Alien Spidy is a cute little XBLA game that feels like a more complex version of something you might find as a game for your iPhone (or other mobile device of choice). There are a set number of levels and you travel through each while racking up points and earning stars along the way. Sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Now do not be fooled by this description: Alien Spidy is a console title through and through. In fact it is gruelingly difficult and you will need every last bit of hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity and quick reflexes to be successful.
The game centers on an alien spider (obviously) who has crash landed on Earth. His ship broken into pieces, he starts on a trek to recover and hopefully repair his spacecraft so that he may return to wherever a tiny little alien spider comes from. For some unknown reason you accomplish this by jumping and web-slinging through sixty-nine levels while collecting glowing orbs and amassing millions of points.
However as I mentioned before, Alien Spidy is hard. Very, very hard. Part of this is because of the tricky controls but mostly this results from the scoring system. While it’s fairly easy to rack up decent points, you have two systems working to subtract points from you. There’s a flat rate of points detracted just based on how long you take to finish the level. On top of that is a fine for every time you die…and you will die a lot. Despite being an alien, poor little Spidy seems to be killed by just about anything. Bugs, bats, thorns, mushrooms, falling rocks; the list goes on and on. Spidy even seems to come from the same planet as the aliens from M. Night Shyalaman’s Signs: a single drop of water will end him.
The penalty for dying is not terrible (2,500 points where most levels task you with getting at least 100,000 points) but it just gets worse and worse as you die over and over again. My current record is sixty-six deaths for a level that took just over eight minutes to complete. For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s a death every seven seconds.
The controls don’t make this any easier by requiring extremely precise movements. One of the main components of the game is web-slinging, which is handled very inaccurately by hitting the right stick in the direction you want to shoot your web line. Also, for a spider the little guy doesn’t handle well while actually on the ground; it’s hard to make quick, exact movements and he doesn’t jump as high as it feels like he should.
The game is clearly about perfecting your run through a level to get the best score possible but to get anything above two stars (out of five total) requires almost perfection. In all honesty, I’m not even sure that five stars is possible. The only level I’ve achieved four stars on is the first non-tutorial level. For most I struggle to hit two stars, usually requiring several playthroughs to achieve even that level, if I’m even able to get two at all.
At this point you might be thinking: “What’s the big deal? Get the best score you can and just move on!” Well herein lies the major problem with Alien Spidy. Progression through the game is tied to how many stars you have. The game is divided into thirds with the latter two sections locked from the beginning. Amongst the first sixteen levels you need gather forty stars to unlock the second section. Enter, once again, your basic math. You need to average more than two stars per level to progress. Remember when I said that I struggled to hit even two stars on most levels? The design of Alien Spidy means that you are forced to replay sections over and over again to even see the rest of the game.
At this point of writing I am sitting with thirty-one stars in the second section with fifty required to unlock the third. With only twenty levels to tackle, I have to increase my score by one star on almost every single level to proceed in the game. This challenge literally feels almost impossible to me and, based off of the leaderboards, no one else playing the game has been able to reach the third area either.
While the level structure is easily the biggest problem, the game also suffers from issues with restarting. When you die you restart immediately, something that is necessary in a game like this. Oftentimes, though, the camera has a hard time readjusting to your respawn point or the game is still interpreting your movements from when before you died, causing you to die again instantly. It’s an odd complaint but it almost reloads you too quickly, like it restarts you before the game is ready. On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is an unusually long amount of time spent staring at a loading screen should you decide to start the entire level over again, something you will do quite often when you’re forced to go back and replay levels to get more stars. It’s really weird that dying will restart the game instantly but if you get even one checkpoint in, you’re looking at a twenty to thirty second load time to restart the level.
Alien Spidy should be a relatively easy game to recommend. It’s a cute platformer with light puzzle elements that is quite fun to actually play aside from a couple nasty difficulty spikes. However as it sits, the third act seems nearly unreachable outside of making a massive dedication to memorizing and honing your Alien Spidy skills. Some people will surely appreciate the grueling difficulty and enjoy challenging themselves but it’s a niche crowd. It’s one thing to challenge yourself to get a better score but it’s an entirely different beast when the game forces you to get a better score to keep playing.
SCORE: 4.5 out of 10
A code for Alien Spidy was provided to Pixel Related for review.