Sequels seem to come in two different flavors these days. Most commonly, we get yearly installments, enough time to hopefully throw in just enough iteration to make an ever-worn concept feel fresh enough to sell again. Then there are the throwbacks, sequels to long-dormant franchises that somehow have to live up to impossible legends. On iOS, we see more of the former than the latter, and when the latter does show up, it tends to be a horrifying, free-to-play, quick-buck spin on an old gaming franchise whose core audience would prefer anything but. Generally, sequels used to be different, back when the industry could afford the luxury of not lining up all their big-name IPs on each yearly financial statement. Developers used to have time to work on them, time to let the original game settle in its groove, and perhaps most importantly, time to consider and tease out ideas in order to make each installment as strong as possible. Given how young iOS gaming is, it’s not something we’ve gotten much of a taste of, but Tiger Style is prepared to give everyone a heaping helping with Spider: Rite Of The Shrouded Moon.
It’s been quite a wait, with the original Spider: Secret Of Bryce Manor ($1.99) releasing some six years ago, but the time put in certainly shows. Spider: Rite Of The Shrouded Moon is everything a sequel ideally ought to be. It holds on to the elements that made the first game so enjoyable to play, refines them just a little, and then builds an almost-impossibly intricate web around them. The first Spider is often held up by fans as one of the first games to make them realize what iPhone gaming was all about. The second Spider has some great ideas about what iOS gaming could be. It’s fleshed out in ways few games can afford to be, offering a remarkably chunky slice of gaming goodness that should blow away just about any fan of the original game.
You’re once again set in the role of a hungry little spider, but this time instead of merely wandering around a single manor, you’ll have a massive mansion and its connected grounds and other structures to explore. The core mechanics are the same as before. Create shapes using your limited strands of web to trap insects and eat them. There are considerably more types of insects in this game when compared to the last, and you’ll have to use some new tricks if you want to get the best of them. Some larger insects can only be captured in a huge web. Certain others will try to attack you, forcing you to dodge and counter when they’re vulnerable. There are a couple of jerks who will go around cutting your webs, and some that you have to sneak up on before you pounce. Eat enough insects and a portal will open that finishes the level and opens up the next stage.
The stages are grouped by location, and each location features a mystery to solve. Until you figure it out, the next set of stages will remain locked. This is one of the bigger changes in the second Spider, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. While I think it’s good to push the player to suss out the secrets rather than ignore them, it can be a little bit frustrating if you happen to get stuck on one and can’t proceed. Solving each location’s mystery can be pretty tough until you’ve gathered all the clues, which are scattered throughout the stages. Even with the clues in hand, you’ll have to do a little bit of thinking to figure things out. There’s one more element that throws a little spanner in the works, too.
Spider: Rite Of The Shrouded Moon uses your location to check a few things. Specifically, it wants to know whether it’s day or night, and whether it’s raining or not. It also keeps track of the phase of the moon. The insects inhabiting each level change according to these factors, and certain clues and entire mysteries can only be solved at certain times, in certain weather, and in specific moon phases. As cool as that feature is, it probably raises questions. Let me try to preemptively answer a few of them. First, you need not be connected to the internet to play. From my testing, the weather didn’t change if you went into airplane mode, but you could still play and at least get your time of day and moon phases. You might also be wondering what you can do if you need a rainy day to solve a puzzle but you’re living in California or something. Luckily, the developers anticipated this. They’ve included a time machine and a weather machine that you can use once during every lunar phase, which adds up to about eight times per month.
This means you have lots of reasons to go back to each stage, since you’ll find new things under each set of conditions. You’ll need to comb through with great care, as the levels are considerably bigger this time around. Unlike the first game where the entirety of a level took place on a single board, in Shrouded Moon‘s levels you’ll come across arrows that take you to new areas or new points of view. There are also switches hidden around, as in the first game, that you’ll need to trip to open up new boards in some cases. The vastness of some of the levels is a sight to behold, especially as you start to piece together the relative positions of each of the boards to one another. It can make the hunt for clues a bit daunting, however. You’ll need to cover a lot of ground very carefully, and that’s setting aside the matter of staying alive.
