We all know that Spider-Man: The Movie should really have been called Spider-Man: The Game of The Movie. But we're not going to argue semantics here. The important thing is the 2000 Activision game proved that it was actually possible to write a video game where you really felt like you were web-swinging.
It's generally agreed that Activision did a pretty good job on that PS1 game. Now, inspired by their success, boosted by the movie, and backed up by a whole new generation of console hardware... Activision is back with a vengeance.
Spider-Man: The Movie is available on GameCube, X-Box, PS2, and Home PC. Of course, there's a 2D version of GameBoy Advance, but let's not get too hung up on that!
This review is based on the X-Box version.
This game realises that there's a lot to being Spider-Man. Despite what the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles told us, it's not just a matter of scrolling from side to side to punch out Mysterio or Doc Ock. Swinging around downtown New York should have a completely different feel than skulking around the ceiling of an abandoned garage, and scaling the Vulture's tower should pose a different set of challenges than chasing the Shocker through the sewers and subways beneath the streets. Appropriately, although the perspective and controls are mostly consistent throughout, the unique challenges of each level give the game a constantly fresh feel right to the end. You may have to sneak through Kraven's funhouse, you may have to save Scorpion from Oscorp's attack bots, you might have to chase the Green Goblin through New York's highrises. Keep on your toes, tiger. You'll have to learn a heap of new tricks and use your head to make it past all the bad guys.
The highlight of the game is, of course, web-swinging. This is what every developmentally-stunted comic aficionado dreams of. Shooting your webline into the empty heavens (reminds me a lot of the old 60s cartoon series), swinging past the buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, kicking some flying nutjob as you pass. The gameplay is superb on these levels. The aerial combat is more involved and dynamic than anything else on this game, and there is a great balance between keeping Spidey constantly in motion and keeping him under control.
To help you master the intricacies of Spidey's many abilities (and there are a lot of controls to master), plenty of training levels give you a chance to hone your skills and have some fun without plunging into the storyline. Whether you want to practise your technique or just to beat your best time through the obstacle courses, the voice of none other than Bruce Campbell (no stranger to Spider-Man director Sam Raimi's projects) is there to help you along and to belittle you when you fail.
When you are ready to spider-jump into the story, there's lots of surprises waiting for you. To avoid the risk of revealing too much, I'm going to stay vague on this point, but rest assured that though the game is based on the movie, it does not limit itself to the movie's plot. Norman Osborn tries a number of tricks and tools against Spidey at various stages, giving the game a veneer of continuity, but other villains also feature throughout the nominal plot. If this bothers you a lot, you might want to start petitioning Activision for a Spider-Man RPG. Otherwise, sit back, enjoy the movie clips, and have fun fighting whatever baddies the game throws at you.
As you progress through the game at the different stages of difficulty, several bonus levels and special features will become available for you. Again, I'm not going to ruin the surprise, but it's worth the extra effort to open up these treasures. And you might want to try your hand at Spider-Bowling, or you might choose to play the game again in a different costume, or even as an entirely different mystery guest character.
My biggest complaint with this game is, paradoxically, the best compliment I can give it: There simply isn't enough of it. Like I say, each level has its quirks and tricks, but once you've learned those tricks you'll be able to beat the bad guy. Add a much-appreciated save-game option, and a dedicated gamer can march through the game in a few days.
Graphics - 5 Webs: What can I say? Spidey has never looked so good. The characters and backgrounds are first-rate, and the brief cinematic sequences in between levels, though perhaps not earth-shattering, are entertaining as well as explanatory.
Sound - 4 Webs: Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe lend their talents to the game, again tying what could well be an excellent stand-alone Spider-game to the movie. Unfortunately, Tobey Maguire is the most boring man alive. His unimpassioned voice-work too often kills Spidey's banter as he duck-jump-punches his way through the enemies; still, the interaction between Spidey and his foes is always entertaining. The voices of the guest villains, ranging from the Shocker to Generic the Big Dumb Thug and largely influenced by the recent Fox cartoon series, fit their characters admirably. The music is a weak point only in that it is not as exceptional as most of the other aspects of the game.
Gameplay - 4.5 Webs: The camera hassles that plagued the recent Playstation Spider-games have been dealt with, making the maneuvering of comicdom's most dynamic superhero a true delight. Running, jumping, fighting, swinging, and webbing are all easy and fun. In addition, there are dozens of combo moves that you can learn (if you're lucky) through the course of the game. Some of these combos are essential; some are just fun. My only small complaint deals with wall-climbing: it's not always consistent or clear whether up on the controller will move Spidey forward or vertically upward. For a character that spends so much time upside-down, this might pose a problem, but one that is usually solved with an experimental tap in one direction.
Story - 3.5 Webs: Nothing special, but functional for an action game. Show me a good comic storyline that features this many characters, and then you can whine about the plot.
Fun Factor - 5 Webs: Two words. Web-swinging. Woohoo!
Replay Factor - 4 Webs: I don't know if it's just my personal deficiencies as a gamer, but no matter how hard I try I can't figure out why I almost never get the bonus points when I complete a level. Worse yet, I can't tell what I'm doing differently when I do get the points. Well, at least I can replay the game as ... ah, you thought I was going to tell, didn't you?
Aging Factor - 4 Webs: Time will tell, but hey, I still love Super Mario World and Super Metroid, and I think we've got a winner. It's just too bad shorter games fare so much worse with age.
Tech Troubles - (None): Nothing to report.
Whether you try this game because of the movie or because of the comic, you'll find something in here to appeal to you. There's your nutshell for you.