IGN Review of Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
No other franchise has seen as many games on the Nintendo DS as Spider-Man has. The webslinger is heavily represented on the handheld. His track record so far has been pretty good too. His fifth title, the A2M developed Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is like a nasty fly in the Spider's soup, and threatens to make the franchise a hit-or-miss operation.
Before Friend or Foe even begins, the big "Official Movie Merchandise" logo pops up, informing me that this Spider-Man game isn't some lame comic related crap, but ties into the hit movies. Then why do the opening cinematics feature every dead character in the film series? I certainly don't mind a Spider-Man game that isn't based on the movie, but if it is movie merchandise, I expect it to follow the film's canon. At least make up something to explain why Harry and Venom are still hanging around, or why Doc Ock isn't at the bottom of the Jersey River.
The plot revolves around meteor fragments like the one that made Venom. Spider-Man, along with Black Cat (and later other sidekicks), has to find the fragments before some mysterious evil entity does. What's weird is that the story is told by three different means. The game opens with some nice quality CG cinematics showing off every major character. From that point on it switches to some sort of pseudo comic-book style. It looks like the developers maybe wanted to do it comic style, but didn't quite pull it off. The 3D models stand frozen, but the backgrounds move, making it look like cut scenes that just never got finished. In addition, between the levels are talking head dialogues.
After three different types of cutscenes the game jumps right into the clunky, two person brawler. The player can switch between Spider-Man and sidekick as they run through the cities, beating up generic bad guys.
Spider-Man games, and really all superhero games, are fun for the superpowers. Previous games featured swinging through cities, clinging to ceilings, and using numerous web attacks to pummel bad guys. Friend or Foe, by comparison, is extremely limited. The move set is very basic. I knew I was in trouble when the tutorial tried to teach me a combo move: punch, punch, punch. To make it worse, the fighting moves are awkward and frustrating. Spider-Man regularly punches off in the wrong direction, opening himself up to get punched in the back of the head. The combos are pretty much nonexistent, making all the fight sequences button mashers. Spider-Man isn't known for his street fighting prowess, so have a game filled with level after level of his punching and kicking is ridiculous. The web moves are pretty basic: web bullets, spin move, and just simple webbing. None of them have that web-slinging flair that makes Spider-Man cool.
Even obvious moves, like swinging between buildings, are limited. All the buildings are close enough together to jump to. If they are far apart, chances are there is something important between them on the ground. Because the game is a two person co-op adventure, the levels have to be playable by both characters, one of whom doesn't have the ability to swing from webs. Let me put this bluntly. Trading in Spider-Man's signature moves to have Black Cat or Doc Ock follow me around is a stupid, insulting decision.
The whole idea of turning enemies into allies and teaming up with them, the very focus of the game, ruins the fun. It's a hindrance, more than a help. I get that co-op super hero games are all the rage. For some reason teaming up Spidey with Blade is hip and cool, but not if the developers have to handicap the title character in order to do it. Getting to team up with a friend and smash through the levels makes the decision more bearable, but there also should have been an option to turn off the sidekick. It's really frustrating for the AI teammate to go beat up the boss for me while I try to fend off the bad guys that keep appearing to bother only me. Gee thanks Black Cat, I'm glad I didn't have to, you know, actually play this game.
Some of the problems have nothing to do with the ally premise. Teammates don't explain why Spidey is about as graceful as Aunt May. The animations are jerky and lack fluidity. Spider-Man looks like he's freaking out when he jumps around, and then splats against the side of a building to start climbing. The 3D world is a definite change of pace from the limited, on rails Spider-Man games before it, and it's cool that the developers tried to make a larger, more expansive environment for players to explore. The sense of depth is off, though, so collecting powerups is more work than it should be.
On top of everything the game isn't very long, and tries to force the player to go through levels again to collect enough coins to unlock bonus modes. Why would I want to play Survival Mode when I'm already frustrated with the terrible fighting mechanics?
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