Let's get the obvious jokes out of the way early, shall we? Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can, like get trapped in bathtubs and crawl into your mouth while you're asleep. His most famous foes are an Elton John look-a-like with plumber's snakes stuck to his back, a nutjob with a Halloween costume and a flying machine, and a living alien onesie. Most spiders' web-producing spinnerets are located on their arses, but Spider-Man's are on his wrists. We can all be thankful for that. I think that covers everything. It's Bits Studios and LJN's 1992 Game Boy radioactive-blood-em-up The Amazing Spider-Man 2!
Spider-groin, Spider-groin, Spidey's airing his spider-loins. The patterned area of his costume has even taken the form of an arrow pointing directly at his crotch. Lovely.
The mockery has begun already, but I've always liked Spider-Man. His powers are cool, his stories are fun but mostly I think it's because Peter Parker is a bit of a dork. A good guy, but a dork none-the-less. I can relate to that, even if I've never been cloned or had an evil scientist swap minds with me. Good old Peter Parker, let's see what he's up to right now.
"Peter swears to himself that this will be the day he gives up the booze, but in his heart he knows he's lying to himself."
"SPIDERMAN TURNS BAD" is what that headline is probably supposed to say, but there's no way there's room on that paper for it to be longer than SPIDERM GOES BAD. What a shocking mistake for a major metropolitan newspaper to make. C'mon, Daily Bugle staff, this is day-one newspaper making know-how.
Peter's Spider-Sense is tingling, so he's either left his Spider-Phone on vibrate or there's danger afoot. I think that mass of pixels on the right is supposed to be the Hobgoblin, so that'll be the danger. Danger will probably also come from the police, because Spider-Man has been framed for a million-dollar bank heist and the aim of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is to clear Spidey's name and apprehend the real culprits. Peter Parker has a lecture at ten, a meeting with the Avengers at noon and his usual evening of clobbering muggers while spouting one-liners to fit in later, so we'd better get on with it.
Spider-Man is patrolling the mean streets of New York City. The actual streets, which isn't like him - he's usually swinging his way between skyscrapers and what have you. Just to confirm, that's Spidey at the bottom of the screen. I know he doesn't look much like Spider-Man, but as this is a Game Boy title there are going to be certain graphical compromises, and Spidey looking like a motorcycle courier is one of them.
While these screenshots and the Spider-Man license make it clear that ASM2 is a goon-punching, platform-jumping, web-swinging adventure in the traditional mould, it's set apart from other, similar, games by not having clear, discrete stages. I'd hesitate to describe it as an "open world" game, but all areas are connected and you can (mostly) go where you like, fulfilling objectives, collecting items and punching villains as you go.
The downside of this freedom is that the game tells you sod all about what you're supposed to be doing. Unless it's mentioned in the game's manual - and if it is, then please ignore this bit - then you're dumped in the city with no instructions beyond the incredibly vague "someone has framed Spider-Man" from the intro. So, the beginning of the game is spent wandering the streets trying to figure out what to do, muttering to yourself that Batman wouldn't be having these problems. There are some limiting factors to your wanderings, however. Firstly, there's the electric fence pictured above. Spider-Man can't get past it, even though it's only eight feet high and Spidey could use his webbing to create a slingshot to launch himself over it or a hang-glider to float across from the nearest building. Or, you know, he could just jump over it. He's Spider-Man, after all.
There's also a constant rain of pumpkin bombs falling from the sky, which must mean that the Hobgoblin is nearby. I can't imagine it was the Hobgoblin who framed Spidey. I don't think the Hobgoblin's plans go far beyond "blow Spider-Man up with exploding pumpkins". Still, I should probably put a stop to his rampage.
Here's the Hobgoblin, flying around on his floating disk thing. For some reason, I can't seem to hit him - he just flies through all my kicks without so much as a momentary wobble of his flying skateboard. Then a bloke popped out of a window below where I was standing and shot me in the backside. There was no warning from my Spider-Sense. Goddamn useless Spider-Sense. You should take a leaf out of Iron Man's book, Spidey. You wouldn't have needed your Spider-Sense there if you'd been wearing a bullet-proof suit.
