Not to nitpick immediately in my introductory, but why exactly is it titled that way? As opposed to Spider: The Musical, or Spider: The Anti-inflammatory? It’s like Slugs The Movie, nobody will confuse it with any other previous work, so the subtitle comes off as excessive. Or Alpha Protocol: The Espionage RPG. Not a living human walked into a Game Stop and said, “Hi, do you have Alpha Protocol, the Espionage RPG?”, the correct transcript would be closer to “Hi, how much can I get in return for this horribly programmed game with lousy controls, laughable difficulty, and a poorly balanced story with inconsistent choices and payoffs?” Just play L.A. Noire, but for now, let’s talk about the video game, Spider…The Video Game.
Developed by Boss Game Studios in 1997, Spider was a bit of a shift for the company who has previously worked on a majority of racing games, notably Top Gear Rally. Spider was their only foray into platform game developing. After the success of early 3D platform titles like Super Mario 64 and Tomb Raider, programming teams usually made two decisions; attempt to follow in the footsteps of aforementioned titles and meet with great success (the Spyro series), disappointing mediocrity (Rascal), or horrible abominations (Bubsy 3D). Or stick with the near foolproof formula of traditional 2D side scrolling utilizing 3D rendered backgrounds and/or characters (Pandemonium and Tomba!). It’s actually too bad that Spider was so underwhelming, because this had the foundation to be a really cool series. At the time, more impressive games were available and this one got severely overlooked. But that isn’t to say that Spider is a complete package of awesome.
Like Clockwork Knight and Cool Spot, I really like it when a game makes objects to scale when playing as a small or shrunken down character. While Spider doesn’t boast the same vibrant visuals as Clockwork Knight, what is really impressive is that all the objects and character models are fully rendered in real-time.
This wasn’t seen often, especially for a side scrolling title. Klonoa Door to Phantomile, for instance, used 2D sprites in 3D environments as well as Tomba. This was a subdivision of platform titles called 2.5D, which I always thought was a BS term. 2.5D is closer to what Virtua Fighter or Tekken 2 was, the ability to move in three dimensions, but not of your own will. You usually had to be knocked around that way. It makes even less sense to call some of these titles 2.5D, as you still can only travel left and right. Crash Bandicoot and Bug! for the Sega Saturn are probably the closest you can get to that in terms of play style, but you’re still moving in THREE DIMENSIONS!!! Sure, your path is regulated to where the game needs you to go and free range movement isn’t an option unless provided, but you would need to talk to Michio Kaku and ask him just how the hell you get half of a dimension!! I know it’s in the past, but that term always pissed me off and I needed to vent.
Nevertheless, the rendered environments and levels look pretty sweet and stylish, almost comic book-like. The spider model looks cool for its time, though I am not sure what species it’s supposed to be. In game it looks like a tarantula, yet the manual art depicts something that looks a little closer to a Sydney Funnel Web, admittedly the angle can be misinterpreted. As you find weapon power-ups, Spider becomes more and more metallic, and the silver look rocks. The camera follows you from a side scrolling perspective, occasionally alternating to a first-person angle, catering to the third dimension. While the camera can obstruct your view from time to time, only seldom this has led to me dying or taking damage. If anything, I believe the camera is too close to Spider, and that kind of cripples how fast you want to move.
Using Mega Man as an example, he takes up maybe 8% of the total screen (measuring on a 10×10 grid using his hit box), leaving more visual flexibility to plan your selected path of travel, position of enemies and obstacles. Spider is slightly bigger than Mega Man, but not by much, and the angle is zoomed in too close to allow that same freedom. I would have to constantly pace myself once I got to an unexplored area, because my haste would lead to a bat dropping bombs on my head!
It’s a little impossible to get good at a game when enemies appear in your face before your mind brain has a chance to respond to the situation! I assume that they wanted to get a good enough visual on the spider model so that gamers wouldn’t feel cheated playing as such an uninteresting speck, but this should have been solved by giving you the zoom option.
