Spider-Man 2 is swinging through on its 8th platform, this time it is the Playstation Portable.  Given that the movie came out in June of last year, and the DVD version has already made its way to homes across the world, the storyline is a mystery to absolutely no one.  What will be a surprise is that this version is all new and fully 3D.  Spider sense tingling yet? 


The other two versions of Spider-Man 2 for handhelds were released on the NGage and the Nintendo DS.  While both versions were very well done, they don’t hold a candle to the PSP version.  The levels in Spider-Man 2 very closely resemble the look of the console versions of last year and just as you might expect, you can travel around in the 3D plane.  Your first mission will have you battling on a rooftop, web-swinging through the city, and taking down a helicopter.  In those first few moments you’ll notice that Spider-Man is rendered to an incredible level of detail.  Unfortunately you’ll also notice how much less detailed the common thugs are.  This was the case in the console versions as well, so I suppose I didn’t expect to see it change here. 

As you progress through the game you are treated to a mix of in-game movies that are presented in a fly-by cinematic fashion and some well done pre-rendered CGI.  The fly-by variety of cinematic usually shows you the extent of your mission area and the CGI usually gives you some background on the characters in the movie or shows some portion of the movie re-rendered to a very impressive detail level.

The inside levels are a bit more constrained so Vicarious Visions was given a bit more freedom to populate the area with debris and smashables.  In one area you have to put out a warehouse fire and there are barrels of explosive whatnot and fire that casts off flaming bits of debris.  The area of the floor that is covered in fire has an almost liquid look to it – it is a very cool effect.  It really does describe the rest of the game, some better-than usual graphics punctuated by some very cool effects.

One of the areas where Spider-Man 2 shines bright is the use of in-game voice actors and an excellent score.  Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, Kirsten Dunst, return to voice their parts and JK Simmons joins the cast as J. Jonah Jameson.  Surprisingly absent is Bruce Campbell, although the voice actor that is trying to imitate him isn’t too bad.

The sound effects in Spider-Man 2 are fairly well done with the zip of Spider-Man’s web lines rendered almost like the movie.  Fire effects are also well done with popping and crackling as you might expect.  Additionally, the music tracks are movie-quality cinematic tracks.  The unfortunate problem is that their high quality makes you notice how short of a loop they are on and makes it very obvious when they repeat.  Thankfully you can simply turn the music down and make it more of a background track, but I expected more given the amount of space they have to use on these 1.8GB UMDs.

The controls in Spider-Man 2 are a mixed bag.  You control Spider-Man with the analog stick and use the face buttons for combat and jumping.  The right shoulder button is used for webslinging and holding the left and right shoulder will allow you to do a ‘zip-line’ like you could in the console versions.  The combinations are performed in true adventure game fashion with combos like square, square, circle.  Additionally you have a few mid-air moves that you can do to yank a thug off his feet or toss his gun away.  These moves change slightly if you are in the air, on the ground, climbing something, or swinging, but overall the formula works.

The D-Pad in Spider-Man 2 controls the camera swing.  If you look at your PSP you’ll notice that it is a reach to hit the D-Pad from the analog controls.  This means you have to stop controlling your character and move the camera around.  This problem is punctuated by the pregnant-slow camera movement.  Thankfully, the camera is fairly well behaved and you don’t have to adjust it very often as it is just not feasible to try to move and adjust the camera at the same time.  During boss fights this can mean the difference between winning and getting to try that level several times to complete it.

Unlike other PSP ports (T.H.U.G. 2 Remix to name one), this game does not run with the same gameplay as its console counterpart.  Vicarious Visions has instead blended portions of all of the other versions into something new.  This game has the 3D action of the console versions but without the free-roaming, the boss battle style of the Nintendo DS version, and some aspects of the original Spider-Man that maybe should have been left behind. 

The problems with handhelds is that they simply cannot handle the amount of data or the power consumption required to make a truly immersive world like the one present in the console version of Spider-Man 2 from last year.  This means that your web-slinging is limited in scope, and like the first title, you cannot touch the ground.  To counter that, you do get some new bosses to tangle with including Mysterio and Vulture as well as a far superior combat engine than the DS version.  Also new in this version is a level of interactivity absent in the previous versions.  For instance, you are occasionally given simple objectives such as stopping a police car from falling off a bridge or webbing pipes to hold them together to put out a fire. If you are not sure where to go, the ever-present arrow will point you in the right direction.  If you are still stuck, you can usually press select for a short bit of information from the narrator to steer you in the right direction. The objectives give a welcome break from simply beating up random thugs. 

The combat has had a bit of tuning for the PSP version.  You can still tie up thugs with your webs and they will hop around like they should.  Additionally you can now punch and kick and rack up combinations using separate buttons instead of just mashing the same one over and over.  This allows you to mix and match your attacks and be rewarded combo points that you can then spend on power-ups such as added strength or web capacity.  The combinations themselves are simple but unless you run through the extensive tutorial you’ll probably find a 3-4 combo move that works for you and stick with it for the majority of the game.

Overall, the game feels like most portable games do – something you play for 10 to 15 minutes while you are in the bathroom or sitting in a car for a short trip.  The length of the game doesn’t lend itself to a long gaming session as you can easily beat it in a few hours.  Its fun while it lasts, I only wish it lasted longer.

Spider-Man 2 for the console raised the bar allowing you a level of freedom not often seen in an adventure game.  Losing that freedom is a bit of a blow to the gameplay, but the addition of new elements help to sustain the fun.  The problem is that the game just isn’t very long.  As I said before, it seems to be aimed at the very casual gamer without a lot of time.

There are tokens, a CGI movie gallery, upgrades, hidden items, a rogues gallery, tips and tidbits about the movie, multiple difficulty levels, and hidden paths through your objectives to help prolong the gameplay.  The question will be whether or not you can sustain your interest through the long load times and simplistic puzzles to warrant the second or third run-through to unlock the extras.

Spider-Man 2 is a great game for a casual gamer.  The gameplay is simple enough to be easy to play without degrading into a button masher, yet complex enough to have an adventure feel to it.  While the game is short, it is also fun while it lasts.  The CGI alone is well worth a run through of the game and the voice acting is top-notch thanks to the voice work of the original actors.  While there are games that are more technically far-reaching than Spider-Man 2, this is a great launch title that is worthy of your attention.