Earlier this week, I reviewed Spider-Man: Web of Shadows on the PlayStation 3
, and the world cried. Some wept for another mediocre rendition of their favorite hero, some unleashed screams calling for my head, and many just buried their faces in their hands to ignore the mess altogether. Still, in the midst of the dark clouds surrounding the main version of the title, a ray of light has shone through.
That light -- that glimmer of hope -- is Spider-Man: Web of Shadows - Amazing Allies Edition.
On a story level, the portable version of this game shares a bit with the tale you'd find on a console. Venom shows up, Spider-Man fights him, and part of the black suit we know as the symbiote leaps onto our hero and outfits him with the familiar black and white costume. From there, Spider-Man can switch between his red duds and his black duds at will and has to make choices throughout the game that dictate whether he's staying true to his "Great Power/Great Responsibility" roots or he's letting the symbiote turn him into the aggressive jerk from the old school comics. As you wrestle with these choices, Venom's symbiote continues to break off and infect New Yorkers. Soon, the city is a black, gooey mess that only our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man can clean up.
With that, the major similarities between the two SKUs stop. Web of Shadows on the PSP plays as a side scroller featuring 3D characters on a 2D plane -- think Bionic Commando Rearmed. You've been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to run from left to right through New York's buildings, air ducts, and secret bases on a mission to find the components that can create a sonic wave large enough to send the symbiotes packing.
Of course, it wouldn't be a superhero game if you didn't have waves of bad guys popping up and keeping you from rounding up the few power couplings you need. The majority of foes you face on this quest will be street thugs and symbiote-infected folks, but there's the occasional robot and boss (Shocker, Tinkerer, Kraven, Jackal, and more). To take these guys down, you're going to rely on Square to punch and Triangle to kick. If you leap into the air and hold X, you'll cast out a web line to swing and kick from, but those two simple buttons pretty much amass all the offense you're going to have in Web of Shadows. If your feet are on the ground (or wall or ceiling) and you tap the right shoulder button, you can cast webbing at your foes, but this only stops them without hurting them.
If that combat system sounds weak, Amaze has tossed in a number of extras to try and keep the fighting fresh. For starters, you'll notice five slots in the upper-right corner of the screen. These are your power-up slots. Before you go on a mission, you'll be able to arm these circles with allies and abilities to help you crush the competition -- exoskeleton power-ups make it harder to damage Spidey for a period of time, web darts turn your webbing into fast and furious projectiles, and Spider-Man Flurry allows our hero to speed around the screen and clean everyone's clock. You'll earn and unlock these abilities by finding spider tokens hidden throughout the levels, and you'll be able to stockpile them in the power-up menu.
Still -- if the name of the game didn't give it away -- the biggest deal in the power-up arena is the ability to call in your allies. Basically, you'll arm one of your allies at the power-up manager and when you need him or her, you'll hold the left shoulder button and use the directions to cycle to the appropriate power-up slot. From there, you press circle when the slight waiting period ends, and the character appears on screen to lay waste to the baddies. Storm slams folks with lightning, Stiltman stomps all over the competition, and Hypno Hustler jams out on his guitar while your opponent's health is drained. All of these attacks are just the summoned character standing in front of the screen while damage registers against the opponent, but there are a ton of friends and foes to unlock and it's cool to see them pop up.
So, beyond the power-ups you're finding in the levels, you're going to have skills to purchase as well. See, as you take out bad guys in the game, you'll see a white number rise above their beaten bodies. This is a value that's being added to your skill point total. When you're back at the main mission menu and about set to go out on a new leg of the journey, you can pop into the Skills Manager and buy new moves, abilities, and power-up slots with these points. Stuff ranges from the simple Web Slam that allows Spider-Man to web two foes at once when you pull off a button combo to the expensive, rare power-ups and health bar increases.Now, there are a few layers to this skills system. To begin, the skills are color-coded so that you know which costume they're augmenting, but perhaps more important is the reputation system. At the top of the Skills Manager screen is a little red Spidey head and a little black Spidey head. Next to each of those craniums is a number that indicates your reputation for each suit. Most of the skills that you can purchase will have a point cost and a reputation minimum. So you might have the 525 points needed to purchase the Symbiote Strength 3 skill, but it's entirely possible that you won't meet the minimum requirement for black suit rep.
Getting your reputations up is actually one of the big reasons I feel Spider-Man: Web of Shadows - Amazing Allies Edition is a charming game. See, When you run into people or situations on the street, there's usually a sound clip of Spider-Man making a wisecrack that then moves into a text-based conversation. The other person's statement appears at the top of the screen, and your choices for what Spidey can say appear below. Generally, there are three color-coded choices. Red is good, gray is neutral, and black is bad. You make a choice, and if it's red or black, you get a point or so added to that suit's reputation. What makes this fun is that fact that this game is extremely well written. It's funny, has a good handle on the Marvel Universe, and Spider-Man reads like Spider-Man should.
Now, the good/bad thing isn't limited to just answering questions; your actions matter, too. I mean, one of the first good/evil dilemmas I was faced with was when Spider-Man found a construction worker's lunch and had to decide if he wanted to be evil and eat it or leave it alone and settle for leftovers at home. Later, I found J. Jonah Jameson captive in a secret fortress and stored next to his super-nice clone. Spider-Man is forced to decide which version of his boss he lets go. Don't get me wrong, this game isn't a comedy and lots of choices are as simple as helping a citizen or telling them to screw off, but it's a blast thanks to the genuinely interesting text that has been created for each conversation.
On top of all of that, Spider-Man acts like Spider-Man in this game. One of my major complaints with the other versions of Web of Shadows was the fact that the Spider-Man in that game was a whiney dude who threw innocents off buildings and didn't act anything like the Peter Parker from the comics. That isn't the case here; Spider-Man's voice has the energy you'd expect and he's funny.
Still, Amazing Allies isn't the greatest Spider-Man game in the history of mankind. For starters, you can't hit enemies when they are on the ground. You'll knock a thug to the ground just about every time you fight one, but when they're sprawled out on their backs, you can't touch them. Even when they're up and mobile, hit detection is wonky. At one point, I had a bunch of villains on a pyramid of boxes. If I stood on the level below an enemy, I couldn't hit him. If I hopped up on his box, I couldn't hit him if I was too close. Basically, I had to move to the very edge of the box and fight or just repeat a jump-then-kick maneuver.
Even bosses have a few irritating issues. Whether you're fighting Venom, a symbiote-infected Luke Cage, or whomever you run into, there are only specific points when you can attack the big bad guy. Even if they're just standing there charging their weapons, you can't hit them. This is annoying, but kind of a throwback to the side scrollers this game is trying to mimic. Another old-school touch some might find out of place is the fact that each Spider-Man mission has checkpoints, but if you were to quit the game and come back to it later, you'd be forced to restart the mission. The checkpoints aren't save points, and that's weak for a portable system.
A final oddity is that the PSP has a tendency to take an extended stutter now and again. You'll be playing, and usually after a checkpoint, the game will just freeze for a moment or two before allowing you to continue playing. It's not too bad, but it's weird that it's there.
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