For as far along as games have come from the pong simulators of the ’70s, it seems like every idea has been put into practice at some point. Have you ever wanted to fight other crabs as a crab yourself, complete with human weaponry? Or to raise a fish with a human face, narrated by Leonard Nimoy? Perhaps you want something more grounded, like driving a bus for eight hours straight with no breaks? These are the kind of topics that gaming can bring to the world, for better or worse. Several months ago, when I came across Webbed while casually browsing Twitter, I couldn’t help but be enveloped in that same sensation. “A game where you play as a spider, and that’s it? I’m all for it.”
Absurdity in the video game world is something of a rarity nowadays, especially within the AAA space. Established franchises, reboots, and “the next big thing” permeate an industry that was once more willing to adhere to unique experiences. Indie games, such as this, are filling the gap for games that aren’t quite primed for mass appeal. You play as a spider on a quest to save her boyfriend from the talons of an eerie bird. This may have been intriguing in the same way Super Mario Bros. was in 1985, though that’s long in the past. Yet even in a crowded space of “out there” premises, this game has a natural splendor that gives it a vigor unlike those within a similar… web.
Story – Spin Me a Tale of… Anything
Remember approximately three sentences ago when I compared this game to Super Mario Bros.? Its story has roughly the same level of depth. In fact, just the sentence before, when I described the premise of Webbed, is about as much as one should expect from the narrative. Very little dialogue, a handful of cutscenes, and many one-note characters is the extent one gets here. To some, this would be a substantial issue. To others, who are aware that this is a game where you play as a spider and interact with random insects, this would be entirely expected.
For the sake of harboring that adventurous spirit, however, this could have provided a tad more effort. It’s one thing to be sympathetic of a spider who loves her boyfriend, it’s another to care past the first hour. A web-thin foundation that would be more accepted in an era of gaming where the technology wasn’t capable of producing well-written, well-executed dialogue and personal ambition. And there are some engaging animated sequences throughout the journey. More emphasis on the titular spider herself, perhaps, would have made this more impactful by the end.
Gameplay – Whatever a Spider Does
You know how in games about Spider-Man where you’re swinging from the tops of buildings? And the force of gravity propels you forward and makes you go really fast? Like being a sky glider? That’s an amazing feeling. Webbed replicates this with such proficiency that I think this small paragraph alone should be enough to get people onboard.
Simply the act of playing is a thrilling, excitable course of thrills to be had. I know not if this title was born just from the desire to have players swinging around and feeling like they could fly, but I would be willing to bet that it was a high priority. Central to the gameplay core is shooting webs at stationary objects such as walls, sticks, and trees, causing the player to be pulled in that direction based on the angle and elevation. This is a physics-based game, after all, and it highlights nearly everything that one is going to do during the trek.
Also like the story, the gameplay largely consists of a simple, singular concept—shooting webs and flinging oneself through different environments. Unlike the story, this never becomes boring. Through all the misgivings about story and various things (yet to come) I had playing, I always looked forward to actually playing. There is nothing quite like zooming around large environments, manipulating the course of your trajectory by shooting different things at different heights and traveling at high speeds. Instinctively escaping death (whether bottomless pit or orange spikes) was a constant source of frenzied fun that I rarely experience in any other game.
Do Me a Favor and Collect Everything
Then there’s the “dirty work” of the game, outside of simply exploring the land and uncovering secrets. Getting to your boyfriend will not be possible on your own. You will need help from others, such as dung beetles, ants, and bees. Will these other species help you out unconditionally? Of course not; this is a video game. They will ask you to do a variety of things, such as constructing wooden bridges, collecting pollen, or placing a billion gears into hatches. These activities, given the spider’s capabilities, range from slightly intuitive to very chore-like, with the anthill portion being by far the most arduous.
While not all are equally time-consuming, it does come across vaguely as padding. The dung beetle and bee portions of the map (West and East side, respectively) are generally more explorative, requiring the player to navigate through hazardous environments rather than puzzle-solving and item-placement busywork. Though they don’t take nearly as long to complete. The bottom of the map, inside the anthill, supplies so many objectives and “Put this thing in that thing” that I felt I spent half of the entire game in that one area, if not more. Combined with how the map for Webbed is pretty unclear and only intriguing visually, I spent quite a bit fumbling around trying to find where I had to go and what I had to do.
