Reviewed: October 4, 2007
Released: October 2, 2007
While I will not profess to be the biggest fan of the Spider-Man franchise outside of the world of gaming, when it comes to having a controller in hand Spidey has few equals. Spider-Man’s awesome agility and web-casting skills have made for some of the most visceral gaming experiences to be had with a guy in tights, and the franchise’s trademark humor never lets Spidey get too big for his britches.
Spider-Man’s success in the gaming world definitely owes a lot to Activision, who along with Neversoft (and its Tony Hawk gaming engine) took over the license, and released the first 32bit Spider-Man game to critical acclaim in 2000. Since then, the development may have bounced around a bit (Treyarch, Vicarious Visions, etc.) but the core 3D gameplay has remained intact.
If there has been one big complaint with the Spider-Man series, especially since the release of the films, it has been that the developers were trying too hard to fit in to the open-ended sandbox style gameplay wave. As a result, the games began to stray away from the brawler roots and became bloated with unnecessary side missions and repetitive distress sequences.
With Spider-Man Friend or Foe , Activision teamed itself up with veteran Wii developer Next Level Games (Mario Strikers Charged) for an completely original Spider-Man title, which through a curious coarse of events finds Spidey teaming up with some very unlikely characters, and battling to save the world from ultimate destruction.
Spider-Man Friend or Foe avoids the open-ended gameplay altogether, returning the series to its early Activision brawler roots. The results are generally good, and long time fans of the series will definitely enjoy the trip down memory lane. But newer fans might feel a bit constricted by the linear design and the lack of the high-flying action the series has become famous for.
Spider-Man Friend or Foe follows a slightly convoluted storyline in which a meteor enters the earth’s atmosphere, and shatters into fragments that land in different areas of the globe in and around the Europe, Asia and Africa. These meteor shards house absolute power, and uber-villain Mysterio has set a plan to employ other villains to collect the shards using mind-controlling medallions.
The villains range the entire history of Spider-Man games, including such figures as Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Venom, Sandman and Rhino as well as the lesser-known cast of Silver Sable, Ironfist, Prowler, Black Cat, Lizard, and even a few others to boot. Through the course of the game, Spider-Man will defeat each of the villains and free them of their mind controlling devices. Once freed, the villains will join forces with Spidey on a quest to put and end to Mysterio’s maniacal plan.
The game is a brawler through and through; with incredibly linear room-based design, each level is broken up in a progressive series of locked areas in which a handful of various (but incredibly similar) symbiote phantoms. The combat is a mix of straight-on punch, kick and grapple fighting, with the twist being that each character’s grapple moves are tied to his or her special abilities. The most obvious example would be Spidey himself, whose grapple moves are all based on the ability to sling webs, or Doc Ock who can lash out with his robotic arms.
The Wii specific controls come into play during these special moves, where a flick of the wrist up, down, right, or left, at the moment of slinging the web will decide which special move will be performed. I would like to emphasize that this must be done at the exact moment the web is slung and no later, as the move will not register – I myself had a frustrating period where I could not seem to get it timed correctly, and all of the ability upgrading seemed to be going to waste.
Upgrading? Yes, the gamer can power up any of the characters’ special abilities using the tons of orbs collected throughout each level. These upgrades will add power and scale to existing special moves, like adding explosive destruction to downed enemies so they damage other nearby enemies in the process.
While it would be really cool to have the party-style gameplay of the X-Men games, Spider-Man Friend or Foe sticks to a perfectly solid co-op romp, in which each level has two characters which can be played with a friend or the computer AI. The second character can be selected from any of the previously defeated villains, and for once in a game the AI is actually incredibly helpful – probably more so than a friend, even, as the computer does a great job mixing in special abilities and an incredible series of team-based super moves.
Graphically, Spider-Man Friend or Foe is a bit lacking in overall detail, but fits well with the cell-shaded look of the animated series. The foreground gameplay areas are all fairly basic; bordered “rooms” with boxes, barrels and other debris strewn about. The backgrounds are very fitting to their locations; Tokyo has loads of cool neon lights, the jungle is awash with foliage, and the desert levels feature cool Egyptian backdrops.
The game supports 480p widescreen and looks sharp and crisp around the edges. The colors are impressive, and the lack of texturing can be attributed to the cartoon stylings. The framerate does begin to chug whenever the visuals are taxed with too many onscreen objects, but it doesn’t seem to affect the overall button mashing brawler action all that much.
The sound quality of Spider-Man Friend or Foe is absolutely fabulous; with top-notch voice acting and an excellent original soundtrack that together more than make up for the ho-hum sound effects.
The voice acting might not feature any of the big-name voices one would expect from a game, but damn if these actors don’t do an incredible job of sounding authentic and genuine, and everything from the intensity to the humor is delivered superbly.
The soundtrack is made up of location-specific tracks that mirror the culture in which they occur; the Transylvanian level features gothic pipe organs, the jungle level features drum heavy beats. All of the music is interactive with the action onscreen, and will build into a furious fervor when the action gets really intense.
The sound effects don’t fare so well, coming across as a bit generic and overused. None of the effects are particularly bad, just not much to write home about.
The main problem Spider-Man Friend or Foe has to face, is the fact that it gets to feeling a bit repetitious much too quickly. With only a few heavily repeated enemy character designs in each level, and essentially similar level layouts throughout the game, the sense of déjà vu kicks in after only a few levels.
Still, the Boss battles are cool enough to keep most gamers interested at pressing on through the main story, but with the Wii not having any form of Achievement Points like the Xbox 360 (and soon the PS3), there is little reason to dig much deeper than the core mode.
The gameplay is not overly hard, and can be easily enjoyed by the entire family. The two-player co-op is a definite bonus, but does require the investment of a second Wii remote and nunchuk.
Spider-Man Friend or Foe does a fantastic job bringing back the enjoyment of the pre-film tie-in Activision Spider-Man titles. The storyline is great, the presentation is top-notch, and other than a bit of repetition, the game is a fun romp for the whole family.