Last month, indie developer Benny Heller released Arachnowopunk, a single-button, infinite-runner metroidvania. It’s a concept that doesn’t sound like it should work—the defining features of the genre are a variety of different abilities that improve your ability to explore, and the freedom of movement to actually do that exploring. How could a game with an auto-running hero and only a single button achieve the labyrinthine exploration that makes this genre what it is?
But Arachnowopunk proves it can work. With an adorable spider hero who can climb walls, “always moving forward” doesn’t just mean running left to right and jumping over obstacles. Bring walls and ceilings into the mix, and “forward” can mean four different directions for this little arachnid. Add in the ability to jump from one surface to another parallel one (so long as they’re close enough together), and you’ve got the tools for some riveting puzzle-based exploration.
Upgrades are as crucial in Arachnowopunk as in any other exploration platformer, but instead of giving you whole new actions that might require extra buttons, they just work within the existing control scheme. Once you have the “smashyboots”, you can break through previously-impassable cracked walls simply by jumping off them. With the “pushyboots” to hand (or, rather, to foot), you can push certain blocks around to create new pathways.
I’ve only played a little bit of Arachnowopunk so far—I’ve found three upgrade boots, out of eight total—but I’m fascinated by how well it delivers on what I love about Metroid and its ilk. It’s a more puzzle-oriented approach, less about precision platforming and more about figuring out how to get a spider who can’t turn around to where you’re trying to go.
It’s also less combat-focused than most metroidvanias. There are plenty of hazards for the spider to avoid, but they’re not things you deal with by fighting and defeating them. They’re there to be avoided, and to add extra layers to the puzzle that is navigating the mansion you’re trying to escape.
Arachnowopunk can often be difficult, in that head-scratching puzzle game sort of way. But the sense of exploration and the excitement of getting a new upgrade and seeing how it recontextualises bits of the map you’ve crossed dozens of times before is as captivating as ever.
The one-button setup means Arachnowopunk is a natural fit for mobile, which seems to be Heller’s goal. There are plenty of metroidvanias on Android and iOS (including Symphony of the Night, one of the all-time greats), but none have really been able to figure out what to do about the control scheme. On-screen gamepads still tend to lack the precision needed for a typical platformer, hence the proliferation of auto-runners in the first place, but simple touchscreen controls don’t work for your regular metroidvania. But Arachnowopunk is anything but typical; it’s an innovative approach to the genre that finds a way to make simple touch inputs work.
Arachnowopunk is available now for Android and PC (via itch.io), for just USD $0.99 (which seems a steal, really). It’s a genius concept, and from what I’ve seen so far, it delivers on that beautifully. “One-button, infinite-runner metroidvania” doesn’t sound like something that should work, but Arachnowopunk proves that it can.