Kalypso Media’s campaign to make an impression on the console gaming scene in 2013 continues this week with the launch of Alien Spidy. Sandwiched between the strategy and mayhem of Omerta – City of Gangsters and Dollar Dash, and the upcoming stealth action of DARK, Alien Spidy is another unique title to add to this impressive catalogue. Easy to learn and difficult to master, this slick looking modern production is as retro minded as a design template could possibly be.
The videogame begins with a gentle tutorial, introducing a new mechanic each level. Movement, web ability, scoring, enemies; each level is only around twenty seconds long at this point so the breakdown feels perfectly weighted without resorting to unnecessary handholding. With the basics learnt it’s not long until the player is given their first real challenge, and with an even shorter afterwards before things become truly difficult.
Alien Spidy is as much about foresight as it is about dexterity. Running from left to right in a traditional platform game manner, the ultimate goal is to simply reach the exit of each level. However there are of course environmental hazards to overcome and enemy creatures who will stop you in your tracks. The former is a simple case of appropriate timing and distance judgement, the latter is a case of pattern learning. On the surface this is about as complicated as Alien Spidy gets, but for those ‘90s gamers out there who have faced challenges like this many-a-time before, reaching the exit is really only half the battle: you won’t be satisfied until you have collected every point-scoring orb the levels offer.
The bulk of the experience is running, jumping and web slinging. The latter of these is perhaps the most awkward part of the videogame – intentionally so – and the control via the right analogue stick can often mean just a millimetre off will see you restarting at the most recent checkpoint (which are plentiful). On top of this come the temporary power-ups, such as a speed boost or super jump, which are typically needed for the next challenge aside from a few occasions when their placement is purely for those in pursuit of a high score. This may sound like a fairly simple premise, and it is. However the design of the levels around this basic skillset is fantastic, with new challenges coming into play on almost every level.
The visual design of Alien Spidy compliments the gameplay perfectly, with simple pastel coloured backdrops creating a balanced with the foreground that doesn’t pull focus. Furthermore the character animation is of a very high quality throughout. Sadly the soundtrack isn’t quite of the same calibre; though far from awful, the somewhat odd choice to add irritating childlike sound bytes not as effects but as part of the actual score clearly positions the aural design as the weakest compoment of the Alien Spidy presentation.
While platform experiences used to be two-a-penny, their continually diminishing popularity allows for but two opportunities: lazy licensed titles and genuinely innovative experiences. Alien Spidy is most certainly the latter. The design couples the speed and fluidity of the 16-bit Sonic the Hedeghog titles with the precision platforming of a 2D Super Mario videogame, and that’s one heady combination. Kalypso Media have either been very lucky or they know how to spot a good investment early on, as Alien Spidy is simply one of the best 2D platform videogames Electronic Theatre has played in years.