Reviewed: October 3, 2007
Released: October 2, 2007
What’s this? A new Spider-Man videogame and no major film tie-in! That’s right, everybody’s favorite web-slinger is back, this time in an entirely original story inspired by the events of the last film with a presentation that borrows heavily on the look and flavor of the animated series and comics.
Spider-Man: Friend for Foe swings into town today in his latest adventure, and while the action gets started in New York, before this game is over Spidey will have seen more of the world than a piece of lost luggage. And borrowing on the ancient Arab proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Spidey will be teaming up with the unlikeliest of sidekicks in his quest for more of those meteor fragments that gave birth to Venom.
It seems somebody has snatched up all the super villains and attached a strange medallion to them, not only making them far more aggressive, but also quite forgetful about how they got stuck in exotic places all over the world. They, along with a small army of holographic soldiers are searching for the missing meteor fragments, so Spidey teams up with Nick Fury, head of SHIELD, and with the help of a sassy computer, a flying fortress, and a growing gallery of former foes turned temporary friends, Spidey must travel the world, recover the meteor rocks, and defeat the mastermind behind this nefarious scheme.
Friend or Foe is an unapologetic brawler that works well when played alone and gets even better when played with a friend via the drop-in/drop-out wireless connectivity of the NDS. I won’t lie, the gameplay is mindless for the most part, and while there are some pretty cool combos you can master, you can just as easily get by with mashing on the buttons. By the second chapter the combat mechanics will have become second nature and you can engage in idle conversations and not even really have to think about what you are doing.
Now a lot of you might think this is bad game design…not so. First, this game is designed for younger gamers in the 10-teen range, and for that audience, this is pure pick-up-and-play magic. Even if you are all thumbs (or no thumbs) you’ll feel like a superhero as you pull off these incredibly dynamic and animated moves with only two or three button taps. Older gamers will likely tire with the combat, but the sense of exploration and discovery will keep you pounding away at those evil holograms.
The designers made some clever use of the touchscreen, but unlike other Spidey games on the DS where you swirled your stylus to execute attacks, in Friend or Foe you use the stylus to pick locks by tweaking individual tumblers or dialing in the combination on a safe. It's pretty clever stuff that sets this game just slightly apart in style from the other versions. In fact, the DS version of Friend or Foe is probably the most varied of all the available formats, Wii not withstanding.
The one thing that impressed me most was how well the computer controls the second player when you are stuck playing alone. Not only does the computer get very involved in the combat, it will frequently grab and hold the larger enemies so I can pummel them. If you get too far ahead or above your partner they will just warp to your side, meaning they don’t get stuck or left behind…at least not for long. And when it comes time to push those synchronized buttons to open doors, they know exactly where to go and what to do. The AI is brilliant.
One thing that puzzled me was that everytime I entered and area then exited back out all of the pick-ups had respawned. This made it just a bit confusing on where I had been and where I needed to go since the coins were always reappearing. At least when you get close to your objective the ring around your feet will show an arrow pointing where to go.
The cast of sidekicks has been trimmed down significantly, but there is now a Free Play mode where you can take out Black Cat, Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Blade, Sandman, or Venom and play outside the story. You can also find a challenging Boss Battle mode as well as Survival Mode and a modest collection of mini-games that focus on the touchscreen hacking and lockpicking elements from the main game.
The graphics in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe are right on par with other Spidey games on the DS with one slick new feature that really stood out, both visually and in gameplay. The top screen tends to focus on rooftop action and wall-crawling while the bottom screen is reserved for ground level action. What this means is that you can quite literally climb into the top screen or jump into the lower one. The designers even use both screens for long perspective shots, like looking down a long street. There are a few instances where it can get confusing since your characters appear on both screens in different angles, but overall, this dynamic dual-screen viewing system really makes these levels appear to be as large as their designs.
While they tried to capture the look and feel from the console levels, textures and models are obviously much more simplistic. Textures are no more than flat-shade polygons for the most part, at least for interiors, but they do a nice job with the details, like the giant dinosaur skeleton in the museum. The character designs, while a bit too small for my taste, show off a great level of detail and attention to fluid animation.
With the exception of the main villains, the enemy design is a bit weak. There are several varieties of enemy holograms but at this small scale they all blend together and after you have killed them all a few hundred times you simply don’t care what you are looking at. There isn't much in the way of special effects other than some bluring and a few instances of colorful lighting. Kudos to bringing over the opening movie from the console and making it look great on the NDS.
Friend or Foe has a modest soundtrack and just enough sound effects to keep you involved with the gameplay. Expect a lot of combat noises for punches and kicks as well as the wet squishy sound of webs getting flung around. Boxes break, furniture splinters, and jars and urns shatter with destructive effects.
Even more surprising was that there was a great deal of voice work included on the DS version including your briefing from Fury as well as the occasional banter between characters.
Friend or Foe will take anywhere from 5-8 hours to beat the story mode. In addition to the cooperative campaign mode there is also a modest selection of minigames and a few alternative game modes that may prolong the life of this title. Interestingly enough, you must purchase these additional modes and minigames using the coins you collect within the story mode.
I loved Spider-Man: Friend or Foe on the console and the DS version offers a fun and challenging smaller scale version of that same game with some clever touchscreen puzzle elements thrown into the mix. I think my favorite part of the entire presentation was the unique approach to using the twin screens to cover the high and low grounds of these massive levels. It really gave the game an added sense of scale and verticality.
I had a great time with this version of Friend or Foe, and even though the combat did get repetitive, the action was so fluid and intense that it never bothered me. Plus, with a fun mix of puzzles and exploration, this is definitely a Spider-Man for all ages.