Realising I wasn't getting very far against the Hobgoblin, I threw myself down a hole. By happy coincidence, there was a crowbar in the hole. You can just about see it at the right-hand side of the screenshot above. Spider-Man needs the crowbar to break into a boarded-up building, because having the proportional strength of a spider apparently means nothing if you can't get the right leverage. If only Spidey had the power to climb up a building and break in through one of the windows or something, then this trip to the sewers could have been avoided.
Hey look, the wall-crawler's actually doing some wall-crawling. In this game, at least, "whatever a spider can" translates to a surprisingly wide variety of moves: jumping kicks and standing punches, double jumps, wall-crawling, swinging on weblines and shooting web blasts, all of them crammed onto the Game Boy's two main buttons. A few of the moves feel a little unintuitive to perform - you have to crouch to fire a web-shot, and dropping through a platform to a level below requires you to press diagonally-down on the pad while you're in motion, but on the whole it's a fairly impressive compromise that allows for a good range of actions.
The problem with the controls comes from their finicky and imprecise nature. Take jumping, for example. You can either press the jump button to jump, hold it down for a jumping kick or double-press it for a double jump. However, the separation between these three actions is fuzzy to say the least, and it's far too easy to hold the button a nanosecond too long and perform a jump-kick when you wanted to double jump, or press it too fast and not double jump at all. There seems to be a delay between pressing the button and something happening, too, which makes combat a bit of a crapshoot.
Web-swinging works fairly well, although Spider-Man looks a bit creepy when he's climbing up and down a vertical strand. It's the way he's looking out of the screen. I feel like I've interrupted something that ought to be kept private.
Now that I've had a bit of practise with the web, I wonder if I could use it to grab the Hobgoblin?
Well, would you look at that. Spider-Man latches on to the Hobgoblin's flying machine and uses his weight to haul it to the ground. That's pretty cool. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets a point from me for this moment alone. Now that we're both back on terra firma, I can give the Hobgoblin the beating he so richly deserves.
Powers: Flying surfboard, explosive Halloween decorations.
Origin Story: Happened across the Green Goblin's storage locker.
Threat Level: 5/10
It's still the pumpkin bombs that are the biggest threat in this fight, and just getting into punching range of the Hobgoblin is the real challenge. The poor fellow seems rather at a loss now that he's not flying around in the sky, and consequently his plan devolves from graceful aerial combat to walking back and forth throwing pumpkin bombs. He doesn't take long to beat.
Now Hobgoblin's taken care of, Spidey can use his Goblin Glider to fly over the electric fence... but not before he finds a can of petrol to refuel it. Yes, dragging Spider-Man's extra weight caused it to run out of gas, so there's a nice mental image for you: Spider-Man carefully filling up his enemy's vehicle, in broad daylight, using a jerrycan he stole from the attic of an empty building. My favourite part of this is the implication that the Goblin Glider takes regular petrol and not some mysterious alien mineral or cold-fusion reactor juice.
Robot Spideys! So, the villain behind the framing of Spider-Man is a robotics expert. I guess that rules out Kraven the Hunter. I think wearing a leopard-print waistcoat bars you from ever learning how to make a robot.
Thanks, floating accumulation of possibly-human body parts with a bunch of bananas stapled to the side, I'll be sure to discuss my current situation with the Lizard.
Before you tackle the Lizard, you'll need the antidote that'll turn him back into his human form. You can't really hold a conversation with a lizard. Not when they've got those disturbing, glassy eyes.
The antidote is being held in a secure medical facility, and Spider-Man has no moral issues with breaking into the facility and using the place's own defences against it. There are four terminals to deactivate, but Spidey must not want to get his spider-gloves dirty or something because instead of just smashing them with his super-strength you have to stand near them until the crosshairs of the facility's automated gun turrets are placed over each terminal, and then dive out of the way when they fire, hopefully destroying the terminal instead of our hero. It's kinda fun.
