This article was originally published at Aussie-Nintendo.com
When the first screens and information for Spider-Man 3 on Wii appeared, fans could be forgiven for being optimistic. They were told it was going to be similar to the flawed but enjoyable Spider-Man 2 on GameCube, that the city would be larger and that you would be able to use the black symbiote suit. They were also told that the Wii motion controls would be employed for swinging and early reports suggested that this was quite intuitive. All of the above is true to an extent but the result is a rushed effort (or one with unfair time restraints) with a lot of wasted potential.
If you have played Spider-Man 2 on the GameCube, PS2 or Xbox then you already have some idea of what to expect on the Wii version (even taking into account the different controls). Spider-Man 2 was short, unpolished and the combat controls and story missions were often frustrating – among other problems. The game was notable though for the fantastic controls for swinging and acrobatics which made moving Spider-Man through the city a delight. This is mostly the case for the Wii though the controls aren’t quite as engaging or easy to use right from the beginning. Spider-Man 3 is in many ways the same: the city is bigger (though there is no real advantage to this), the game length is around the same, there are similar side missions, and the story missions are still disappointingly similar along with the combat controls. There are new villains but it doesn’t change the repetitive gameplay for each one, which has you fighting similar henchmen whether lizards, goons or some other mutation before a simplistic boss with an obvious attack pattern. The only variety outside this is swinging to each location, maybe with a hostage or two on some missions. So the game is basically Spider-Man 2 with different controls and some different bad guys. If you want to know more than this; read on.
It has been stated and overstated that the Wii controls can bring a new level of interaction and intuitivism not possible with the classic gamepad that most gamers have used to for years. Spider-Man 3 is now the second game I have reviewed for Wii where the gamepad beats the Wii hands down and it certainly isn’t for lack of potential. Remember how smooth and responsive the controls for the interactive cutscenes in Resident Evil 4 were? In Spider-Man 3 there are similar moments, sometimes stretched into whole missions; however the major difference is that the controls are mostly awkward, often unresponsive and always frustrating. There is perhaps no better place to start then with these moments as they demonstrate so well how a developer can turn the Wii motion controls into a hopeless gimmick. These bits have you swinging or thrusting the remote or nunchuck in different directions with mere seconds or less to adjust yourself before Spider-Man is hurt or killed, resulting in a painful restart. The worst moments come when you are taking damage for leaving the symbiote suit on too long and the only way to remove it is through a series of thrusts, swings and flicks. Imagine taking damage from both your clothing and enemies while trying to get these controls to work and you’ll be close to using the bottom of the remote to hammer the game disk into dust. Buttons would have been much better employed here (and almost everywhere) but judging by how often the game doesn’t respond to movements, I have to wonder whether it would be that much of an improvement.
Combat uses a combo system but it is mostly easier to button mash or madly flail the remote to knock out the bad guys. Weak attacks are done by swinging the remote and strong by pressing or holding ‘A’. This is best done through simple combinations and becomes very repetitive. Some enemies are fast and require you to slow them with web at first and that is really as deep as the strategy gets. You can also use the web to swing bad guys and there are a few jump attacks at your disposal. There are plenty of upgrades but they mostly aren’t very useful or are useful only for a specific enemy at a few points in the game. Upgrades are earned by beating missions and bad guys and they are all unlocked through the ‘scrapbook’ on a simple grid system. As with the cutscene controls, combat controls feel rushed, gimmicky and unresponsive.
As already mentioned, the swinging and acrobatic moves for Spider-Man 3 are mostly very good after a short learning curve but I would be reluctant to consider them an improvement. The nunchuck and the remote act as your left and right hands and swinging is engaged by either holding the ‘Z’ button and wriggling the nunchuck for one hand and holding ‘B’ and wriggling the remote for the other. This can be adjusted in the options menu for left-handers which is quite ‘handy’. Once you get used to this the swinging becomes smooth and there is more to learn with web vaults, fast swing and other moves that can be earned as you progress. The controls mostly become a problem when it comes to turning around, sometimes when controlling direction and especially when climbing buildings. It would have been useful for Spider-Man to stick to buildings automatically when he ceases swinging as sometimes he hits buildings and falls if you are not quick to hit the ‘B’ trigger. When climbing the camera often gets in the way and you sometimes find the character turning around and moving in the opposite direction or falling off buildings. There are a number of different jumps, wall runs and slides that can be done but getting them to work is usually chaotic and they don’t add much to the game anyway.
Don’t be fooled by any of the screenshots in this game as they are as misleading as Final Fantasy VIII’s advertising campaign for getting an idea of how this game actually looks. The in-game screen shots often show Spider-Man with a nice light reflection on his back but what they don’t show is how slowly that light shifts across the textures when the game is in motion. This will be the first thing you notice when you start up the game but the disappointment doesn’t end there. The city is bigger but when you factor in the slow loading or missing textures over most of the city, it doesn’t seem very impressive. The fact that the city is mostly empty except for the zombie-like civilians and an endless cycle of similar motor vehicles doesn’t help either. There are also times when the city suddenly becomes deserted, major clipping issues, awful water effects and explosions, poorly animated enemies and unfinished cutscenes that look like they didn’t get more than a layer past wire-frames in development. This can all be neatly capped off by taking Spider-Man to the top of a tall building and looking down to watch the detail over the city slowly load; it once to thirty seconds before I could tell it was meant to be night time. In short, the graphics on this game are awful and often barely up to scratch with an early GameCube tech demo.
The sound effects, music and voice in this game are all as bad as previous Spider-Man movie licenses. The game uses actual voice actors once again but Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and all the others sound more unenthusiastic about it than ever. The music reflects the movie and suits the game but no track is particularly memorable and the battle, swinging and ambient noises are as generic as you can get. The one saving grace is Bruce Campbell, once again. Everyone’s favourite bad actor returns to narrate and give players a tutorial on how to play the game. He is particularly funny at the start but after that his voice isn’t heard much again outside the occasional move upgrade. The game wouldn’t feel complete without him but considering how incomplete it is already, he can’t do much to save it.
I have to confess I didn’t play this game through to the end but I can assure you that it is short. It loosely follows the movie like past games and adds in a few extra characters from the comic such as the Lizard and Morbius to extend it. The main game is about five hours long like Spider-Man 2 but if you want the few extras you can extend it through fetch quests and repetitive missions involving beating up thugs or returning property. All the villain stories feel similar and the main movie plot includes a few key moments in the movie such as a confrontation with the new Goblin, the Sandman and Venom. Considering I had to force myself to play from the first encounter with the Goblin onwards, I wouldn’t give any gamer more than a few hours. If you love Spider-Man and enjoy this for whatever reason, I would still only allow ten hours before you shelve it forever. If anyone can attest to the game significantly improving from the ¾ mark onwards then I will go back and change this review but I stopped playing confident that I had seen all there was worth seeing and being utterly done with it all.
I love Spider-Man but the character has had rough luck in interactive entertainment since I can remember. The first Spider-Man game I player was Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin on Mega Drive over a decade ago. That was a bad game but the console was far more limited than the Wii and there wasn’t that much potential to do any better back then. Spider-Man 3 had a lot of potential and if it had been subject to a higher standard before release it could have been a classic. Instead we have a rehash of the unpolished Spider-Man 2 with controls that don’t feel any better and some different bad guys. The shame here isn’t so much that the game is a bad movie license, it’s that it could easily have been a good one.