SpiderHeck review

On first glance, SpiderHeck was seemingly designed by throwing darts at a board. It’s an arena battler starring spiders with laser swords and other sci-fi weaponry – how else could such a thing be conceived? Play it for just a few minutes though, and it becomes apparent that the premise is more logical than it first lets on.

Clever design choices are in abundance, including putting spiders on the centre stage. Like their real-life counterparts, they’re able to get around quickly, running up walls and along ceilings, and swinging from webs to reach new heights. This makes for a fast-paced experienced, with numerous means of escaping danger. As for the inclusion of laser swords…well, when isn’t a laser sword the perfect video game weapon? They’re accompanied by plasma rifles, grenades, searing lasers, electric batons and more. All of these have varying impacts, including a kickback that takes time to adjust to.  

Even the main menu is thoughtfully designed – it’s an interactive hub (with a secret – shh!) and so by the time you’ve swung and leapt your way to the portals that lead to the various game modes, you’ve already mastered the controls and become acquainted with the physics. Characters can also be customised in the hub, with more hats and silly faces unlocking upon earning achievements.

At its core, it’s a side-scrolling arena battler designed for fast-paced multiplayer battles. After entering an online lobby or choosing to play locally, it’s then a case of swinging around various stages while grabbing weapons and carefully aiming shots – laser swords, meanwhile, can defect some incoming fire. The right analogue stick is used to aim rifles and swing swords, often calling for precision. A comparison with Nidhogg isn’t entirely off the mark. Weapons can also be thrown, adding to the chaos. And just to additionally add to the sense of urgency, firearms carry just three shots, while swords shrink after clashing – meaning it’s essential to stay one step ahead.  

The physics engine, coupled with the wide range of arsenal, makes for matches nothing short of wild. We’re talking about daring 360-degree swings over lava, plucking weapons out of the air the second they appear, and setting off chain reactions via well-timed grenade throws. Arena design further facilitates the possibility for messy battles, with one stage resembling a pachinko table – with tumbling obstacles – and another being set on a spinning Ferris wheel.

There’s more here for the single-player gamer than you may expect too. Two dedicated modes, no less. Survival is wave based – three lives, three waves per stage, and randomised perks (from a choice of three) to help even the odds. Then there’s The Tiers of Heck – the real meat of the game – which provides an assortment of challenges that use modifiers. One life is all that’s given, meaning it isn’t uncommon to retry each several times. Matches here vary from grenade only, to single-shot rifles. You aren’t up against rival spiders in these modes either – enemies include flying insects, spinning glowing wheels, and shielded drones.

It’s presented in a similar fashion to Atari’s recent ‘Recharged’ revamps – neon colours, faux vector-style visuals, and a smattering of modern particle effects. Music is upbeat and modern also, complementing the visual style well. If this was an ‘80s Atari arcade game, it would have brought in the quarters. Or 20p pieces, if you grew up here in Blighty.

As an Xbox Game Pass release, SpiderHeck is well worth adding to your download queue. Easy to pick-up yet subtly nuanced, it makes good on its promise of chaotic battles fuelled by daring and acrobatic feats. The two single-player modes are suitably different from one another too, with The Tiers of Heck being surprisingly time-consuming – if a little unforgiving. Sorry, arachnophobia sufferers – SpiderHeck puts on a heck of a light show.

Developed by Neverjam and published by tinyBuild, SpiderHeck is out 22nd September on Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC and Switch.


Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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