Look Ma, Eight Hands!

Uh-oh, Riley the Spider’s gotten his sense of direction all tangled up while venturing and now he has to find his way back home. That’s easier said than done, because the forest is mighty big and packed with dangers that won’t hesitate to squish a cute cartoon arachnid! Just about the only things going for Riley are a bunch of rotating wooden gears that somehow populate the forest too, and which he can use to fling himself around until he reaches his ultimate destination.

The central gear jumping mechanic in Spidey Riley (Out now on sale, $1.99 later) immediately brings to mind last year’s Jump O’Clock. Once Riley springs from a starting point the player taps at the screen, commanding him to sling a web, Spiderman-style, at the nearest gear so that he’ll affix himself to it. The duration of Riley’s attachment to any one gear depends on how long the player keeps holding at the touchscreen; close attention to his release trajectory at any given moment lets the player fling him from gear to gear until he’s reached an exit web. Should Riley plop on the ground or collide with too many traps and unfriendly creatures, it’s Game Over.

Whereas Jump O’Clock felt like a bit of a one-trick pony for its constricted and infinite level design when I reviewed it last year, Spidey Riley satisfyingly ups the ante with increasingly complex levels. Once a few intro stages have introduced the player to its exacting physics, the game flings Riley into sprawling mazes filled with all manner of moving traps and other surprises that must be navigated with great care. Klik! Games has successfully mitigated unforeseen quirks through tilt controls: if Riley happens to land on a branch or some other nook far away from a gear, the player can roll him out with a tilt of his or her iDevice. The accelerometer also gets plenty of use during segments that break up the main action by entrapping Riley in floating bubbles. While Spidey Riley has fully jumped on the high score competition bandwagon with OpenFeint and Game Center integration, its rich level design – not to mention the sheer number of adventures on offer – suffices for hours of web slinging fun.

One-touch controls give Spidey Riley supreme accessibility and interface smoothness, but it still takes the true grit of a hardboiled gamer to make it very far in Riley’s adventure — and this leaves the game in a bit of an awkward spot considering its ultra cute presentation. Pass this one to the kids and they’re bound to get lots of use out of those cuss words they’re learning in school, and yet decades-long action veterans who’ve built up the strength of will to keep retrying might give this one a pass as soon as they catch sight of Riley’s silly grin. Be that as it may, I found the stiff challenge that goes with Spidey Riley‘s depth of level design a decisive asset.

There are a few things on my wish list for updates. While the various paths that may be taken through a level are usually well managed by arrows, sometimes the next gear or an exit web will lie well out of the player’s vision until an exploratory fling is made. Therefore some way of getting a preview of a level before starting it, or using tilt controls to look around while Riley’s attached, would be a welcome addition. Also, reversing the direction of Riley’s spin while he’s attached – ever an important option to get release angles just right – is a bit of a trial and error process. Currently the player must dis-attach and re-attach Riley to the same gear in quick succession, hoping the spin direction has changed upon re-attachment. Why not borrow a note from rune-drawing games and let the player decide spin direction with a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion while holding on the touchscreen? Finally, lack of automatic screen adjustment to support flipping the iDevice will drive a few players up the proverbial wall depending on how they normally hold the device while playing games.

Spidey Riley is gorgeous and varied in both visuals and audio. The game’s hand-drawn environments shine with a rich organic quality that might just make a few early adopters feel spoiled by the $.99 release sale. Given its overall quality and the probable three to five hours fans will spend with it once they’re hooked, Spidey Riley will continue to be a real steal even when its price rises to $1.99.

iFanzine Verdict: Can we get an award for Most Improved Indie Dev over here!? Klik! Games rises to the top of its game with a winsome gear jumping formula that combines one-touch controls with rich level design to wonderful effect. If any iDevice owner who cut his or her teeth on Sonic the Hedgehog back in the day passes this one up because they’re now “too old” for cutesy aesthetics, they’re missing out on something that really captures the magic of physics-heavy old school challenge.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]