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Game Review: Webbed finds effortless joy in its movement and playfulness

From Queensland-based studio Sbug Games, Webbed is delightfully playful in both its design ethos and core mechanics.
A spider and a bower bird in Webbed

There’s a reason a modest scope with a razor-sharp focus on fundamentals is often a winning combination in game design. If the basic ideas underpinning a game also happen to be the most pleasurable aspect, then every slight variation, every moment of experimentation, stands to feel that much sweeter. Webbed is chock full of unique moments and joyful asides, but it’s the game’s success at the ground level of platforming and movement that makes it one of the best 2D platformers in recent memory.

Webbed casts you as a jumping spider whose only problem in life is that her gloriously colourful mate has just been kidnapped by a frankly terrifying bowerbird. With no chance of rescuing him on your lonesome, you’ll need to bring together the insect kingdoms of your forest home for a single shot rescue mission straight into the heart of the bowerbird’s domain.

Of course, being a spider means getting around on webs, and the fact that Webbed nails its mobility systems is immediately obvious. Playing on PC, a left-click casts a web out which will immediately zip your spider to that location, while right-clicking allows you to sling a web between two points, establishing a tightrope that can easily be added upon, allowing you to create a latticework of web. These two simple tools are all the game gives you, and the fact that they’re all you need says a lot about Webbed’s efficient, smart design.

Swinging in Webbed

The finely-tuned language of swinging – the feeling of momentum and judging the arc of a freefall becomes second nature basically immediately. The open, welcoming spaces of Webbed’s early moments quickly become an excuse to simply experience the joy of movement and momentum in the game. 

Whipping yourself across an expanse or up walls becomes a pleasure that the game rarely punishes and never stops encouraging. It’s a disposition that continues right up until Webbed’s final moments, in the game’s honestly spectacular final encounter.

Outside of mobility, you also use your web-slinging to manipulate objects around you and solve puzzles. Webbed doesn’t really give you a crash course here, so figuring out how to replace a piece of missing pipe, or add a missing cog to a little machine can be both extremely satisfying, and somewhat perplexing as you wonder if your solutions to certain problems were the ones Webbed had in mind. Nevertheless, a solved puzzle is a solved puzzle, and figuring out all the different uses for the tools the game gives you is more often than not a satisfying experience.

Solving a puzzle in Webbed

From the semi-industrial depths of a local ant colony to the pollinated forests home to a nearby beehive, the environments of Webbed are vibrant; colours popping and mixing together in beautiful arrays. Not everything is trying to grab your attention artistically; a leaf is mostly green and an ant is mostly brown, but that just lets sights like the rich purples and silken whites of flowers and the glittering, multicoloured crown of your male spider counterpart just all the more striking when you come across them.

It’s the creatures that populate those spaces, and your own little spider, that are the real draw. Rather than static, hand-animated sprites, all the creatures in Webbed are procedurally animated, meaning they sway and wobble in the breeze, their multitude of feet naturally responding to differences in surface and other outside influences. It’s possible that this preference towards procedural animation is the key to what makes Webbed feel so smooth to play, as your spider’s responsiveness to the surfaces around them brings them to life in a way that even the most detailed animations may not.

There’s just an effortless joy here; an emotional basis which is obviously freeing for the game and means that ‘practical’ questions that might crop up about the game’s design are easily answered. How do we let the player delete webs they’ve spun with ease? Just give ‘em laser eyes (a reference to the game’s origin as a Just Cause 2 demake)! What is the spider’s quest? Their boyfriend was kidnapped! What kind of sound should skittering along a web make? Why, like you’re going for a walk on a pentatonic scale, of course!

Sbug Games have also included an arachnophobia setting here, which turns you and other spiders into friendly little balls, which is a thoughtful and appreciated addition.

So dedicated is Webbed to just vibing out and having a good time that they’ve dedicated a button to just making your spider dance at any given moment, twirling its little legs in the air to some silent arachnid rhythm. Nearby bugs will join in too, either bopping along or mirroring your dance themselves. Again, there’s barely ever a real reason to do this (aside from one sequence) but the ability to boogie with your insectoid pals at a moments notice is probably the best distillation of Webbed’s whole ethos.

At essentially every opportunity throughout my roughly four-hour playthrough of the game, Webbed chose joy, whilst never sacrificing sharp puzzle design nor the fundamentals of platforming and web-swinging that make it a pleasure to play. Fold into that a pleasantly achievable list of collectables and a playful score from Stijn van Wakeren and Lucas Suarez, and Webbed manages to completely stick the landing.

4 Stars: ★★★★

WEBBED
Platforms: PC
Developer: Sbug Games
Publisher: Sbug Games
Release Date: 9 September 2021

A copy of Webbed was provided for the purposes of this review. 

Nicholas Kennedy is a Melbourne/Naarm based writer and journalist. He has appeared in The Big Issue, Rolling Stone, and STACK Magazine. Follow him at @nickkennedy.

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