Review: Some glaring flaws keep Alien Spidy from swinging to great heights

Alien Spidy is a devious little platformer that would've undoubtedly fit right in alongside other equally punishing titles during the NES era. Unfortunately, in 2013 it's hard to find a place for a game that suffers from some truly taxing mechanics, tedious physics, and oftentimes cheap difficulty. That's not to say that Alien Spidy doesn't make for a fun time. Developer Enigma has crafted a game that's more of an acquired taste than anything else, but even despite some awfully foul gameplay, there are a number of moments where you can't help but think that Alien Spidy is pretty good.

You take on the role of an intergalactic arachnid who finds himself stranded without his ship or his partner. You must traverse roughly 60 levels spanning three worlds. Progression in Alien Spidy is a lot more frustrating than it should be, though. You can't simply clear all the levels in one world and then move on. Instead, you're forced to reach a certain goal in each world by snagging collectible orbs that are lined up in large quantities and stringing together combos. You receive a star rank between one and five once you clear a level, but getting more than two stars — and in some cases just reaching two stars — requires you to perform in a manner that's damn near flawless and overly frustrating.

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This type of objective wouldn't be annoying if Alien Spidy wasn't so difficult to play at times. You control Spidy with the left stick and shoot out web with the right stick. Spidy's movement is okay most of the time, though he does feel a tad slippery. This can be problematic when you're trying to come to a complete halt but fail to do so and accidentally slide right into a bed of thorns or body of water, both of which mean instantaneous death. Shooting web and swinging around has its fair share of issues, too. The physics-based nature of this mechanic means you have to really get some momentum going for longer or higher jumps. In certain sequences, it's extremely difficult to collect rows of orbs due to the erratic nature of web-swinging. Then there are the surrounding hazards which you can simply swing into and immediately perish.

Thankfully, there's an abundance of checkpoints scattered across each stage, so if you die, you don't have to worry about treading through long stretches of land. Still, if you do end up benefiting from the game's checkpoints, that just means that you're dying a lot (which will happen). Even if you score impressive combos, dying in Alien Spidy comes with a severe point penalty. Hell, standing still costs you points due to the fact that your total is constantly depleting. It's a bit disheartening that points are lost in such a manner because those coveted star ranks quickly turn into an even further harsh reality.

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It's a shame that these issue plague Alien Spidy because there are some really outstanding moments in the game. Not every area is ridiculously fiendish, so there are moments when you successfully swing across ponds, bounce off of mushrooms, collect orbs, and pull off satisfying combos, all in quick succession. It's during these sequences that you can't help but feel that Alien Spidy could've been a lot more special than it turned out to be, and it's a total shame that that's the case. Surprisingly, a lot of the game's underwater levels are actually quite a bit of fun, and while they're marred by the same pesky design choices that plague the rest of the game, there's a great deal of entertainment to be found.

Ideally, you could probably get through Alien Spidy in under six hours. For some folks, however, this may not exactly be plausible. Timing jumps and properly navigating through levels requires painstaking precision the majority of the time, which means if you're not going for perfect runs (or as close to perfect as possible), you'll find yourself completely exasperated during the course of the adventure. That won't be a problem for certain players who thrive on intensely challenging gameplay and don't mind some wonky mechanics, but others will be put off by the experience all too often.

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The graphical presentation of Alien Spidy is largely enjoyable. Vibrant colors adorn every stage and create an atmosphere that's a joy to witness, even if it isn't always a joy to actually play. A bit of screen tearing takes a bit away from the overall appeal of the graphics, but not to a degree that could be deemed bothersome or distracting.

It's hard to fully recommend Alien Spidy to individuals who don't consider themselves sadists. The game has a colorful, appealing look to it that makes you want to play it. Unfortunately, the same audience that this style may attract would just as likely be better off playing something else. Even individuals who enjoy being punished by games may find a much more enjoyable experience with other 2D platformers. Still, while Alien Spidy is far from perfect or even great, it's good enough to warrant a play-through from fans of NES era action games that suffered from equally questionable mechanics. If you're up for a major and sometimes unfair challenge and like to push yourself to perform perfectly in these types of games, you'll likely have a good time with Alien Spidy.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

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