Arachnophilia: The Spider Web Game
From Teale Fristoe at Littlegrey Media, Arachnophilia is an arcade-style simulation of a night in the life of a spider. Your goal is to survive as long as possible, your venue is the empty midnight space between tree branches, and your method is to trap and devour the hapless insects who blunder into your web. It's a simple but sophisticated game, made with a deep love for both arachnids and early 80s arcade games like Tempest. There have been other games about spiders, but never one that so thoroughly celebrated the beauty and deadly elegance of their work.
Control your eight-legged heroine with the mouse. Click on a part of your web to scurry there using the shortest available path. To spin new strands of webbing, just draw a line from one strand to another. You can design your web any way you like, but you have a limited amount of web fluid available, indicated by a gauge on the right. To replenish it, you must eat bugs, who fly in more or less randomly from the background. Once an insect has caught itself on a piece of your web, click on it, and the spider will feed. Meal time also restores your life gauge, which is constantly depleting. If your life reaches zero, your game is over. To help you keep pace with the action, the game keeps your commands in a queue, like Diner Dash, displaying blue circles on bugs yet to be eaten and blue lines where webs are yet to be spun. Press [space] to interrupt the queue when you need to react to new events.
There are ten different species of edible critters, all with a different effect on the game. Flies are your staple diet, reliable and unlikely to damage your web unless you neglect to clear them away regularly. Most of the others are larger and stronger, more nutritious if you can catch them, but requiring a stronger weave to hold them back. The first time you encounter a stag beetle, for example, he is likely to shred your web pretty handily, and you can hardly afford to have your livelihood shredded. Successfully trap and nosh such a monster, however, and you'll be temporarily blessed with extra-strong golden webbing. Each type of flying pest is balanced nicely between threat and reward, except for the bees, who grin like maniacs and are just bad news in every way.
If you get tired of having your hard weaving work destroyed by the passing horde, you can always indulge in Art Mode, where you have unlimited webbing and an undisturbed canvas, as well as total bee control, for when you do want to delete a web strand. Come to think of it, more games should have "total bee control" as a feature.
Analysis: Fristo, who is responsible for everything in the game but the music (a welcome relaxing country number supplied by Dig Your Own Grave webmaster Oliver Marsh) is an excellent craftsman. The crisp, luminous graphics serve the needs of the arcade action while highlighting the natural geometric beauty of your web designs. There could be more detail in the creatures, but they animate nicely, and too much texture would have been distracting.
The gameplay balance is superb. The more of the screen you canvas with webs, the more food you can ensnare; but also the more territory you must maintain and defend. The variety of enemies keeps things fresh throughout, although it must be said that the action is not exactly nail-biting. It's more of a game of rhythm and strategy, rather than reflexes. A single hasty new web line is unlikely to stop a charging dragonfly, but planning a solid structure for your sticky home will keep you flush with tasty insect snacks over the long haul.
But Arachnophilia's greatest strength is in its ability to transform you, to make you cunningly aware of the fears and hopes of a creature totally alien from yourself. You are role playing a predator, an icky, hairy-legged murderer of thousands. Yet if you refuse the massacre, you die. This might very well color your next real-life spider encounter with a dot of sympathy or even respect. Glowing with the bright, competitive soul of a vintage arcade game, Arachnophilia doesn't take itself too seriously. It doesn't posture as an "art game", yet it expands your world in a direction that isn't marked on the compass. "Love of spiders" indeed.