Games for Lunch: Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor
Developer: Tiger Style Games
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2009
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A
0:00 I've lost count of the number of sources I've seen in the past week hailing this one as a groundbreaking, important, essential addition to iPhone gaming, so $3 sounds like a small price to pay to try it out.
0:01 Zoom in on a tiny spider standing in a hand-drawn forest backdrop. The title quickly gives way to the first instruction: "To walk, hold your finger on the screen." Pleasant, upbeat synth music propels me along.
0:02 Spider can stick to walls and even the underside of the forest mushrooms. A quick swipe leads to a quick, extremely satisfying jump across the expanse.
0:03 Tap Spider, then jump to create a thread. Create a polygon between threads to make a web, which can act as a platform for more jumping/web-making.
0:04 "Six months later..." The music is now light electric guitar. "Eat bugs to survive. Eating bugs gives you silk and scores points." OK ... so where are these bugs?
0:06 Oh... I thought those tiny floating green things were leaves, but it turns out they're actually the bugs I'm supposed to be eating. I make a quick triangular web with three jumps, then gobble 'em up nice and easy. I jump in a spiraling purple portal to move on, and the camera zooms out to show the entirety of the porch area I've been jumping around. Seeing it from a wide perspective after spending so much time zoomed-in close on Spider is interesting, to say the least.
0:08 Level 2 lets me leave through a portal before I've eaten all the bugs, but I decide to be a completist and hunt them down. There's a limit to the length of a single thread, which is a bit frustrating... I can jump across the entire level, but the thread just dissipates in mid-air. Still, I'm able to make some pretty patterns with my webs.
0:13 I make a huge pentagonal web in a high-traffic area to catch a bevy of bugs quickly in Level 3. While looking for the last few straggler bugs, I stumble into a small "secret" crawlspace area which contains envelopes and letters marked "!!!$$$." Man, bill collectors are cutting to the chase.
0:16 I don't think I got a "level complete" message, but I can't find any more bugs, so I guess I'll go through the portal. Oh, apparently I did find all 22 bugs in the Entranceway, which is now shown absolutely covered in crisscrossing webs.
0:20 A couple of frustrating moths hover in the middle of an open area, requiring some careful web-stacking to reach. Thread length still is an issue, and I'm having trouble remembering that I can actually walk along walls. I don't have to jump everywhere, but it's so fun that I want to, even when it's ill-advised.
0:23 After I've found all the bugs, I look around for more secrets of the manor. There's a portrait of K, N, R and B.Y. Bryce. A tiny gold dancer statue sits on the floor. There's a grandfather clock I can crawl around inside, an old blue coat ... a bronze candelabra ... but no explicitly "secret" areas that I can find. Hmmm...
0:26 The next area features a couple of crystal bowls that won't take thread. Apparently eating a lot of bugs without touching the ground increases your score, so I try creating a matrix of webs to capture disparate bugs and eat them all in one fell swoop. It works surprisingly well. "Achievement unlocked: Hexagon." I guess I made a hexagonal web or something?
0:27 Another secret area found, this one hiding in a tiny hole in a desk between two cement lion bookends. There are a few bugs in there, and also a ribbon, some markers and marked-up blueprints. Hmmm. Elsewhere in the room, a photo of N. Bryce receiving (or giving?) a military medal, a second-place boxing trophy for R. Bryce, and a large first-place trophy cup for N. Bryce. Most intriguing is a picture labeled "R. Bryce, N. Stewart and L. Bryce" as children. One of the Bryces (R. or N.?) has his arm around Stewart with a big grin, while the other is held literally at arms' length looking a bit forlorn. Stewart just wears a sly smile on her face. Do I smell ... JEALOUSY?
0:32 "Hornets must be tackled!" Words to live by.
0:35 In the kitchen, I leap on a trio of hornets to take them out with a satisfying splat. Then I go about building a sky-spanning network of webs until I run out of silk. That's OK, the webs have caught plenty of bugs to replenish my supply, and I get a 4x multiplier when I gobble them all up. The game's been nice and stress free so far, which is not exactly what I was expecting.
0:39 A green bug actually leads me straight to the secret area this time when he flies into an unseen hole in a dresser. Inside, a few moths and a picture of either R. or N. Bryce that's been torn away from its context. Elsewhere in the kitchen: a can of beans that are "sure to please him," an old fashioned bottle of cola and some bronze pans. Ho hum.
0:42 This next level seems rather dull and empty, until we go past the double sinks and into the piping. There, I find a lost gold ring, a bottle of Krystal Kleen cleaner, a sponge and bucket. Actually, it's still pretty boring.
0:46 The large shiny bathtub here wont' take thread, but it also has frustratingly slippery sides ... my Spider just bounces down when I try to walk along them. I manage to find other stuff hanging about to latch threads onto, making some large triangular webs to capture the moths floating about.
0:48 Exploring the bathtub area now. Not much of interest, until I hop in an old soap jar and find an envelope with a red heart sticker on it. If only I could see inside. Oh wait, I'm a spider and therefore couldn't read what's inside even if I could. Also, spiders cannot interpret the importance of clues hidden about mysterious manors.
0:49 New enemy alert: buzzing dragonflies that have no trouble flying through walls and away from Spider whenever he approaches. On the downside, this means they're quite hard to contain. On the plus side, it means they're easy to corral into existing web with some carefully targeted jumps.
0:52 With all the dragonflies gone, I go looking around. I find a flashlight, some towels and what looks like a nail file in a secret basket. Nothing too interesting. OR IS IT? No, not really. It's just a Linen Closet.
0:54 If I were just a little more efficient here, I could have gotten every bug in this entire area without hitting the ground. Instead, I run out of silk just as I'm trying to trap the last of them.
0:55 Oh, never mind ... there were more bugs than I thought hidden beneath the floorboards here. Also: "Achievement unlocked: Jackpot." Wish I knew how I was getting these...
0:59 OK, secret-hunting time. Well, there's a red smoke detector up on the ceiling ... stacks of disorganized books on the floor ... an old chair with a leg rotted away ... a clock with a crest that looks like a wagon wheel. Either I'm missing something or the interesting clues are becoming scarcer by the minute...
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The core gameplay is nice and tactile, with minimal frustration and maximum relaxation. The mystery is a little too cryptic so far, but intriguing enough that I want to see it through.
This column is based on a downloadable copy of the game purchased by the columnist.
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