights. Because after you've fallen to your doom through no fault of your own for the fourth time in a row, no one would forgive you for quitting. And even if you don't, you're unlikely to find that sticking with it was worth your while.
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