Amongst Mother Nature’s millions of creatures, some of the most divisive in the eyes of us humans are definitely spiders. If you’re anything like me, you know a lot more people who are either afraid of the critters or just aren’t very fond of them than those who feel otherwise. I personally consider myself more in the field of those who can live with them but are just not that interested in getting too close and as such, Tiger Style’s Spider: Rite of The Shrouded Moon immediately presented me with a unique gameplay perspective by making me be a spider.
*munch munch munch*
Indeed, in Spider you play as the titular arachnid (well, one of them at first) whose purpose is to explore an abandoned manor, eating all sorts of bugs along the way and uncovering hidden rooms and secrets.
The game’s main gameplay hook is the ability to project silk threads in order to make webs with which to catch all manner of insects. These range from ants to house flies, wasps, caterpillars, junebugs, you name it. Most other animals you’ll encounter throughout your time with Spider will be harmless or elusive at most; however, certain species like fire ants and hornets will actually engage in combat with you, signalling their intention to strike with a small exclamation point above their heads before launching themselves towards you. This introduces a small bit of urgency in what is otherwise a pretty relaxing experience and things end up well balanced.
The game’s main gameplay hook is the ability to project silk threads
You start each of the 30 levels with 12 silk threads and it is then your mission to think carefully about what designs you’ll be making in order to trap your prey and regain more silk. Do you try to place 2 or 3 small webs in different spots and trap a few separate bugs or would it be more rewarding to invest in a bigger and more solid web in the middle of the level in hopes of trapping distracted insects coming from different directions? It is usually more advantageous to craft a “Strong Web” (larger, broader webs) both in terms of scoring and being able to catch more and tougher insects – some of the bigger nasties will struggle and dismantle weaker webs, dragging your intricate plans through the mud.
The results of your ingenuity – or lack thereof
In the graphics department, Spider is a mixed bag. While the game generally looks pretty good both in action and regarding menu layouts, there are certainly some low-res textures here and there which hinder the immersion factor. These are mostly present in bits of scenery like boots, furniture and other objects, most of which are unexplainably at the forefront of the levels’ composition, making them even easier to negatively stand out.
(…) there are certainly some low-res textures here and there
Animations could have also used some more polish, seeing as the flapping wings of fireflies or butterflies, the sudden jumping of crickets or the surge of bees from a honeycomb are not conveyed as smoothly as I would have liked and insects always sport a noticeable, almost drawn-on-like outline which makes their blending with the environment more difficult than it needed to be.
Originally an iOS title, the game runs pretty well on Vita with the most noticeable technical issue being some framerate drops in some of the busier levels and weather conditions. They were never severe enough to hinder the experience but certainly noticeable at times.
To sum up the technical side of things, while Spider isn’t bad looking by any means, details like this could have definitely used some touching up.
Some low-res textures hit you like a brick
The game is set in fictional “Blackbird Estate”, a large abandoned manor which was apparently built by an obsolete and mysterious society of which there are lots of clues, objects and markings lying around.
The game map is divided into different sections of the Estate, namely its buildings. The player will have to explore places like the southern and northern-most parts of the manor itself, the Grounds, the Tower and the Barn, among others. The contrasting scenarios coupled with the game’s reliance on different times of day and weather conditions assure a healthy dose of variety in the game world.
The game map is divided into different sections of the Estate
You’ll still be a spider chasing the same general objective but you’ll be doing it in significantly different environments. Different animals also spawn depending on what setting you find yourself in and every species you come across is automatically added to the Bug Collection you can find in the Main Menu before departing on a mission.
There are plenty of bugs to find
There is a curious mechanic at work in Spider which I found to be as interesting as it was divisive. Should you play with your Vita’s Wifi turned on, you can choose to let the game calculate your IP’s location in order for it to retrieve actual, real-time weather conditions. What this means is that when you’re playing and it’s sunny outside, it’ll also be sunny in Blackbird Estate; likewise, should it suddenly start to rain or turn to night time in real life, the same conditions will be felt in the game world.
Seeing this take effect in real time was undoubtedly satisfying and a refreshing take on the interaction between game and player; however, there is a deep fault within this unique system – some of Spider’s deepest objectives rely too heavily on random real-life conditions.
A great idea, poorly executed
You’ll have 7 “Mysteries” to solve within the game, some of which require you to gather certain clues or visit hidden rooms and others which will have you do this only during certain times of day or weather conditions. In practicality, this means that it will be impossible for you to solve a number of said “Mysteries” unless the weather happens to be a certain way in the real world.
While I understand and appreciate Tiger Style’s ingenuity, the lack of a fully-manual way to control these conditions in-game means I’d have to stand around and wait for it to be sunny, raining or to turn to day or night and only then play a certain level in order to complete my objective. Given the incentive to explore the supposedly twisted history of the game’s setting, this comes off as a blatantly poor design choice.
Solving all the mysteries ends up not having to do with player agency
There is what the developers called a “Time Machine” which you can activate in the Main Menu in order to randomize the game’s conditions if you have location services turned off but even this is only possible once… every… moon… cycle? It makes absolutely no sense in my opinion to offer no alternative to this “proper” way to play the game. This is especially true when there are only two “Mysteries” left for you to uncover and you can’t because the weather in your area is actually pleasant.
It makes absolutely no sense (…) to offer no alternative to this “proper” way to play the game
I found this mishap to be especially damaging to the overall experience given the game’s general focus on player freedom – the developers themselves are happy to say that Spider is perfectly suitable for both completionist and casual players, simultaneously offering a story-driven, action-driven or even score-driven experience depending on taste. That is explicitly why they settled on modest minimal scores in order for players to easily advance from one level to the next. The aim is to enjoy the game however you see fit and not stand up to a certain level of gameplay mastery.
There are many hidden rooms with great attention to detail
Spider’s soundtrack is serviceable and well-adjusted to the game’s theme. You’re greeted with a pleasant but hardly memorable selection of ambient music in the introductory screen and it stays like that for the rest of your time of being a web-slinging arachnid. I tend to always play with in-game music volume turned down, focusing instead on sound effects and Spider’s calm, understated notes complemented its relaxed ambiance well, allowing me to appreciate the rustling leaves in the distance and singing crickets and birds in the background.
Spider’s soundtrack is serviceable and well-adjusted to the game’s theme
The munching sound of your selected spider feasting on every unsuspecting prey also proved satisfying and made the already joyous experience even better. Other than that, effects like the flapping wings of beasts like fireflies, the sharp and annoying mosquito noises and the all-too-familiar noise of flies going about are all well conveyed with no noticeable flaws.
Clever level and sound design abound
Putting the player in the role of a humble (and not at all terrifying) spider is certainly a change of pace from the usual themes and perspectives developed in games nowadays. The way Tiger Style translated the ability to walk on walls and ceilings while designing a series of deadly webs to a 2D action style was very well executed and worthy of praise. Coupling this with an ever-present sense of discovery upon entering hidden rooms and finding clues that slowly show the player more about the origins of Blackbird Estate provides Vita owners with a smart and refreshing experience.
It is a shame then that such a good title ends up being hurt by a handful of technical aspects and an innovative but ultimately poorly-thought-out geolocation-dependant mechanic which sadly comes off as more of a gimmick than a worthwhile addition – if only because the developers chose not to provide a true alternative to it. Even so, Spider: Rite of The Shrouded Moon is easily worth the asking price for the solid gameplay and content depth alone.
Note: this review was based on a review copy provided by the developer