If you have a passion for lightsabers, laser guns, grappling hooks, and spiders, then look no further for the greatest 2D release since Adobe Flash was discontinued and Albino Blacksheep faded from public memory. SpiderHeck hits with some serious nostalgia for the halcyon days of Stick Fight and Xiao Xiao 3 Flash videos, crossed with some inspiration from the flashiest of Jedi lightsaber fighting techniques. All wrapped in a modern Unity package with physics, an OST jam packed with absolute bangers by Professor Kliq, and a bold electrifying aesthetic.
But above it all, it’s just cool. Everyone knows that the kid who spins their pen in their hand is the coolest kid in school, and now you’ll be here spinning your lightsabers. Catapult your spider body at breakneck speeds while performing moulinets to parry and cleave with your double-edged saber and dodging remote mines, rocket launchers, and laser revolvers. Control the high ground and watch as your foes careen into the lava. SpiderHeck offers countless hours of both hilarious and epic moments in both solo PvE and local and online multiplayer PvE/PvP modes.
Developed by solo indie dev Neverjam (@neverjamdev) and published by tinyBuild, Spiderheck releases on September 22nd on Xbox One and Series X|S, Playstation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam/Epic/Windows Store). Additionally, SpiderHeck is currently available on release for free for the release weekend until September 26th, 2022.
Laser swords, laser guns, and crossbows that shoot laser swords
Yes, there are lightsaber crossbows that fire whole-ass lightsabers that can be picked up after you completely miss your target point blank. And that’s about the extent of creativity for weapons, though that still sets the bar pretty high. SpiderHeck has swords, guns, and explosives, with many guns and explosives featuring pretty radical designs. And if you don’t feel like shooting laser swords, you can always just chuck yours, then recall it Force-style to stab your enemies in the back.
As far as the lightsabers themselves go, or particle swords as they are known in SpiderHeck, there’s a decent enough variety of them that they’ll always feel fresh. Not only are there various base forms, such as a regular saber style or elongated spear style versus a Darth Maul dual saber type, but each particle sword that spawns can have differing stats for its length and width, meaning that one lucky spider could end up with a bona fide Buster Sword. It’s entirely possible to have legitimate sword fights, as the weapons all have weight and momentum, and all weapons are able to parry sword strikes as they clash. Particle swords can also reflect most gun projectiles back to sender, furthering the spider-Jedi image, or perhaps opening up potential for Spider-Laser-Tennis in the future.
SpiderHeck also features a wide array of guns and explosives, including RPG-type weapons. There are the classic archetypes, such as shotguns, revolvers, or rifles, but there are also some more creative designs, such as a laser gun that takes several seconds to charge up, but hits everything in a line regardless of any terrain. Or a rocket launcher that shoots five rockets at once. And yet, all guns have their specific strengths and weaknesses, especially the higher caliber guns which cause insane recoil, so there’s decent balance between sword and gun. Also, this is the type of game where you’ll wonder, “will that kill me?” and SpiderHeck responds with an enthusiastic “Yes!” as your own free-flying spinning sawblade eviscerates you, so players must be extra cautious of spidercide.
I’m the sort of guy that will pick up a particle sword in most circumstances, but sometimes a square peg just needs a round hole, and the best way to make a round hole is a bullet. Weapons constantly spawn on the battlefield, and it’s easy to chuck one weapon to pick up another. For that matter, all weapons have limited use—swords have durability, guns have ammo, and explosives blow up—so you’ll be constantly swapping weapons anyway.
Best lightsaber mechanics? I meant the best grappling hook mechanics
SpiderHeck is on a physics-based engine, which has implications on every action that the player takes. As you bring up your particle sword to parry, the resulting strike will blow both swords and spiders back a little, and it takes time to bring the sword up back to position. Same goes for aiming a gun, and pulling the trigger actually results in the spider being blown back from the recoil, because obviously, it’s a tiny spider with a massive gun. Similarly, nearby explosions will greatly knock back the spider if they’re not within the blast itself.
This physics system is what allows the grappling hook to really shine. Each swing follows predictable momentum, with differing forces such as the grapple itself, weapon recoil, gravity, and swing speed pulling on your spider in different directions. The magic of SpiderHeck comes from instinctual understanding of how it all comes together, and bending it to your will to perform amazing death-defying parkour tricks. There’s no better feeling in gaming than mapping out the perfect grapple in tight terrain on the fly, lightly skimming the lava, and hearing your trichobothria sizzle as you swing to safety. And that doesn’t even take into account the lightsaber in your hand.
That being said, I initially found the movement in SpiderHeck to be extremely difficult to comprehend. After all, we’re terrestial lizard brains that are used to interacting with the world in a simple flat plane, so who are we to fathom the inner machinations of a spider’s omnidirectional mind? Things like gravity and being right side up mean very little to a creature that can walk on a ceiling.
A protip: your spider doesn’t jump against gravity, it jumps against the surface it’s standing on.
