Spider-Man: Friend or FoeESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Action Games
Developer - Next Level Games
Publisher - Activision
Having played a few Spider-Man games in the past, and having reviewed Spider-Man 3 for the PS3 and Wii in May of this year (2007), I was somewhat curious to see how Vancouver based publisher Next Level Games would handle the webslinger's next game. After some playtime with the Wii version, which is identical to the 360 version, I would say that this game is a hit and miss affair given that there are both good and bad points to Spidey's latest adventure.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe has an art style all its own. It definitely takes a comic book approach as the visuals have a cel-shaded look to them. The game definitely doesn’t tax the Wii’s hardware, which is a good thing given the complaints of how Nintendo’s next-gen console is underpowered compared to the other two machines on the market. The game manages to run pretty smooth too and it maintains a bright and colorful palette, which really matches comic book art style of the game. I was somewhat amazed too how the game managed to maintain a solid framerate when a lot of action occurred on screen at once. All the characters, from Spider-Man himself to Doctor Octopus, look pretty darn good too. Each character has a repertoire of special moves and some of them mange to incorporate the use of special effects when doing so. For example, Doctor Octopus has a double jump slam move that not only shows some lightning like effects, but it also leaves the ground the move landed on cracked from the impact. Overall Next Level Games did a pretty good job of bringing the Spider-Man universe to life in this game, and although the game is not demo material, it looks pretty darn good.
Something that really caught my attention was the sound in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. From the voice acting to the sound effects, everything is very solid. There is a lot of voice acting from all the characters available in the game. Of course Spider-Man has a large repertoire of voice samples, but the supporting cast has a large amount of voice work as well, and all the quips and comments from everyone in the game really manages to help bring the game alive. And on a side note, pay attention to the voice of the computer while in the hellicarrier, she has some pretty funny things to say. As for the rest of the audio package, well it too is a solid affair as all the sounds from the ‘thwap’ of Spidey’s web to the sound of hordes of phantoms exploding; everything has an animated series like sound to it. Again, like the graphics, I think that Next Level Games did a pretty good job of making the sound bring the Spidey universe to life.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is, for a lack of a better term, a beat'em up fighting game. Next Level Games did offer up a story for this latest Spider-Man outing though. The main storyline has Spider-Man being recruited by Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The reason for this is that many of Spider-Mans enemies of the past (e.g. Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus) are being brainwashed by an unknown villain who does so by using shards from the same meteor that spawned the symbiotic suit that Venom wears. These shards are also being used to create an army of holographic monsters called phantoms, which Spidey must defeat while he gathers the various shards, reaches the end of each level and eventually faces of against one of the many enemies of his past. The reward for completing each level, and defeating each villain, is that you free them from their brainwashed state and they then become an ally, willing to fight along your side. Although the premise of the story does sound kind of crazy, I really did enjoy it given that I had that chance to fight with characters that have been a thorn in Spider-Man's side for oh so long.
The actual gameplay in Friend or Foe is very basic and not as engaging as one may hope, given the premise of saving past villains and making them your ally. Your base of operations is S.H.I.E.L.D's hellicarrior which takes you to various exotic locations (e.g. Tokyo, Nepal, Transylvania or Cairo to name a few) in your effort to collect all the meteor shards. Prior to heading down for battle you pick your teammate, which can be one of Spidey's longtime allies or one of the newly 'reformed' villains that you have previously saved. While at each location you will face countless numbers of phantoms before finally meeting the final boss. That is it. Each level makeup is the same, just in a different location. I had hoped that as I trotted across the globe that each location would have resulted in a new challenge, different from before, but unfortunately that was not the case. I had hoped there would be some platform centric sequences, or some need to explore the levels in detail, but Friend or Foe is, as previously mentioned, a beat'em up, get from point A to point B style of game. Sure, there is a little incentive to look around the levels, as you can collect DNA samples throughout, but these are not particularly hard to find and don’t really add to the overall gameplay.
As I ventured through the various locales in the game I found that the challenge of each level was pretty much the same. Enemies do vary in size, ranging from small to large, and as the game progresses into the later levels there are some differences in the strength of each enemy, but there is no drastic change in the challenge. I found that just a couple of styles of attack worked the same regardless of what level I was on. Boss battles are somewhat a different experience from fighting the hordes of phantoms, but they too can rely on a similar fighting style for each boss. Interestingly enough, I could not find a difficulty slider or setting in the game, and my fellow staffer Trevor H. couldn't find one on his Xbox 360 version. So you are basically stuck fighting through each level on one difficulty setting.
As you make your away through Friend or Foe, you can collect what are known as tech tokens. These tokens can be found by breaking objects
(e.g. vases, crates, barrels) and defeating the hordes of enemies. You will get a lot of these tokens during your adventure and they serve multiple purposes. The first allows you the ability to upgrade your and your teammate’s abilities. It was somewhat cool to increase Spidey's web abilities over time. Some of them are actually a treat to watch too such as wrapping up enemies in a web cocoon. Powering up your allies is also pretty enjoyable, but not as rewarding as their talents are not as broad as Spider-Man’s, therefore there is less to actually do with them. The second use for these tech tokens is life. Each time you die a few tokens are taken out of the 'bank' and you respawn as the spot you perished. Now I do not know what the consequences for running out of tokens is, as I did not die enough for this to happen. By and large, the tech tokens do offer a bit of an incentive system, if not somewhat redundant as the game is not as challenging as one may think.
Controlling Spidey and his allies is not that difficult and something that disappointed me was the lack of innovative use for the Wii controllers. The motion controls are only used while playing are that you shake the nunchuk to change characters and you wiggle the Wii-remote during a throw to modify the move. I think that the motion controls of the Wii-remote and nunchuk were definitely under utilized and so much more could have been done that would have managed to separate this from the other versions of Friend or Foe out there. Out of all honesty, there is zero difference between the Xbox 360 and the Wii versions of this game. Everything from the story to the art style remains identical. The only added feature on the Wii version is the weak implementation of the Wii-centric controls.
Another problem I found with the game was the camera, and the lack of control over it you have. Actually, you don’t have any control at all. The camera does its own thing and in theory this is a neat idea as you are left to just focus on the action on screen. But in reality this is truly a bad thing as some of the camera angles that the game chooses are quite horrible and it can be a challenge at times to get the right view for the action you are involved in. As well, this camera can hamper the co-op experience. I found that as I played a game or two with Trevor H. with the 360 version that if the camera focused on one of our characters, the other couldn’t be effective given that he seemed to be almost out of the frame. Bottom-line, a manual camera would have been beneficial for this game.
In terms of challenge, or lack there of, this game will take you anywhere from 5-8 hours of play. The length of play cannot be expanded on either as there are no bonus missions, there is no varying skill levels to choose from, nor is there any incentive to play again.
Once you go through the game you have pretty much completed everything. In terms on multiplayer modes, there is a 2-player same screen co-operative mode, that is about it. This game could have benefited from an online co-operative mode, and we know that the Wii is capable of doing such. It is a shame that this was not implemented for this style of game.
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