Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars
No wait, come back! This one is satire, I promise! The kind of Swiftean satire that runs straight into Poe's Law, yes, but this is a game that, like The Leather Goddesses of Phobos before it, deserves a look beyond the title. For one, there's its pedigree: Anna Anthropy, master designer of such games as Redder, someone who clearly knows from killer pixel art, engaging concepts, and uber-difficulty minus uber-frustration. Then, there's its sponsor, adult swim a network that time has shown to have quite the track record in promoting works that capture just the right blend of retro aesthetics and modern sensibilities. And, last, but not least, there is the fact that Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars is a heck of a lot of fun to play. It's a high-quality throwback to 80s arcade-style risk-reward action whose gameplay sucks you into a frantic world of patterns and rhythms, scratchy sounds and blocky graphics, high scores and extra lives. And Lesbian-Spider Queens, of course. This game includes suggestive themes and implied nudity.
The game plays like a more confrontational version of Pac-Man, or maybe Wizards of Wor, with you in the role of the Wizard. Player as the titular (though singular) Spider-Queen of Mars, you skulk around various maze screens with the [arrow] keys hoping to smash the rebellion that has swept your kingdom. Your weapon is an ever-firing crystal scepter that ensnares any unfortunate renegade that walks into its line of webbing. Once webbed, you must collect them to remove them from the board. Fail to, and they'll be back faster and stronger. Generally, your revolting slaves follow along the walls of the maze, though several varieties will block your shots with shield, give chase if they spot you, or leave a trail of fire in their wake. There are fourteen mazes screens to complete in total with a certain element of non-linearity in choosing the order of room-clearing, meaning that you can beat the game without visiting every screen.
Analysis: First, the elephant in the room: Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars features content that is quite suggestive, if not really obscene. There is some bare skin on display, but nothing worse than what you would see on a Barbie doll. There are themes of bondage and domination, but said themes are so typical for Space Opera in general (e.g. Orion Slave Girls, Leia in a Gold Bikini), that it doesn't seem all that inappropriate. That said suggestiveness is presented with a layer of loving camp mutes much of the potential offensiveness. This one won't be for kids, but Anthropy has her tongue firmly planted in cheek, and that counts for a lot. In any case, it's not out of place along side site-mates like Gigolo Assassin or Hot Throttle. In fact, I would say Spider-Queens was tasteful by comparison, if it didn't seem like that could be taken as an insult.
Of course, some might find the invocation of lesbianism to be problematic in and of itself, or, for that matter, the portrayal of it herein. I don't feel particularly qualified to comment on that issue so I'll limit my thoughts to the following: I don't know if requires a LGBT designer to be able to successfully satirize the not-always-stellar-track-record of lesbianism in games, but it doesn't hurt. Gaygamer.net has a good discussion here.
Okay, enough philosophy, how does it play? Quite well actually! I particularly liked the mechanics of the constantly firing weapon. If shooting webs required a button to be pressed, I'd likely be holding it down 100% of the time anyways. It simplifies things by cutting out the middle-man, and just makes me wonder why more games aren't designed to require only one hand to play. Beyond that, I loved how the weapon it fires across the screen, slowly dragging a captured enemy towards you once it has one in its grasp. It's quite intriguing as a central play form, but also is entirely appropriate for the spidery protagonist. As you wait in a corner for an unfortunate barbarian to wander in to your path, you'll be all but ready to rub your feelers together in glee when your positioning pays off.
As well as it plays, the game might be slightly unremarkable if it didn't have style, but Spider-Queens has that in spades. It's easy to dress a game up in pixel graphics and chirpy music. It's much harder to capture the feeling of retroness: the beats, the glitches, the cut-scenes that pack hours of story into seconds of screen times, the taunting sounds, the not-quite PC politics, the frenzy of enemies speeding up as time goes by... As a throwback, Spider-Queens does nearly everything right, and all that's missing is "Winners Don't Do Drugs". Certainly, there are those who think retro is overplayed nowadays, and they may have a point. Still, if you are going to indulge in a trip to the past, this is the way to do it.
It is not a trip without a few bumps. Particularly... the sound mixing is terrible. I couldn't seem to find a volume level that was comfortable for all the effects: if the taunts are playing at a nice level, you can barely hear the queen's foot-steps. Turn it up, and you'll be hit with an expected blare. The sound really adds to the experience, but I think it would work better coming out of an arcade cabinet than my speakers. Also, my eyes got tired looking at some of the flashing effects. Epileptics be warned.
In conclusion, though it has a name that might be awkward if spotted in your browser history, I highly recommend Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars. I only wish that I was able to play it on a cathode ray tube screen, instead of my laptop, but hey, you can't have everything.