The transitional relationship between movies and video games can often be compared to that of oil and water. One simply doesnt mix in the other. Movie-based games often hide behind the illusion of presenting players with the chance to relive the motion picture story through the eyes of the protagonist. In most cases, however, the character is guided through a distorted version of the film that is barely recognizable in a game that seems to have been neglected in its production. Before I even started playing Spider-Man: The Movie, it already had two factors going against it—the first being that it is based upon a film. To this day I can still remember the movie-based atrocities released during the Super Nintendo/Genesis era that did little more than provide gamers with some horrendous gaming experiences. The other stereotype I blindly branded Spider-Man with was the expectation of playing nothing more than an ordinary 3-D beat em up. After all, the last Spider-Man game I played was on a 16-Bit console in which there was little else to do other than line up villains for beatings. To my surprise, Activisions take on Spideys movie proves that an exception to the rule is always possible.
For anyone who hasnt seen Spider-Man, or has somehow avoided being bombarded with all the media hype it has been receiving, the game at its core reflects the movies story. A nerdy teenager (Peter Parker) turns into a crime fighter after having been bitten by a genetically modified arachnid that gives him spider-like abilities. He then decides to use his newfound powers for the forces of good and, thus, Spider-mans duty to keep the city safe has begun.
The adventure in Spider-Man is divided into various levels, all of which form a coherent order and, for the most part, stay true to the movie. For instance, a certain number of levels might focus on hunting down a villain while others might involve accomplishing a specific task. As I feared, these levels are too little in number and often too short in length. Yet, contrary to what I expected, the gameplay compensates and makes up for a lot in this game, not limiting itself to plain beat em up action. As a matter of fact, Spidey manages to make good use of his abilities in various situations such as stealth missions a la Metal Gear, where he must infiltrate a high security area while guards and sensors make the job even more delicate. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence isnt half as smart as that found in Hideo Kojimas masterpiece. Even after being tied up in Spider-Mans web, certain guards still dont realize the wall crawler is lurking in the dark nearby. Of course, as far as this aspect of the game is concerned, the aerial duels are the icing on the cake. Whether they pit Spider-Man off against robotic villains or the Green Goblin himself, these levels show off the games graphics and controls at their best in non-stop action.
While on the subject of controls, I must say that it would be hard to ask for anything better. Spidey is quick to respond to any commands from the controller and his movements are always fluid. Although they might look complicated when looking at the instructions manual, Spider-Mans various web-shooting abilities are fairly easy to learn and using them quickly becomes second nature. The only downside in this area arises in hand to hand confrontations. Executing certain combos can sometimes be tricky even though the button combinations appear to be relatively simple.
This game is set apart from other movie-based titles by the fact that Activision not only drew inspiration from the film, but the cartoon show and comic books as well. While the movie gave Spider-Man only one major villain to deal with (the Green Goblin), Activision focused more on the fact that Spidey was a crime fighter. For this reason, the game shows Spider-Man fighting various criminals even if they have no relation to the Goblin whatsoever. This is where the cartoon and comic book influences come in. Villains such as the Shocker or Vulture have been added without compromising the flow of the story. This, however, doesnt mean such characters only show up for cameo appearances in the game. Each encounter with a cartoon-inspired individual always involves more than a single level.
It shows that Activision made every effort to stay true to the movie, especially when listening to the voice acting. Both Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man) and Willem Dafoe (The Green Goblin) took up their respective roles and voiced their video game counter parts. The result is entertaining dialogues that sound, for the most part, as they would in the actual movie. Even Bruce Campbell (The ring announcer) gave his voice to act as a guide to players and offer them advice (although often in a sarcastic and annoying way). As was the case in the cartoon show, Spidey has a witty or sarcastic comment for just about every situation. Certain full-motion videos also stay loyal to the motion picture as they reproduce verbatim scenes which are crucial to the plot of both the game and movie.
Spider-Man will probably not win any Game of the Year award. However it is nice to see that, for once, a movie-based game shouldnt be treated as a must avoid at all costs title. I believe this game should be viewed as an example of how to successfully transfer a movie into an enjoyable gaming experience.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.