When it comes to non-conventional control schemes, developers are constantly trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The Wii and Sixaxis have often resulted in designers asking themselves, “How do we make the existing experience work with these controls?”, when they should be asking themselves, “What new kinds of experiences will these controls allow us to explore?”.
The iPhone platform is another fertile breeding ground for this kind of poor practice. We’ve seen many attempts to shoehorn an analog stick or d-pad into the touch-screen environment unsuccessfully. This is a shame, since the iPhone offers a surplus of untapped potential for creating new styles of gameplay and control.
When someone takes the risk to create a different experience, there will be something to learn from the effort whether it succeeds or fails. Read on to see what Gamer Limit took away from the time we spent with Tiger Style’s 8-legged app, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor.
The protagonist of Spider is (you guessed it) a spider, whose goal is to traverse through Bryce Manor. In each area, the player encounters a number of bugs. The spider must eat a certain number of bugs before the next area is opened.
In order to capture bugs, the spider can jump from surface to surface with a trail of silk. Creating any polygon with the lines of silk fills in the middle of the shape with webbing. Insects flying through the area will get stuck and then wait patiently for your ravenous mandibles to end their tiny lives.
As you progress throughout the manor, different insect types are introduced which require you to alter your spinning strategies. Mosquitoes will run away from you, so you must corral the nasty bloodsuckers into your webs. Hornets are immune to your webbing; you must leap and tackle them to clear them from the level.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Spider is the absolutely charming hand-drawn background visuals that do so much to set the tone. It immediately brings to mind the aesthetic for a PC point-and-click adventure game, which adds to the narrative elements employed by the developers.
Next, you’ll probably get drawn in by the excellent score. While quite relaxing in general, the musical undertones are also alternately melancholy and suspenseful. This adds both information and atmosphere to the mix for the storytelling; you really get the sense that something wrong has taken place.
The story in Spider is classic in nature. Bryce Manor holds the memories of a family in crisis. Elements of sibling rivalry, fractured love, and a patriarch with even more secrets all surface throughout the game. The wonder of Spider‘s narrative is that it accomplishes conveying all those themes and more without the use of dialogue or exposition of any kind.
Most of the areas in Bryce Manor contain pictures, keepsakes, or other items which contain clues as to what took place. It is up to the player to piece together all the fragments of information into a cohesive chain of events, and so in many ways you create the story yourself.
While executed differently, it is a technique which evokes the background story present in the safehouses of Left 4 Dead and the mechanical areas of the testing center in Portal. The other advantage of this method of storytelling is that it allows players who aren’t interested in the narrative to focus solely on the gameplay, which is engaging and worthwhile on its own.
The strength of the gameplay in Spider springs mainly from the intuitive controls. I know that “intuitive” is one of those words that usually shows up when a PR rep needs to make something extremely boring sound cool or a when a games journalist isn’t able to adequately describe why something works. In this case, however, it truly applies.
Pressing the screen on either side of the spider and holding moves the spider in that direction. Tapping the spider anchors it so that leaping creates a strand of webbing; tapping it again unlatches it so you can move freely without wasting a web. Most enjoyable in Spider, however, is the control for leaping.
Leaping happens by swiping your finger across the screen. The direction you swipe is the direction the spider jumps. It’s so much like flicking a bug off of you that it comes naturally after the first try. It’s also a control that iPhone users are accustomed to using for cycling between pages on the main menu, so it is instantly familiar and comfortable. This is what I mean by intuitive.
This type of simple, yet visceral, gameplay is something that takes advantage of what the iPhone touchscreen environment is naturally capable of. A different developer would have instituted a series of buttons on the screen to emulate the function of a controller. With Spider, Tiger Style proves that the iPhone platform is capable of much more than futilely trying to do what other consoles already do better.
I did have some difficulty in getting the camera perspective to zoom in and out smoothly, which impacted my ability to accurately plan my jumps the way I wanted. This, however, is one minor complaint drowned out by a sea of portable win.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by my time with this title. Nuanced and evocative storytelling, a well-executed presentation, and gameplay designed to capitalize on the uniqueness of the development platform all combine to make Spider the best game I’ve played on the iPhone to date. This spider does everything but save the lives of adorable but naive pigs.
Gamer Limit gives Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor for the iPhone a 9.5/10