Spider-Man Friend or Foe Review

 Alan Pettit

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is an action beat-em-up developed by Next Level Games, previously responsible for Super Mario Strikers on the Gamecube and the more recent Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii. Published by Activision, whom everyone should be very familiar with by now, the game is a clear cash-in on the recent resurgence of popularity for comic book characters, and more specifically Spider-Man thanks to the summer's blockbuster movie Spider-Man 3.

The basic premise of the game is that a meteorite has crash-landed on earth, carrying some unknown villain and his horde of baddies, dubbed "phantoms" though there is very little phantom-like quality to them. Whoever this villain is has all of Spider-Man's usual enemies brainwashed with an obvious plate on their chest. Spider-Man is then drafted by Nick Fury to find and subdue these villains.

From your base of operations on the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier, you can choose your teammates, upgrade your abilities and embark on missions. As you progress through the game, the enemies you defeat are so upset with being mind controlled, they decide to join you to find out who is behind the whole mess. You also encounter some of the Marvel Universe's other heroes, who also join your cause. With 14 playable characters, you have plenty of team-ups to explore.

A little teamwork goes a long way.

You have the option to take one character with you on any of your missions, hot-swapping control between the two with the Y-button. Unfortunately, you must always have Spider-Man on the missions, so a super-team of Doctor Octopus and the Rhino is only a pipe dream. Each of the five levels are split into four missions, giving you plenty of breaks to upgrade your characters and change your team.

During the levels, defeating enemies and breaking objects yields small yellow dots that translate into "tech coins", used to upgrade your abilities and attributes. Also by defeating enemies, your "combo meter" will rise, increasing the number of tech coins you will get from defeated enemies. The amount of tech coins you get each level is small compared to the cost of upgrading your characters, so you'll find yourself sticking with the same partner most of the game since they will be more powerful than the rest.

Exploring the levels, you will find "hidden" DNA pickups that unlock extra content, as well as keystones that unlock certain rooms. Once you find, enter and clear these rooms of enemies, they are available for use in the multiplayer arena. However, the word multiplayer here only translates to local battle. You can also play through the game in co-op locally, but there is literally no Xbox Live content for this game whatsoever.

The controls are extremely simple, having only a few buttons to deal with. Jumping with A, attacking with X and webbing with B, while the bumper controls which of the three web abilities you are using: Web Line, Web Shoot and Web Stun. You also have power-ups available to increase your damage, accessed quickly by pressing the corresponding direction on the D-pad. The best ability is a dual-attack (up on the D-pad) only available when you collect the right power-up. Using this will kill any enemy on the screen with a neat animated attack.

Some characters are much more powerful than others.

As you move on through the game you will start to notice that enemies will start to repeat, only differing in color. There is the generic bad guy, floating sperm-like creatures and larger generic bad guys. There are occasional mini-boss type enemies that are generally vulnerable to just one type of attack. 

Then finally you will come to Spider-Man's villains, which will spark a very simple boss fight. Seeing as this is primarily a children's game, you won't find yourself dying very often.The only increase in difficulty throughout the game is the addition of more enemies on screen at once.

With little variation to enemies or fight sequences, you'd hope that at least the levels would be unique. Unfortunately, every level is basically the same. You begin the level and some enemies spawn, you kill them to progress. You come to the next area where more enemies spawn, then you kill them to progress. You come to obvious pressure plates that opens a door to one of the "hidden" items in the game, then you exit and more enemies spawn, which you kill to progress. Boring levels, boring enemies and boring fighting make the overall experience... yes, you guessed it, boring.

Continuing the trend we have going here, the graphics and sounds are awful through and through. The game looks like it wants to be cel-shaded, but instead turns out to look more like the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends animated show that ran back in the early 80s. For this generation and especially this system, that's really not what any developer should be aiming for. The camera makes things worse by floating in very awkward spots and never following you to the next room until you've practically run into the wall opposite the door.

A rare appearance by fan-favorite Iron Fist.

Once again, it appears Next Level did no research past the 80's for the sound set. For instance, punching a headstone produces more of a crackle than a crumble, something anyone could tell isn't right. The dialogue appears to have been done in a single afternoon, seeing as there are maybe a dozen lines from each character that repeat over and over through the entire game. The scripted cutscenes aren't so bad, but if I hear "Spider-Man, party of two, your bad guys are ready" ever again, I may have to punch a baby.

The only redeeming quality of the game is the easy achievements. There are only 12 achievements, something rare at this stage of the achievement game, but they do a decent job of representing the type of game it is. Five achievements (at 125 a pop) focus on completing each level with every "secret" item and area found. The rub there is that none of them are very secret. Almost every item and area is clearly pointed out, again harking back to the game being for children. The other achievements focus on using the battle system and upgrading your abilities and characters, forcing you to play more than the game would originally require. Luckily, the final boss is worth quite a bit of upgrade points, so it shouldn't take long to grind the remaining tech coins.

Achievement whores will find this a quick and easy 1000, which is really the only reason to play it if you're over the age of eight. Might be a nice game for the kids with the familiar characters and one-liners (though the one-liners are retarded, kids won't know the difference), but otherwise it is definitely a rental for points before anything else. Maybe one day the 360 will have a Spider-Man game to be proud of, but this is surely not the answer.

Terrible voice work and equally terrible sound effects along with the fact there's no proper music to speak of (though the little there is, is of course terrible), makes the game better played with a nice capitalised MUTE displayed on the screen.

Cel-shading is awesome. Failing at cel-shading is not. A mix between cel-shading and 80s cartoon work makes this an extremely ugly game. No detail to any of the stages or enemies and bare-bones work on the playable characters are also a huge negative factor.

Very simple controls, but the awful camera angles make navigating pretty frustrating. I'm not sure when companies will realize that gamers want free control over the camera angles, but yet another game lacks that option and pays dearly for it.

A dozen voice options per character at best and maybe a half dozen different enemies make this extremely repetitive. You'll also find yourself utilizing one character and maybe only one or two combos the whole time. Good thing it's short, because it's extremely boring.

Harking back to the original days of the system, the game only has 12 achievements. They are of course extremely easy, but at least make use of each facet of the game: fighting styles, multiple characters and hidden items. Not all that imaginative, but they get the job done.

Overall a repetitive and boring experience, the game is very much catered to young kids. After the disastrous Spider-Man 3 and now this pile of garbage, fans might have to wait until SM4 hits theatres at another shot. Rent it for achievements or buy it for your kids, but make sure you know what you're getting into.

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