There was very little risk of dying in the first Spider, but things have changed a bit this time around. There are more aggressive insects that will take a bite out of your silk count, lots of bugs that will break your precious webs, and even some hazards that will take you ever closer to starvation each time you trip them. While it may seem at odds with the exploratory nature of the game, I actually kind of like that you have to mind that side of the shop more than before. It helps to keep you on your toes and spices up some of your repeat trips to stages. You will learn to hate the scorpion fly, I can tell you that much. That dude is always messing up your plans. Of course, if you’re just clue-hunting and puzzle-solving, you’re more than welcome to just skip through the level looking for things, then filling the minimum quota for the portal to appear to finish things off. I’d actually recommend it on your first trip through the game, since killing and eating everything is more for points than anything else. Sure, it’s cool to rank high on the leaderboards, but it’s probably more fun to get everything unlocked first.
The cost of this more direct binding of puzzle-solving to the core gameplay is that it doesn’t quite feel as strangely natural as the first game did. There were only one or two points in the original Spider where solving the puzzles felt like the deliberate hand of a human was guiding the spider. In the sequel, the spider is doing a lot of things that are pretty out of the ordinary for a spider, but expected from a human playing an adventure game. It’s a bit of a loss, but the stronger game it results in more than makes up for it in my books. And it still looks pretty cool when you hop through a portal and get a panned-out view showing all of your webs draping the various objects in the stage.
Aside from the more expanded gameplay, the other major improvements come in the presentation. Spider wasn’t a bad looking game for 2009 by any means, but the look of the webs in particular lack a certain something in 2015. In Shrouded Moon, the webs look utterly fantastic. They bounce and move the way webs should, and unusual shapes look a lot more realistic than they did in the last game. The weather and lighting effects are also quite striking. The rain looks great, lightning illuminates things with a wonderful flash, and even on clear nights the soft light of candles and other light sources contributes greatly to the game’s mysterious atmosphere. The game also plays with camera angles and zoom a lot more than the first game did, something that has the unfortunate side effect of occasionally making certain graphical assets look pretty bad compared to others. On the audio side of things, I don’t feel like the original Spider needed much improvement, so I’m happy to say that Shrouded Moon holds the line well in terms of sound effects and quirky music alike.
The gameplay mechanics have probably seen the least amount of change. The controls work similarly to the first game’s, albeit a bit less quirky. You can do a little bit more maneuvering in mid-air if you time things just right, but for the most part you’ll be tapping and swiping to get around the same way you did in the original. The controls work a little differently in the new overhead segments. You have full 360 degree movement in these sections, simply by dragging your finger around on the screen. Your jump, which is more of an attacking tackle, is performed with a quick swipe. While the overhead bits are missing a lot of the web-slinging charm of the side-view boards, they’re used infrequently enough that they end up providing a little variety here and there while you’re working your way through the game. They’re also very good for providing a dramatic viewpoint of certain scenes, like the mausoleum contained within the property.
Catching and eating bugs is still a heck of a lot of fun, too. Even more so with the greater variety of prey. The game keeps track of all of the bugs you’ve successfully eaten so far, and trying to catch them all makes for a fun side goal. Learning their behaviors and quirks is satisfying, and figuring out when and where certain special ones will appear can be pretty interesting, too. Insects aren’t the only things you’ll be adding to your collection, either. Each time you solve one of the game’s main mysteries, you’ll also unlock a new playable spider. You can switch between stages whenever you like. From all appearances, they play identically, only differing cosmetically, but it’s still a cool feature. You can also look forward to a large list of achievements, some of which have very interesting conditions that ask you to play outside of what your regular style might allow for. Those are the best kinds of achievements, in my opinion.
In short, what Tiger Style has done with the sequel to Spider is essentially a best-case scenario. The excellent features of the first game are preserved here, particularly the core mechanics that made that game stand out. That mechanic has been used as a jumping off point to create a considerably more complex gaming experience, with more satisfying and well-integrated puzzle gameplay, higher challenge, and levels of a far greater size than those in the first. While you’re working with the same bag of tricks, the game asks you to use them in new, interesting ways. They’ve also made major presentation improvements, an effort that enhances the odd atmosphere greatly. Rite Of The Shrouded Moon makes use of rarely-seen features of the platform to add to the gameplay experience, and it also includes a variety of optional side content to explore if you want a break. It’s a better game, a cooler experience, and a must-buy for action-adventure aficionados and aspiring arachnids alike.