SOUND & MUSIC 7.5/10
One of the biggest issues I had with this generation of gaming is that solid music production and memorable tunes went right out the window as far as most titles and companies felt. “Yeah, just slap some generic, mid 90’s electro-rock tunes in there and nobody will care. So instead of BGM that you could hum in your head on any given day, you would hardly notice music themes outside of Nintendo, Konami, and fighting games. Spider, on the other hand, boasts some catchy BGM. It sounds very industrial and cyberpunk, fitting right in with the sci-fi/mad scientist action ambience the game is going for. Sound effects are crisp, but indicating how far away some enemies are will take some careful prejudging. The screeching warble Spider makes as he dies and curls into a ball sounds very alien.
While Spider is linear in nature, there are conditions that have to be met in order to proceed through. Some stages will require you to collect a certain number of microchips, indicated by the red hexagons in the bottom right of the map select screen. As you fill them in, they become blue. The hexagon at the top right corner of the screen is divided into the blue/red halves, calculating how much you have and how much is needed to proceed, respectively.
This encourages some snooping around and playing levels again and again, keeping track of which path you went and retracing your steps. While I believe that some games can get out of hand with this kind of heavy-handed scrounging around for 100% completion, as long as the levels aren’t too stretched out and the puzzles are respectively challenging and well hidden, it can be pretty damn fun. But Spider kind of screws it up. Levels can be inconsistently short or long, it never felt like the difficulty scales accordingly. As you get better, it’s only natural a game should get harder, but some stages in the mid portion of the game can be really easy, only requiring you to find one chip, then the next stage will tell you to find two, but you’re swamped with a bunch of enemies and hazards!!
Spider’s controls are pretty solid. He moves very quickly and gets good elevation on jumps, so at no real point during my playthrough did I feel bogged down by slopping mechanics like I did during Mystery Quest, where every jump was a chore.
The ability to climb on nearly everything is a great advantage, but it is too bad that this game was too old to be Dual Shock compatible, which came out later that calendar year in 1997. This game could really have benefitted from the use of an analog stick. Spider can use a web thread to descend downward, but I never really found much use for this, since the web thread is not very long. Best utilized when getting an extra life that is barely out of reach. I remember reading the early specs on this game before it was finished that you would have the ability to eat your foes to regain health, and that could be awesome. That didn’t make to the final version, so instead, enjoy the one or two health power-ups each stage will provide you. Sucks, because two hits and it’s right back to the very beginning of the stage!! Not even a health increase for an extra hit, and you will take a lot of cheap hits in this game!
Speaking of cheap hits, Spider’s arsenal of semi-useful weaponry!! He has flamethrowers, heat-guided missiles, a defensive electro shock, a handy boomerang (my favorite, since it’s the only weapon that doesn’t have a limit), and a poison spray, to name a few. The good: The hind legs can also be equipped, giving you four potential weapons to combat with. Why I say that they are semi-useful? Because while what you get in terms of ammunition, it sometimes isn’t really worth the hassle. The bad: Your standard attack (this paltry slash strike that only hits when you’re standing right next to an enemy) is so pathetic, that you will need them to stand a chance against flying hornets and other projectile-firing threats!! The good: Some enemies are weak against certain weapons to reduce the risk of wasting shots. The bad: You do not get a lot of ammo (3 missile shots), nor a way to replenish them. The good: You can back out of levels, like Super Mario World and get weapons from somewhere nearby and go back to the trouble spot, full loaded. The bad: Once you die, all those goodies are gone.
This probably wouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, but only if your regular attack didn’t suck so badly. No leaping spider pounce? No web traps to ensnare enemies? What’s the point of playing as one of the insect kingdom’s top predators and NOT utilizing any of the evolutionary tools as a means of attack!!?? Being regulated to a stock inventory of weapons that are better off in a Contra game really pisses me off.
Spider has a perfectly good game engine, solid level design, decent music, and sweet visuals for its time. But the game hampered a by just how utterly generic the overall package is, in the big scheme. You don’t get much of a character to care about in Dr. Kelly, enemies are rather lifeless and forgettable, and there is just so much missed potential of being able to play as an arachnid. If at any point in your gaming tenure you decided to give this one a play, what could be found is a moderately good PlayStation platformer without much identity or flare. If you passed it up, you didn’t miss a super gem. OVERALL SCORE 6.8/10