All spun out.
By now, we’re all well aware that Spider-Man does whatever a spider can. But have you ever really thought about what that means? Spiders primarily spend their time eating and making little spiders. As much fun as it would have been to see Spider-Man nab a few kids, eat them, procreate quickly and then get his head bitten off by his girlfriend, such a literal Spider-Man would have been a pretty short-lived hero. So, we’re glad that Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko decided to focus more on spider strength, web-slinging and bad puns.
Activision’s terrific Spider-Man 2 console games, on the other hand, have definitely focused more on multiplying and eating fifty-dollar bills. But while those versions also spent time and energy perfecting the art of web-slinging, the handheld games seemed to have run out of web juice before even getting off the ground. We were hoping that the new PSP version might buck this trend and not suck nearly as much as its DS and N-Gage counterparts, but alas, it sucks as only a spider can, and more than a Spider-Man should.
At least the PSP Spider-Man 2 is closer to its big brothers in design. It’s in full 3D like the console versions and has you wall-crawling and web-slinging around the New York skyline while fighting thugs and super-villains. But as good as it looks, Spider-Man 2 doesn’t play very well and is beatable in a handful of hours.
The game’s story follows the movie’s action sequences and dispenses with the human drama, giving it the weight of a Universal Studios tour. Then again, your PSP probably came with a Spider-Man 2 movie UMD, so it isn’t like you’re missing anything.
You’ll certainly recognize the side-scrolling level where you race along a train to catch up to Doc Ock, and the movie’s bank sequence has been stretched into a few levels, including one where Spidey must avoid bank security systems. Showdowns with the Rhino and the Shocker are here to add more boss fights and, more importantly, length. Even though Spider-Man 2 isn’t deep, the level variety is pretty good and keeps the game from stagnating.
The webhead himself is armed with simple punches and kicks. Using points earned from completing missions, he can purchase new special moves, combos and fighting abilities. Until Spidey saves up some points and learns some slick moves, he won’t be much of a fighter, and you won’t have much fun playing as him. Luckily, points are accumulated fairly quickly.
More importantly, the game’s swinging system has been tragically oversimplified. When you want to swing, you just point the control stick in a direction, hold down a button, and go. Easy as pie. The little analog stick awkwardly controls your altitude, and since everything is automatic you don’t have the big, swooping swings at your disposal that were so enjoyable in the other games. Many of the animations are still intact, though. For example, Spider-Man will run along walls if he swings into them at the right angle, except that his webs don’t ever attach to anything in the environment. Instead of swinging from building to building, Spidey fires his webs straight up into the sky regardless of what’s around.
Jumping isn’t nearly as fun as it was in the console games, either. When you start you only have a single, wimpy hop at your disposal. It gets more powerful as you play and you can upgrade to double and triple jumps, but it never reaches the heights or the fun of the incredible leaps possible in the console versions.
The bad jumping is a symptom of a greater problem: the laggy, clunky control scheme. For a guy with the proportional speed and strength of a Spider, he isn’t very responsive. Couple that with an occasionally ridiculous set up (dodging requires you to press three buttons at once), and getting around town as Spidey becomes more pain than pleasure.
When you finally get the hang of the controls, you’ll probably be just about finished with the game, because it is unbelievably short. Unlike the console games, you don’t randomly perform good deeds in a giant city. Rather, this is a strictly linear affair. This kills off the replay value, leading to a shallow, ubiquitous action experience.
The only thing Spider-Man 2 really has going for it is its deceptively attractive appearance, and even that faí§ade slips every once in a while, especially when there are a lot of enemies on screen. Then again, if you jump in mid-swing and just let Spider-Man fall through the air, the game engine keeps up with him and delivers a very real sense of speed and space. It’s a mixed affair, truly.
The audio sequences are yanked right from the movie and the console games. All the actual stars, from Maguire to Molina, are present. The music is also straight from the film and works well in the game. The only real auditory blemish occurs when you web-sling. Since the game uses the same sound effect every time Spider-Man slings a web, which he does constantly, the result is grating and repetitive.
Given its full price and lack of substance, Spider-Man 2 is a tough recommendation. Aside from some nice graphics and levels design, it simply fails to offer much more than a subpar swing through the city.