In a world where gravity is optional…
As a 2D fighting game like Super Smash Bros, map design also has a large effect on how the game plays. In its pursuit of zaniness, SpiderHeck offers a gamut of diverse maps with different design elements. For example, one map is designed like a Pachinko board, with a lava death zone at the bottom, and with items, enemies, and boxes raining down from overhead. Other maps have features such as elevators, falling platforms, jump pads (directional boosts really since they face every direction), rotating blocks, and swings. But most notably, a selection of maps feature zero gravity, which offers large changes from how movement on standard maps works. The wide selection of maps will keep fights feeling fresh as every map brings about different challenges and different movement possibilities.
Simple game modes with the promise of more after release
The beauty of SpiderHeck is the culmination of all these separate and massively complex mechanics coming together to complete simple objectives. On release, SpiderHeck will feature three simple game modes, though with all the necessary customization options: a simple versus mode with limited crossplay, a wave survival mode with optional co-op, and the Tiers of Heck—a specially tailored challenge trial mode that gets progressively more difficult with a significant speedrun element. There’s also an extreme difficulty parkour map in the main lobby, though I have yet to reach the end and see what you get (probably nothing).
All game modes generally utilize the same pool of weapons, maps, and modifiers, though there are some that are specific per mode. Modifiers are cards that affect gameplay and can offer both mundane and exciting changes, such as improving air movement control or increasing the pull of the grapple web, or escalating the spawn rate of particle swords and enlarging their length or width. There are also some more wild cards such as decreasing an enemy’s fear of lava, which makes it easier to bait enemy AI into killing itself in magma— definitely an attractive option, given that the yellowjackets are just absolute beasts with swords, especially those with the Mace Windu or Darth Maul lightsabers.
Decent controls on KB/M, superb controls on controller
SpiderHeck features support for both KB/M and controller, with unchangeable keybinds for both, although changeable keybinds are planned for a future patch. For now, the default keybinds include basic movement, and buttons for jumping/web grappling, picking up or throwing/recalling a weapon, and using the weapon—swords have a lunge attack, guns are fired, and mines/explosives are activated and thrown.
If you ask me for an input mode, even as a longtime PC gamer that regularly laughs at the concept of aiming with thumbs, I would definitely choose controller for SpiderHeck. Dual joystick is an absolute necessity for aiming, as you need to precisely aim both your weapon and the grapple web.
For KB/M, you’re provided the option to aim your web with the mouse or with movement keys (WASD default). The WASD aiming is vastly preferable, since it’s just not reasonable to constantly give up aiming your weapon to readjust your grapple—often times, your sword needs to be in position as you clash with an opponent, and that just isn’t possible if you’re busy trying to find the right grapple angle. But even with WASD aiming, restricting your web grapple to eight directions greatly hinders your mobility, and proves to be a significant handicap in a high-octane deathmatch, even with the improved weapon aim with mouse. This is definitely a game where movement matters more than aim.
SpiderHeck also currently has some strange technical limitations that prevent more than one player in a lobby using KB/M input, even when playing online, so for people planning to play with their friend groups, it’s simplest for everyone to be on controller. This limitation may be addressed in a later patch.
As far as navigating the game itself, the design is flawless. Every menu interaction is quick and crisp, meaning you spend less time in menus and more time in-game. Entering a game mode itself involves maneuvering to its platform and waiting for the 3,2,1 countdown so there’s some slowdown there, but otherwise everything is designed to be an expedient player-centric experience.
Weird technical issues and lack of content to be addressed after release
The technical oddities don’t stop with the KB/M limitation. SpiderHeck is also slated to release with limited crossplay, with only these following options available: Steam x Epic, Windows Store x Xbox, Playstation x Playstation, Switch x Switch. And while the multiplayer works fully when actually in-game, the features surrounding it may be a bit limited, even on release, such as the potential lack of fully-featured matchmaking.
Additionally, as mentioned earlier, custom keybinds are not a thing yet. I do think that the default keybinds are superb, but that level of customization is an expectation in modern gaming, especially for gamers with disabilities. This also ties in with the limited game settings available, with barely any adjustable graphics sliders available. SpiderHeck relies heavily on complicated physics, and certain in-game interactions can cause unavoidable lag. Still, some of that slowdown has to come from particle effects, and not being able to adjust many graphics settings is a limitation that some gamers may find difficult to accept.
There is also a basic character customization system that allows you to choose a preset color scheme and a hat for your spider. I’d like to see more unrestricted customization options and maybe even mod support in the future, but understandably those are complex features to implement.
Further planned updates include Twitch integration, difficulty sliders, different types of challenges, actual meta progression, and additional zany map mechanics. But at this time, there is no official roadmap for post-release content.
SpiderHeck: cool concept, excellent execution, extremely creative, but needs some work in the backend
It’s undeniable that the gameplay in SpiderHeck is just straight up cool and fun, and smooth execution leads to extreme satisfaction. The music and aesthetic design are top-notch, even if the OST is limited. It offers copious amounts of gameplay for both solo and groups, and the developer is planning to continue support and development for the game after release, hopefully to hammer out some of these weird technical limitations and flesh out the content.