Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor — A Classic that Still Feels Fresh
It’s not any one particular thing that makes Spider as good as it is. Rather, it’s a lot of things working together. It’s a clever idea, playing as a spider, making your own way around the levels at your own pace and according to your own priorities. The controls feel very good for the most part, making it easy to move, jump, and spin webs of any size, catching flies just like… just like flies. You feel like you are the master of your environment. You can die, but you’d have to work pretty hard at it. Essentially, you have to starve out from using too much webbing without feeding. Nothing can hurt you, simply vex you temporarily. It’s a great feeling.
More invisible but equally important is the sensational level design. Every level feels like its a real place, yet has just the right pieces in the right places to support your web-slinging. There’s a clear, logical progression through the rooms of the house, and the layout actually makes sense without sacrificing enjoyment. There are plenty of hidden nooks and crannies where you can find more food to catch and some interesting hints as to what happened in Bryce Manor.
You’ll also need to find those hidden areas to maximize your score and 100% clear everything, so they’re not just there for story. That’s one of the more interesting things about Spider, actually. The game is structured in such a way that you could play it for the story and just skip through a lot of the gameplay, or you could play for the gameplay and pay no attention to the story, and you’ll have fun either way.
The ultimate pleasure, of course, comes from indulging in both. Your spider is oblivious to the things you see. It’s just hungry, and nothing it’s doing for the sake of revealing the sad tale of Bryce Manor is really all that out of the ordinary for a hungry spider. It’s making webs to catch its food, seeking out little spaces and gaps where more lunch awaits, and if it should accidentally open up a secret space along the way, that doesn’t mean much to the little fellow beyond a new place to find eats.
It’s all very plausible, too. How often do we open up areas thought to be sealed off only to find cobwebs? Spiders find ways to get into just about anywhere. There’s one area this little spider definitely won’t get into without some human intelligence guiding it, however. As you play through the game’s levels, you’ll notice a lot of things that contribute to the atmosphere and the subtle narrative. You’ll also come across the occasional object you can interact with. If you find a few specific objects and interact with them in just the right way, you’ll be able to open up an extra area at the end of the game, fulfilling a goal even the manor’s prior owner could not.
It’s not a super-tricky puzzle, but you will have to be thorough, pay careful attention to your surroundings, and jump on everything that looks even slightly interactive, just in case. If you miss any of the requirements, you can go back to earlier levels if you want to try again. It’s not an overly long game by any means, especially if you’re just focusing on plot. The running time sits in that nice zone where it feels long enough to be worth playing in chunks, but short enough to invest a day off of work on if you’re so inclined.
In addition to the story mode, there are other ways to play Spider if you want a little extra spice. Feeding Frenzy mode fills the area with insects and gives you three minutes to catch as many as you can. Hunger mode gives you a hunger gauge that has you perpetually starving, forcing you to move quickly from meal to meal. Precision mode gives you less silk and shorter threads, forcing you to plan your webs carefully, while Sidekicks mode allows you to play with a friend on the same device, teaming up to catch bugs. Many games with a heavy narrative component struggle to create meaningful replay value, but because Spider’s core mechanics are so sound, these extra modes are actually quite a bit of fun.
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is one of those games that just feels perfectly at home on mobile devices. It’s like a window into another world, with straightforward yet compelling mechanics and a nice sense of place. It’s enjoyable in slices if you’re someone who is always on the go, but it never feels insubstantial. While the sequel has its own charms, there’s something about the lean yet satisfying nature of the original game that allows it to maintain its position as one of mobile’s most uniquely entertaining adventures.