Marvel Comics iconic Spider-Man has recently been given new life with three hit films, re-vitalized comic books, and several amazing (pun intended) sandbox-type console games. It comes to no surprise then, that Activision would introduce a more kid-friendly Spider-Man title to consoles. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe lets players take control of the beloved web-slinger and a sidekick in a simple platformer that taxes neither the brain nor the fingers.
The premise of this title plants Spider-Man smack-dab in the middle of a global phenomenon that spawns phantom bad guys in various places around the world. The friendly New York City superhero is recruited by none other than Nick Fury, and is commissioned to travel to the far reaches of the planet to find the fiendish source of the phantoms. Levels are designed as various locations around the globe, with each level having four sub-levels.
Fortunately, Spider-Man does not have to fight alone, as players have up to 13 other familiar faces from the Marvel universe to choose from to be Spideys sidekick. Among the character selections are Doctor Octopus, Blade, and the Goblin. One fantastic feature of this game allows you to play though the game with another person, co-operatively, or competitively in a versus-arena setting. Unfortunately, the game does not feature any gameplay over Xbox Live - multiplayer is limited onto the same console.
Your collection of super-partners grows as you progress through each level, and beating each respective boss of the level. After beating a boss, that character then becomes available to select as a sidekick. While it is entertaining to play each of these various characters (holding down the Y button switches control from Spidey to the sidekick), and to see them come to life in a video game with little quips and comments to Spider-Man, all of these sidekicks are ultimately the same in power, strength, and ability; even the special ability each character can deploy has pretty much the same effect on the phantoms.
Being a recruit of Nick Furys has its perks, as you have available a laboratory station to upgrade Spider-Mans web-shooting attacks. In addition, you will be able to purchase power-ups like temporary invincibility, and health regeneration (you can find plenty of these in random crates/jars/boxes in the levels though). Lastly, youll be able to upgrade the other characters health, strength, and special ability as well. All of these upgrades cost money that has to be earned by breaking those random boxes and jars, and by defeating phantoms. Unfortunately, you will have to play through the levels multiple times if you want to upgrade every character in the game.
The levels are all designed rather similarly, requiring Spider-Man to move in a very linear fashion from one area to the next, sometimes requiring him to step on a button on the ground to lower a bridge or two. It does not matter whether you are in Tokyo or Egypt the graphical differences are simply superficial. As uninspiring as the level design is, the phantoms in the game are just as unremarkable. Again, there are graphical differences that match the phantoms look to the levels theme (robotic, desert, jungle, etc.) but all the phantoms through the game look, act, and fight the same. Sure, there are several different sizes of phantoms (varying from small to very large), but from level to level, you will be fighting the same old bad guy.
Speaking of fighting, while Spider-Man has several web powers at his disposal, you will likely simply resort to one or two of the most effective tools to take out the phantoms. Spidey can punch and kick as well, stacking up combinations of them as he air juggles the phantoms as well, but most of the time, using web techniques that cause group damage will be most efficient.
Even the boss encounters in the game are fairly uniform. The level designs come slightly more varied with the bosses, but the same tactic is employed to defeat each boss: avoid being hit by either the boss or the boss special attack, and either throw an object at the boss or pummel the boss directly. Some of the bosses get special treatment by the game, requiring a unique approach to defeating the boss, but most of the boss fights are completed the same way.
Interestingly, this game features a Sonic the Hedgehog type of life system. Collecting enough monetary units through the game will allow you to purchase those upgrades, but during the game if you die, Spider-Man (or the sidekick) will simply re-spawn immediately, after subtracting from your cache of dough.
Unfortunately, this title does not bring anything new to the table, and to complicate matters even worse, the camera in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is fixed. It is understandable to a degree why, since this game is after all, a platformer. But when taking a slight step down onto a bridge turns into a crapshoot as to whether you actually hit the bridge, or fall to your doom, the fixed camera can be more than just annoying.
Another sad letdown is the fact that while there is a short web-swing move Spidey can do, there is no real web-crawling, wall-crawling, or web- swinging in this game. Yes, this is a Spider-Man game. Spider-Man hoofs it through the entire game. That goes the same for all the other characters in the game as well. Green Goblin walks around without his jet-sled, and Venom walks around without the ability to stick to walls. Not being able to climb the huge caverns, scale the buildings, or zip around the levels with Spideys webs is akin to making a Superman game where Supes doesnt fly around at all. Yes, youll ask yourself, Whats the point of making this into a Spider-Man game?
What made this game playable despite the poor graphics, level design, etc., was the simplistic nature of the gameplay, paired with the Spider-Man theme, not to mention some of the easiest achievements youll find among the more recent games that have been released for the Xbox 360. Although there are some bonuses that might help keep you entertained through the monotonous levels like character bios and video clips, this additional content is pretty sparse.
Suggestions: This title is just one of those three-button platformers that can keep you entertained in bite-sized sessions, but only if you are a true Spider-Man fan. The repetitive nature of the gameplay elements and simplistic (but cute) graphics will definitely attract younger gamers, but more advanced gamers who do not have a sentimental attachment to the Spider-Man mythos may want to steer clear from this game.
Try out the demo, downloadable for free from the Xbox Live Marketplace to see if this game is right for you!