The game alleviates this somewhat by giving you a task menu via the select button (on controller). Although, these are just written instructions, not necessarily where they are or what you should be looking for. One objective could be “Return parts to the Mecha-Ant” (just go with it), but it doesn’t tell you that you need to collect the parts in specific rooms and attach them to other parts in either the same or different rooms. Or throw some mandibles in a furnace. Some environmental clues are all that signals what the player needs to do for a given quest.
On that note, I both appreciate and am somewhat alienated by this game’s lack of direction. It almost harkens to metroidvania-esque design, only without the feeling of growing more powerful over time (rather “more acclimated”). Yet excluding the task menu and a few talkative bugs, the game does very little to actually aid you in what to do. Such allowed me to go around, explore, and find positive reinforcement for doing so. At the same time, there were points where I was flying around in previously explored areas looking for what I was supposed to be doing. Turns out I just missed a path somewhere. Silly me.
Physics and Performance
A pleasure and a curse attached to the experience is in its physics-based puzzles and movement. The way you angle webs and push things around are accurate to reality, at least as much as can be in 2D form. It gives a notable spin on the way things are handled, particularly with object manipulation. Sometimes one’s tasked with putting a small gear in a place out of reach, so one has to spit webs and have it pull towards the spot through strengthening the initial string (with a million more strings). Things like this make up a lot of the puzzle-solving and item transportation.
Occasionally, it’s a chore—again, mostly in the anthill portion. Repetition is what ends up pulling it down, with a considerable amount of similar objectives being interspersed with tricky platforming. Carefully pulling a gear towards a specific point on the map and trying to get things to behave is a lot less fun than just flying around in the open air. Frankly, I could summarize just by saying that the anthill area of the game is definitely the low-point (figuratively and literally).
One unfortunate thing worth noting is that I experienced a considerable amount of performance lag while playing, especially in the main “hub” at the center point of the map. It seems to come randomly; I’ll enter it from another area and my framerate will dip to about 20 FPS for no reason. This also tends to occur if you pause and unpause the game too frequently. While not to the point where it ends up hampering a majority of the game, it happened just enough to have me cautious. A quick patch to fix it up may be in order.
Graphics & Audio – I’m a Spider-Girl, In a Spider World
Lovely, beautiful sprite-work adorning the natural greens and browns of an unnamed forested area. Shining bright blue, the sky serves as a backdrop for the slinging silliness that the player will get into. Even the anthill provides a factory-like appeal within its orange hues and ample supply of pipes. Webbed has a lovely aesthetic, crafted with obvious care to its real-life inspirations and to make insects as cute as possible. They even add an arachnophobia mode to ensure everyone can handle playing through. How open and inviting it all is; so easy to explore and wander about, forgetting you even have a boyfriend to rescue. Always a joy to see what visual marvels await as the journey progresses.
Briefly mentioned before, there are also some animated cutscenes here that further add to the immersiveness of the incredibly limited story. The big, scary bird is massive in its frame, and scenes adequately portray its power compared to the puny efforts of those below it. Near the end, bugs also join the fray and aid in spectacular fashion (complete with powerful thunderstorms!), allowing the final “fight” to feel invigorative. While the ending scene is admittedly somewhat anticlimactic, the build-up and payoff leading into it is remarkably satisfying.
Webbed‘s soundtrack is mostly ambiance, fitting with the natural aesthetic and premise. Some more catchy variations exist within specific areas, though they aren’t much more than background filler. I ended up more appreciative of the overall sound design, which, like the soundtrack, was rather muted. The “schweet!” of the web-slinging, “boing” of the webs attaching, and the rapid pitter-patter of the spider’s legs making contact with the webs were an otherwise enjoyably immersive detail. Certainly not a game that will be nominated for soundtrack of the year; its strength lies in creating a realistic ebb and flow. What would it sound like to be a spider? This is a pretty fulfilling interpretation.
Webbed was reviewed on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by Sbug Games.