From time to time, a spider sheds its hard exoskeleton and makes itself vulnerable as it generates a renewed exterior. The process is so dangerous that a molting tarantula can be scarfed down by hungry crickets.
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor breaks through the hardened surface of iPhone gaming with something fresh, inventive, and altogether significant, though not without vulnerability. While it reminds us that sophisticated gameplay is possible, the same bugs that pester any game are all the more apparent here.
Playing as a small spider, you make your way through the expansive Bryce Manor spinning webs and eating the swarms of insects that have taken residence inside. Exploring the house is a matter of chewing up a certain number of bugs in each level in order to open a portal to the next two-dimensional room.
To trap insect you need to spin webs. A finger held to the screen to the left or right of your spider instructs it to move accordingly, even up vertical surfaces. When you've found a good spot to start spewing web strands, tapping your spider anchors it. Flicking a finger across the screen then creates a strand in that direction. Finishing the web takes a minimum of two additional sides (in order to make a triangle), though you can create polygonal webs with four, five, and even six sides.
Any insects that happen to fly near the web are netted in the sticky strands. Common gnats and ladybugs succumb easily, although wasps, mosquitoes, and dragonflies demand more complex tactics. Wasps, for instance, cannot be caught in webs; instead, you have to directly tackle them with a leap triggered by a flick of the screen.
Diversity in your targets is complemented by variety in the game's environments. Levels range from treks to the bathroom where a slippery tub prevents webs from being created with ease to a basement with a furnace that must be turned off in order to access a secret compartment. There's always some small hidden area to discover or interesting obstacle to overcome.
Issues arise when attempting to circumvent the trickiest of these challenges and the controls let down. Movement is schizophrenic, regularly taking you in the wrong direction. Touch to the right of your spider while hanging from a ceiling, for example, and it moves left. Surprisingly, it's a flaw that doesn't quash the game under foot because you learn to work around it with flick-issued leaps.
While not a flaw, an option to choose levels after you've completed Adventure mode would be nice.
While Spider moves forward from level to level seemingly without focus, it weaves a subtle set of references into a tapestry that tells the story of the Bryce family. Instead of storyboards or cut-scenes, your imagination is prompted to fill in the details using artefacts discovered in the manor as points of reference.
A picture, a wedding ring, a sealed envelope - these ordinary items hold no inherent meaning, especially given that they've been left sitting in an abandoned house. It's possible to play through the game and never give a second thought to such ordinary items. However, freedom is there to ponder the significance of each object and its potential tie to the greater Bryce family story.
The nuance of its narrative and strength of its core gameplay carries Spider through its flaws. It hasn't yet fully grown into its skin, but it's strong enough to withstand the assault of a few pests.
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