Review: Spiral: Episode One01 Jul 2013 0
Sometimes, when the rain pours and the sky darkens and the winds... blow, I guess, a body's liable to get introspective. For some, such a soul-searching humour might bring with it a night full of rum and existentialist literature. For others, it might be more like, "Wow, Oni was a hell of a fighter," and "You know, friggin' every game should look like Timesplitters. Why am I always so right about things?!" (Also, it might be more like off-label vodka mixed with Flavor-Aid.)
Point being, Spiral: Episode One, from Pixel Hero Games, is the perfect game for both those hypothetical evenings. It's a sci-fi actiony RPG that does a sort of spectacle fighter thing with touch controls and gosh it's just all so interesting.
Few games could do better at quelling a player's doubts with a tutorial than Spiral. Rattle off the most stereotypical faults of truly bad portable games and "offensive visuals" paired with "unresponsive controls" would likely top the list. Spiral, already kind of showing off and loving it, opens with a bee-yoo-tee-full cyberpunk dreamscape (think Marvel's Asgard, only more monochromatic) that, on top of getting across that this is going to be one of those "pretty" affairs, does a nice job of introducing the game's control scheme.
Tap somewhere. Now you're ambling on over. Double-tap, you're moving twice as fast. Tap and hold and you're changing course as you swipe left and right. It's so simple it almost makes you forget that this kind of shit just hasn't been done this well all that often. Admittedly it's not Mirror's Edge. But for moving your character (dude's name is Tempus, by the by) through the (largely linear) streets, warehouses, and train roofs of Spiral's Soleil (post-apocalypse cyber-bastion and cartoonish caricature of class stratification), it gets the job done.
Now, it's in the combat system where Spiral truly excels. As it should. Our hero (who, it's worth mentioning again, is named Tempus), can dish out damage at three ranges. From deep, he uses his glowing robot hand to generate a hard-light pistol, Green Lantern style, abd chips away at foes. Mid-range, it's a big-ass staff which excels at hitting multiple baddies at once. Face-to-face, and Tempus (sigh) cuts up fools with a pair of chunky swords. Blocking is automatic as long as you're not moving or attacking, and double tapping, in combat mode, executes a dash move more useful for dodging than the standard sprint.
It's proof of the surprising depth of this combat that, at the end of Spiral's opening segment (which is on top of a moving train like Mission: Impossible) I was actually blaming the controls for my being shit at the game. Let me explain: a trio of terrorists infected with some sort of transformative nanovirus (just... hold on a sec) were tap dancing all over my face, and I was whining about the controls being unresponsive (they weren't) and the fighting being overly simplistic (it's not) because I sucked. That's the essential fighting game moment, great because it's something the player eventually overcomes (especially true for Spiral, with its simple-yet-inoffensive RPG leveling that, if left alone to auto-allocate your points, will mete out new moves and better stats every few fights). Sometimes we all need just a little proof that we suck, a little.
It might seem like I'm going on and on about the combat, but, get this: you can do normal attacks in Spiral, sure, and you can do charge attacks that do more damage, and super-charge attacks with neat little canned animations perfect for one-shotting shielded enemies. Great, yeah? But you can also, on each basic attack, tap your enemy just a little bit longer, release at just the right moment, and do a slightly stronger attack with knockback. This. Feels. Excellent. Every time. One of those little touches that other titles miss, or neglect.
And the things those Other Games so often fail to neglect? The unnecessary, gimmicky, let's just say grappling hook-based puzzles which are as unchallenging and boring as they are unchallenging and boring? And the clunky, fail-on-sight stealth sections which, hey, if you think about it make no sense, because it's already been established that your character is a total ass-kicker who wouldn't lie down if some schmuck just sort of pointed at him and shouted? Those are here too. Rather exactly as I've lined out rhetorically above...
So Spiral isn't perfect. And while its story, a tale of government secrets and a city beset by a not-quite zombie plague, is certainly better than most, I still felt it vacillated somewhere between "Meh" and cleverness-by-half, in part due to uneven voice work and pacing. I'm not normally the guy who says this, but, dang, just let me fight stuff, game. It's what you're good at! And then the game's all "Heck, bro, that's why I have this arena mode tucked away in my metaphorical game-pants! It's got this neat twist where the more rounds you complete without using your gained experienced, the higher your XP multiplier is for the next turn! Naturally, it's one of those risk-reward things, because if you screw up you lose all the experience you wagered for a shot at a higher score."
And I'm all, "That's hella fresh ga-" no let's stop this.
Recap? Recap. Spiral: Episode One is an action-RPG semi-spectacle fighter with controls that work even though, if you're like me (i.e. kind of sucky sometimes) you'll probably be cursing them out at least once. These controls are employed well in engaging, dynamic fights, and less-well in depressingly average stealth and "puzzle" sections. Still, I look forward to seeing the next episode in this series (mostly with the hope that it can throw out some more mechanical twists, combat-wise) It's not Oni plus Timesplitters, but that's okay, because that's what powdered juice drink mixes and rotgut are for. Endorsement? Endorsement.
The game was played on the iPad 2 for this review.