If at first you don't succeed, try, try again until your eyes roll right out of their sockets and your fingers are raw from the pain of mashing the restart button hundreds of times in a single sitting. That's seemingly Alien Spidy's ill-conceived motto. This cutesy momentum-based platformer has a dark side that doesn't fully manifest until you realize you've just spent several hours replaying the same 60-second stage to the point where you've memorized every obstacle, jump, and danger in your path--yet you've still made no actual progress. At times, it feels like beating your bloodied fists against a brick wall and pouring salt into the wounds before starting over again. But the real kicker is that there are frequent glimmers of fun in the underlying gameplay. Alien Spidy dangles the carrot, and then gives you the spiked bat.
Our titular space arachnid's brutal journey begins when his lady pal rockets into the cosmos and crash-lands on a strange and dangerous planet. The impetuous hero jets off to her rescue, but winds up in the same pickle when his craft goes haywire and dumps him on the planet's surface. That's about where the story winds down and the game's sadomasochistic pummeling kicks in. A few short tutorial stages introduce you to the basic flow of gameplay: run, jump, swing, collect, and avoid death. It's straightforward enough, and fumbling through the first few proper levels gives the sense that there are some cool ideas at play. There's an appealing fluidity to the way you move through each level, and the game's stark artistic style really draws you in. But once the sharp difficulty spikes sink their teeth in, the spell is broken pretty quickly. With close to 70 stages spanning three distinct worlds, there is no short supply of punishment in this fiendish platformer.
Alien Spidy's speed-based running, webswinging, and jumping seem overly simple at first. There's a reason for that: you have to focus intently on every subtle move you make and execute them with precision or face failure. Your mission is to guide Spidy through each obstacle-filled stage to collect glowing orbs, avoid danger, rack up a huge score, and hit the finish line as quickly as possible. Aside from slinging and swinging, special abilities powered by purple orbs eventually let you rocket skyward, swim in underwater bubbles, and pull off other feats of enhanced dexterity.
Creating score chain combos by collecting groups of five blue orbs in rapid succession is just as important as plowing through stages with raw speed. Grabbing every score-boosting item you can, stringing combos together, and avoiding death become obsessive pursuits that eventually spur you to bail on a botched run the second things go bad. Merely getting to the end of each stage can be a real challenge that takes numerous tries to accomplish, but making it to the finish line isn't good enough. You have to replay stages and hit draconian scoring benchmarks that rise constantly, taunting you with even more outrageous targets to fail at hitting.
Speed and accuracy are everything. Every second you delay, your score rolls back slightly, ticking down ominously even as you work to keep it building toward your goal. Dying or retrying a section from the last checkpoint takes a permanent bite out of your score in a given level. You might think you wildly surpassed your goal with a particularly tight run only to make it to the end and find that you actually didn't even come close due to stiff penalties from slipping up one too many times or not moving fast enough. On the first few passes, you won't think twice about getting a paltry one- or two-star rating, but each of the game's three worlds requires you to amass a certain number of stars before it lets you proceed to the next. Pushing toward the three-, four-, and five-star score realms in each stage is often an exercise in futility.
You soon find that your best just doesn't cut it, and while the process of practicing and mastering a bit more of each level offers some satisfaction when you do squeeze another star from its iron grasp, it takes an agonizing amount of time, effort, and repetition to reach the point where you finally make progress. Victory is short-lived, because that's when you have to start the whole process all over again with an even tougher set of levels. Other worlds weave in new ideas and obstacles like underwater stretches and floating cave crystals to expand on the gameplay, though they're equally as treacherous and demanding as the initial stretch of the game.
Inane, lofty score requirements are a big part of Alien Spidy's problem, but they're not the whole of it. Your main ability to shoot strands of sticky web and use them to propel yourself at an increasingly frenetic pace is a neat if somewhat imprecise tool to work with. As you speed through stages, you simultaneously aim and shoot your webbing by flicking the right thumbstick, oftentimes in midair and in situations where the slightest wavering in aim sends you to your doom.
Unfortunately, the finicky aim controls don't always line up to where you're shooting, and it's frustrating when you die over and over again as a result. There are tons of pressure-cooker moments when you have to attach your web to a very specific spot, and a single miss can hamstring the run. Glitches add to the frustration. For example, in some vertically oriented stages, if you fall down backward to a previous checkpoint after collecting certain power-ups, these crucial items needed to proceed won't respawn when you get back to their original location, forcing you to reset the stage and lose your progress.
What's really disappointing is that Alien Spidy is full of promise that's chiseled away as you spend more time with it. The creative level designs are challenging and frequently fun to play when you're not obsessing over trying for that perfect run. It's the harsh scoring system and the absurdly steep goals you have to hit before unlocking subsequent tiers of levels that really kill the experience. A stiff challenge is good to get the blood pumping, but this level of punishment feels arbitrary and not particularly well-thought-out. With tighter controls and a bit more leniency, Alien Spidy would be a much different and much more enjoyable romp.'