With the antidote in hand, it's time to descend into the sewers and administer the Lizard's medication through the delicate medical procedure known as kicking the shit out of him.
Villain: The Lizard
Powers: Scales, claws, prehensile tail. You know, lizard stuff.
Origin Story: Mad scientist drinks lizard juice.
Threat Level: 7/10 or 1/10
The Lizard does all the things that lizards like to do, such as running back and forth and jumping into the air. This can be quite difficult to deal with at first, thanks to the previously-mentioned fuzziness of the controls... unless you get him trapped in the corner of his lair, like he is in the picture above. He can't jump to freedom from there, so you calmly punch him whenever he walks towards you, taking the battle at a nice, leisurely pace. It's okay, just remember that you're not pummelling a mutated freak to death, you're giving a man some medicine.
Not only does the now-human Lizard tell Spidey that he needs to take out a villain called Graviton (no, I've never heard of him either) but the Human Torch shows up to warn us that Carnage has taken over the nearby theme park. The Human Torch is not looking his best. I know there are only so many ways a man made of fire can look, but this shouldn't be one of them.
I decided to take on Graviton first, mostly to satisfy my curiosity. I might be going out on a limb here, but I'm guessing his powers have something to do with gravity.
Graviton is hiding inside the usual hi-tech base. You know, the kind where the high technology doesn't seem to be for anything in particular besides powering rows of pipes that drip deadly liquids. The platforming in this section is jolly enough once you got the hang of getting Spidey to stick to walls, and it even has what I think might be the only section of the game that requires you to swing on your web. To their credit the developers did give you the option to swing around, but most of the time it's faster, more efficient and less dangerous to walk and jump like the usual, non-arachnopowered videogame hero. At least the wall-crawling comes in useful now that I've reached Graviton.
Powers: What do you think?
Origin Story: Miscalculates his maths, gravity becomes a part of his body because molecules.
Threat Level: 1/10
One out of ten is a very generous threat level, and I only cut Graviton that much slack because he did technically manage to hit me while I was standing around watching his attacks. Graviton uses the power of, you guessed it, gravity to lift rocks into the air and then drop them on Spider-Man's head. Unluckily for him that's all he can do, allowing Spider-Man to climb up the side of the chamber, jump onto Graviton's floating platform and punch the bad guy in the face repeatedly with no repercussions. Let's go and see if Carnage puts up more of a challenge.
Powers: A bit of everything, plus complete psychopathy.
Origin Story: Serial killer is infected by alien parasite, enjoys murder.
Threat Level: Nothing, or infinite.
There goes Carnage now, inspecting the fine craftsmanship of this antique wooden rollercoaster. Carnage is an odd one, because he's completely immune to any attacks and can only be avoided, hence his threat level - you can't beat him in a fight, but you can just walk past him. I can only imagine that being ignored is not something that would sit well with Carnage, and he shows his displeasure by throwing alien goo at Spider-Man and generally acting like a three-year-old having a tantrum, only with more symbiotic death-tendrils. Don't give in to Carnage's petty demands for attention. Just keep walking to the right, climb the ladder you'll find there and web yourself onto a rollercoaster car.
Then hang on to the car for dear life in the toughest section of the game. The rollercoaster flies around the track, and it's your job to shimmy up and down your spider-thread in order to avoid the platforms in your path. Some times hitting a platform will knock you down to the floor so you have to start all over again, sometimes it'll kill you outright because apparently big blocks of electrified scaffolding are vital to the continued operation of this rollercoaster. It's a frustrating exercise in pure memorisation where being good at the game doesn't make a difference, and it's a right pain in the arse as a result. I know what you're thinking. "Why doesn't Spider-Man just climb to the top of the rollercoaster using his amazing climbing powers!?". Erm, actually, I thought you were going to say "why doesn't Spider-Man just ride inside the rollercoaster car," but your suggestion makes even more sense. The only explanation I can come up with is that the developers thought this scene would add more excitement to the game. They were wrong, unless you're excited by stress-related spikes in blood pressure.
