Popular opinion seems to be that the Spider-Man franchise is a bit saturated. The third movie didn’t do so well, although the game was better received. So Spider-Man is at something of a crossroads. The movie and game was released only a handful months ago, but lest ye forget about your friendly neighborhood web-head Activision has a new take on his future. Rather than wait for Hollywood to come up with the inspiration to milk another wall-crawling picture they have turned to the animated series to draw upon. No pun intended.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (SMFF) has the aggressive lines of the modern cartoon series, the wonderful sense of humor is back, and all of the usual suspects are in play. However, this is not your average spaghetti-web-slinger-
shoot stick-em-up. Spidey has been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D to fight against an extra-terrestrial foe that uses alien technology in the form of a ghostly army. The army isn’t undead — even though they are called PHANTOMs –, but rather a gaseous/holographic bunch of soldiers that are dedicated to protecing the meteor shards that are the cause of all this unrest in the first place.
Sounds fun, eh? I thought so, and I fired up my PlayStation 2 to give it a spin.
The graphics are still sharp for this “previous-generation” platform. The characters are colorful and distinct with the style from the cartoon evident. Spidey’s eyes are large with bit of a twist at the edge, and the shiny-red-tights are clear and detailed. Thankfully, Spider-Man doesn’t have a mouth because a few of those are a little frightning. Sure you’d expect Venom to have the ghastly bite, but Doc Oc has a smile that would make Charles Manson wet himself. Not that it doesn’t work in the game, because it was a clear choice of style as opposed to a digital drawing goof. I’m just saying it is a little shocking at first.
All of the Friends and Foes are very well drawn with clean costumes and color schemes that stand out from the scenery. On the Wii, the scenery isn’t spectacular, but it is lush and easy to discern what things are. For example, in the first mission we start in Tokyo. The search for the shard takes place is a massive underground subway system/foundry that explains why the poeple live in 4×4 cubicles all their lives. The steel platforms and railing glisten against the fiery background as you work your way along taking out bad guys and cannisters that may contain power-ups (more of those later). The second stage takes you to a tropical island where the beach and palm-trees look inviting, but hide a sinister gaggle of creatures trying to destroy you and your partner.
Exactly why the enemies have to take on some cultural aspect in their composition is unclear. The tokyo stage’s medium PHANTOMs have a bit of Samurai mixed in, and the island version have a sort of voodoo theme for example. Frankly, it doesn’t matter, and it gives you something nice to look at. It is clear that the graphics engine power was maximized. The cut-scene cinematics are fair, and special-attack animations are highly detailed just like the comic books.
I also ran into a few of issues with glitching and enemies dissappearing into walls early on. In the lower levels this really should have been addressed.
The background music is your standard dramatic score complete with suspenseful drums and orchestra sound. It’s very low-key which is great for ambience and not overpowering the delightful humor between character interaction. The sound effects are nothing outstanding, but effective for singifying their purpose. I was startled the first time I smashed a barrel – which has a sound more like a shotgun going off– , but, for the most part, everything was obvious. The groans, wailing, and gnashing of teeth during fight scenes was entertaining and well done.
But where this game shines is the dialogue. The dry-wit of the original cartoon series has been reborn. This stands out as one of my favorites parts about this installment of the Spier-Man franchise. No better example of the genius of the writing is the computer. The interaction between S.H.I.E.L.D.’s self-aware AI system and Fury is hilarious. In game, there are a few quips after combos and exceptional damage is dealt, but sadly only a few. After the first couple levels I’d heard most of what spider-Man has to say, but there is variance in what the sidekick-de-jour has to say about those quips. Sit idle too long and the sidekick will start to give you an earfull about his or her mistreatment.The PS2 controllers are very simple to get used to with this game. The X-button jumps, the O-button slings web, and the ∆-button is used to swap characters. Once I got the hang of things the combinations were very easy to pull off. Mostly jumping around like a fool nd pressing buttons at close to random displayed vast new air-to-air combinations and even a few air-to-ground combo’s that made for nice damage bonuses. Once I got these in tune with my power-ups I was a walking maelstrom.
Because there’s no tie-in to a movie, you don’t have any preconceptions of what the game really is shy of what you’re reading here. The story isn’t the most inventive of plots, but the story itself is a lot of fun. I love the writing and clear objective system. Furthermore, the sidekick system allows for nearly endless combinations and permutations. With a shake of the nunchuk, you swap characters and Spider-Man becomes your sidekick so you can play the game as anyone of the 16 characters you unlock along the way. You can clamber your way across the rooftops as Doc Oc, or blaze your way down the street as Scorpion with his tail-cannon.
Knowing when to change characters so you can accomplish a goal is entirely up to you. There are tokens to collect that you later use for the upgrades to your abilities and apparatus. This even offers a bit of customization in that you can load your web with a nano-virus that affects the robotic enemies. You can spend tokens on fluid that makes your web projectiles explosive. Since you can go back and do any level at any time, eventually you can have all the powerups for all the characters and smash through the game as a pair of nigh invulnerable tanks beset on defeating all foes and seeking all hidden objects. I cannot confirm nor deny that is totally cool.
While it is no tie in with SM3, you can be the dark-spidey (more aggressive and powerful) in the game.
As alluded to, the game has a beginning and an end, but since you can play the game as any of 16 characters, and each of those have several power-up options, one can play the single-player experience over and over. Even better than that is the two-player option. At any time, a friend can pick up the 2nd Wiimote & Nunchuk and tap in to become the sidekick. The two of you can fend off all the game can throw at you, or go head-to-head in one of several arenas. The arenas are unlocked in segments of certain levels, and once cleared of bad guys you can use them to hone your skills by practicing against a live counterpart.
These features will keep this title from gathering dust on your shelves as you can play a long long time before you’ve tried everything out.
I had a blast with this game, and more importantly my kids did too. Being able to jump into the game, and back out, without losing any progress or exit to the main menu makes this especially family friendly. You can never die, but falling off the map and being defeated means you lose tokens, or have to start over against a boss.
It’s a great story and very engaging for all ages.