If there was ever a game made for the Marvel fanboy, Spider-Man by Neversoft is it. Aside from all the goodies and secrets to unlock in the game, there is a great ambiance that perfectly captures what it’s like to be Spidey. Great attention was given to make Spider-Man fans happy -- fun touches ranging from a wardrobe of alternate costumes to a collection of comic book covers. Getting all those items calls for careful playing and replaying of the game. However, my favorite detail in the game are the voiceovers by the inimitable Stan Lee, the purveyor of superlative prose.
Mostly identical to its older single player N64 and PS1 siblings, Spider-Man for the Dreamcast offers a fun blend between the puzzle-solving action of Tomb Raider and the two-fisted pummeling of . The player will swing from building to building, zip from wall to wall, crawl from ceiling to floor. When facing hand-to-hand combat, the player can pull from a complicated arsenal of movements to clean every croney’s clock in order to save the day. This is a fanboy’s dream come true. And that’s a good thing.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
As much detail as the game designers gave to the ambiance of the game, it is a shame that the same attention wasn’t given to the controls. You will definitely want to pop into the Training mode after you give the main game a swing to fine tune your Spidey skills. The controls and 3D environment will abuse you over and over again until the very end of the game. Fortunately, the camera will auto-center behind you, leaving very few polygonal obstructions to ruin your aim or block your vision. The game also makes great use of the Jump Pack, giving your hand a jolt every time Spidey’s spider sense goes off. Recognizing the spider sense can give the player clues as to when danger is near and when secret passages are available to explore. Unfortunately, navigating the 3D environment while webcrawling can get tricky. It’s not uncommon to be heading down when you meant to head up, or left instead of right. As Spidey creeps about stealthily this won’t be a major detriment, but when the player tries to quickly navigate out of harm’s way during the many chase scenes, he may come to curse the almost randomness of the controls. Spider-Man just doesn’t do what you tell him to do -- depending on which way he’s facing or on which wall he’s clinging. There is a physics model at work here, but it’s so mystifying at times it will get you screaming louder than JJJ after an argument with ol' Webhead himself.
This is also a game that cheats terribly to lengthen the gameplay. For example, in the last battle with the mutated Doc Oc, no matter how fast you flee from him, he’ll always be magically behind you. There’s a meter at the top of the screen that is meant to indicate how close on your heals Doc Oc is, and you’d laugh to see the Doc icon fly across the meter to catch up with you if it wasn’t so frustrating. Several of the levels (usually the "getting chased" ones) simply aren’t fun due to the lousy controls, the abusive AI, and the cheating, leaving the player longing for more hand-to-hand combat. But don’t despair, true believer! There are plenty of opportunities for our favorite webslinger to toss toadies around while quipping insults. You’ll get to fight the likes of the Scorpion, the Rhino, Venom, Mysterio, Doc Oc, and Carnage, plus their minions. The fighting is so fun, you’ll take time just to pull off the tricky moves, even if it means getting clobbered. In fact, most of the game is spent placing Spidey’s fists firmly in the faces of his foes.
One of the aspects of this game that Neversoft nailed down was giving the player the illusion of being Spider-Man. This is best experienced when webcrawling. The 3D models have been redone for the Dreamcast port -- they are clean and detailed, adding a realism to the game as you crawl up, over, and under everything in the game that will thrill every Spidey fan. Picking up heavy objects is shown in the labored movement of Spider-Man’s pace. Zipping from wall to wall, or crawling along the ceiling gives Spider-Man that creepy insect-like feeling that is so cool about his character in the first place. Even letting the game sit without any movement for a minute gives the player a reward in excellent character animation as Spidey suddenly hangs upside down and snores, or sings the Spider-Man theme song -- depending on his mood. Neversoft did a fantastic job capturing the essence of Spider-Man in the character model and you’ll enjoy having Spidey doing even the most mundane tasks. The excellent in-game graphics are in stark contrast, however, with the laughably clunky graphics of the cut-scenes. Here the game shows its roots in the 32 & 64 bit world. The cut-scenes should have been rerendered, but one can imagine that Activision may not have wanted to pay that bill for the ever-shrinking Dreamcast market. Not all cut-scenes are poorly rendered, but many of them are indeed painful to watch. We’ve come to expect so much more because of the power of the Dreamcast architecture.
Most levels have competent graphics, though some stand out more than others. You will find the last levels of the game the most interesting to move around in. Unfortunately, the bad control mentioned above and the bad perspective of the camera in the last level of the game against the demented Doc Oc make navigating the corridors very difficult -- almost impossible. Doc Oc is merciless and hesitation is instant death, so you can’t afford to lose sight of your character behind a wall, or even not know which way to point Spider-Man. Here’s a tip: when in doubt, pull Spider-Man towards you. The forward facing corridors are invisible until you jump into them.
Fortunately, details were given to all the Spidey aspects of the game, including new Spidey powers like exploding web shields, web-covered fists for extra pummeling, and my personal favorite, tagging baddies with a webline, then pulling them off their feet into walls. The graphics are so convincing, you’ll think you can start hanging from the ceiling yourself!
Voice acting in this game is a notch above the norm. Certainly the villains can be silly in their melodramatic megalomania, but all actors used will help you believe the characters actually care about what is happening. J. Jonah Jameson was great, and so was the voice for Spider-Man -- his constant banter and quipping never got on my nerves. In fact, the dialog was very entertaining. Nice touches came in the narration by Stan Lee, one of the fathers of the Marvel Age of comics. I wish the game soundtrack was of the same caliber, though. Aside from the funky main theme, the background music was often dull, uneventful, and repetitive. Perhaps they too showed the limitations of the port and should have been redone to take advantage of the Dreamcast's sound capabilities.
Originality / Cool Features
As mentioned earlier, there are many goodies to unlock. The gallery has all the comic covers and storyboards you can unlock in the game so you can appreciate the art. The special menu contains alternate costumes, some with extra super powers, plus detailed character information with voice-overs by Stan Lee for all the characters used in the game. There’s even a level select and cheat menu for inputting codes to unlock various features in the game. These are the touches that make this game a labor of love for fans of Marvel Comics and Spidey.
What made this game difficult to rate highly was the poor controls -- more time should have been spent fine tuning these aspects. It’s neat to access secret costumes, but how fun is a game that has the player fighting against the controls during crucial sequences? A player should also be rewarded for excelling at a game, not be punished by a cheating AI for being too good. Spider-Man can be most frustrating when the player needs to learn how the game expects him to play through a level instead of doing what might seem intuitive. And yet, for all its detractions, the game was fun and entertaining and a delight to play most of the time. Spidey fans may even want to add another 10-15 points to the score I gave this game just for all the effort they put in to capture the world of Spider-Man.