Having clambered to the top of of the rollercoaster for reasons that are never revealed, Spider-Man is joined by some other famous Marvel Comics heroes. I think. From left to right they're Captain America, Wolverine, Cyclops and Human Torch, right? I will accept that the one I've labelled the Human Torch might actually be Amoeba-Man, the amoeba who's the size of a man. Wolverine and Cyclops are also inconclusive. Hell, I only said that was Captain America because he's got the shield, but admittedly it could quite easily be a car tyre that happens to be rolling by. Whoever they are, they're telling Spider-Man that they always believed in him. A sweet sentiment, but I would have appreciated a little help when fighting the Lizard or navigating that bloody rollercoaster a lot more than your kind words.
We're nearly at the end now, with Spider-Man making his way up the Empire State Building in order to reach the blimp hovering above it. It's a surprisingly sedate stage: whichever villain has hired these goons is either not paying them enough or lacks the charisma required to really get them invested in the mission to kill Peter Parker. There are guys who pop out of windows to take pots shots at you, but they dive back in to hide when you get close, and there are blokes with jetpacks whose frantic and disorganised flittings are more of a nuisance than an outright threat. If you managed to negotiate that rollercoaster, you'll have no trouble reaching the top.
Having reached the blimp, I'm at a loss for interesting things to say about it. It drops bombs on you? No, that's not very interesting. It has nothing to do with the game, but I could tell you that the Empire State Building was originally designed to allow airships to dock with it, right at the top. That's much more interesting than what's going on here. Just web yourself onto the darker patch on the underside of the blimp, haul yourself up and prepare to face the mastermind of this entire fiendish scheme!
Powers: Illusions, Michael.
Origin Story: Special effects worker gets greedy, places head in fish bowl.
Threat Level: 2/10
Mysterio, huh? Well, he's hardly the most menacing of Spider-Man's foes but fair play to him, he managed to assemble a team of villains to slow me down and create the spider-bots to set me up and he should be commended on his ambition. I wonder if Carnage being around was Mysterio's idea or just a happy coincidence? Someone should probably deal with Carnage at some point. Leaving the deranged, superpowered mass-murdered to roam free in favour of stopping the bubble-headed David Blaine wannabe seems like a miscalculation on Spidey's part.
Oh yeah, Mysterio. In a game where all the boss fights have been extremely easy, this final encounter is one of the least difficult. Mysterio uses his illusions to create copies of himself, and you can only hurt the real Mysterio... but which one is he?! He's the one that sets your Spider-Sense off, that's which one he is. If a Mysterio appears nearby and you hear the beeping of your Spider-Sense, that's the one to punch. Do that a few times - don't worry, Mysterio barely fights back - and you'll have foiled his evil schemes and restored the good name of Spider-Man, the masked weirdo who swings around New York at night beating people up while making jokes.
Enjoy your ending, folks. That's most of it right there. The other bit is the previous speech bubble which read "Congratulations with the defeat of Mysterio". It's not exactly War and Peace.
That's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, then. It was not amazing, but it definitely had Spider-Man in it, even if the graphics were often so abstract as to make visual confirmation of this fact difficult.
It's easy to be negative about this game, thanks to the simple fact that it's not very good, but to mercilessly tear into it would be a bit cruel. It has a Spider-Man essence to it that's hard to deny - you swing, you punch, and you even make bad jokes in the cutscenes. The more exploratory, open environment of the game makes a nice change, even if it does lead to some scenarios that are absurdly illogical even for something based on a comic book. The real problem is the controls, which are just loose and unpredictable enough to be annoying, changing the game from a passable-if-unexciting action platformer into something that might well get on your nerves. All told, it's a decent effort, given the limitations of the hardware. It also has Mysterio as the main villain, which at least gives it some sense of uniqueness. It's unlikely that New York's premier special effects expert / hypnotist / stage magician will ever receive such high billing again. Not while he dresses in a quilted bodysuit with a cape and a giant lightbulb for a hat.