Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor HD, sometimes shortened to just Spider HD, is a game with two layers. Appropriately, the game’s title tells you the two parts of the game. For the actual gameplay of the game, you take control of a spider with the very simple goal of finding bugs to web up and eat, but the place this spider happens to have chosen as its hunting grounds is the abandoned estate of the Bryce family, and as you hunt for prey through its many rooms, you’ll gradually find out the reason why the mansion has fallen into such a state of disrepair.
The task you are given in Spider and the only one that you need to complete to progress is to create webs to ensnare bugs that are buzzing around the current level. You don’t need to catch all of them to continue, although it usually isn’t too hard to grab them all if you’re feeling like going the extra mile in a stage. To make the webs, the game makes pretty decent use of the touch controls, the player needing to press down and flick the spider across the screen to have it create a line of silk from one surface to the next. Once enough strands intersect and create a shape in between them, a web will be formed, and any bugs (save a few special cases) will be caught in it and can be gobbled up by the spider to earn points. Making the webs is pretty enjoyable and requires you to consider the level’s design as well as the current paths and behaviors of whatever bugs fill the current level, but you’ll still probably default to simple triangles in chokepoints as the game never really pushes the envelope in regards to its level design.
To prevent you from just filling levels with endless spider webs, you do have a limitation on how many strands of silk you can make, but eating bugs will give you a few more to keep you going and you can still get a pretty nice looking room filled with webs once you’ve finished a stage. They do start introducing things like surfaces you can’t stick to and tiny level puzzles that can help you web some bugs more easily, but mostly you’ll have to rely on the insects to give you any real variety. Some of the bugs have special natures to mix things up, like the hornets who can’t be webbed up so you have to pounce at them like a wolf spider instead. There are a few moments where these special bugs might stubbornly avoid your webs even though all their actions are on set patterns rather than having any true intelligence. The mosquito enemies avoid the spider actively and dragonflies have to be tackled before they can be webbed up completely or they’ll just escape, and those two tend to have a habit of dragging out levels with their odd movement behaviors. The bugs you have to approach with a special tactic make for the more interesting prey, but the game seems to run out of ideas for new insects before it finishes giving you new levels, meaning things will start feeling a bit samey as you reach the conclusion.
What does manage to carry throughout the game though is the mystery of Bryce Manor. As you are webbing up food throughout the game’s levels, you might find little secret areas in the rooms where you gradually uncover the stories of the mansion’s former residents. One thing that makes the secret so interesting to uncover is that the game really doesn’t start you off with any idea about where the tale might go. You have no idea if it’s going to be a murder mystery or a family drama or what, and as you keep finding new pieces to this hidden story, you begin to get a clearer picture of what could have happened. The game never truly does state things explicitly, but it leaves enough info around for devoted players to find out a pretty good idea of what might have occurred, but you never truly interact with the story in any meaningful way because you are just a tiny spider with no interest in the affairs of humans. This is just your feeding ground, but the human on the other side of the iPhone or iPad can get involved with the mystery. I can’t say the clues add up to a tale that wraps up nicely, and there are still many questions about what could have happened and what certain little things found around the manor could mean, but it does at least make for an interesting diversion from simply focusing on how well you can web up all those insects.
Spider HD has a very pleasant visual style, reminding me a bit of the older, more detailed style of children’s storybooks. In motion some things don’t exactly look the best, a few of the bugs fly about by lazily drifting their bodies around rather than moving like a living thing, but the visuals definitely help the rooms you’ll be exploring as the spider stand out and stay interesting even if they aren’t actually too different from each other mechanically. Once you have finished the main adventure once, you’ll get the ability to play through a few new modes for the game that try to make-up for the game’s simplicity. You can play a mode where you are on the clock and have to eat as many bugs as you can within the time limit, one where you have a hunger meter and must constantly consume bugs or perish, and one where the game limits how much silk the spider can make so that you are more intelligent with your webs. These modes are appreciated, as is the scoring system that judges how many bugs you were able to web up in a single web and the achievement system that can help you find new little tasks to complete in the game, but none of them really push Spider HD any further than its base components.
THE VERDICT: Although Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor HD loses some of its steam near the end, this iOS puzzler manages to do something interesting with its two separate but intertwining tales. Spider on its own could have been enjoyable enough but a bit flat, but the mystery of the mansion it just so happens to be in adds an extra layer that gives a new reason to progress beyond just playing in a new arrangement of bugs and objects. Unfortunately, although they occur in the same space, the two can’t really interact with each other, and while you’ll get good stuff from both sides, neither can realize their potential fully as the Spider has to explore levels that serve story functions and the story can’t explicitly show too much or wrap things up too well.
And so, I give Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor HD for iOS…
A GOOD rating. The solid task of managing your silk to web up all the insects is fine and the slow unraveling of the story is fine, but put together they both elevate the game to be something a little more than either thing would have been in a vacuum. The main adventure can be pretty easy if you don’t care to catch all the bugs or search for the plot hints though, and the extra content you unlock isn’t exactly too thrilling or different from the main game. At least the action of making the webs, figuring out where to place them, and occasionally body-slamming a hornet out of the air keeps the game from wearing out its welcome, it’s just a shame that the game couldn’t manage to do more with its components. There is a sequel in the form of Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon though, so perhaps the gameplay might realize its full potential in the follow-up.
For now though, don’t be afraid to let this Spider into your phone.