Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Licensed games can be as painful to play as visiting relatives that you don't like, but it's something that we do annually, hoping that it will be better this time around, even though it usually never is. Activision, in its slew of licensed games, has released Spider-Man: Friend or Foe for the Nintendo Wii. It has to be mentioned that Friend or Foe has nothing to do with any of the Spider-Man movies, but rather with the upcoming debut of the new animated series that will be premiering in March of 2008 on the Kids' WB network.
All of that background information is important because most of the Spider-Man games we've been playing for the past few years have been based on the movies, so we've come to expect a certain kind of game. When you're picking up a Spider-Man video game, you expect to be able to swing around Manhattan while climbing buildings and skyscrapers and tying up the city's criminals with your super web goodness. Unfortunately, Friend or Foe plays more like a dumb-downed version of recent Spider-Man offerings.
Off the bat, Friend or Foe plays very similarly to Shrek: The Third, another licensed video game published by Activision, and since that game was not a showcase of gameplay, you can pretty much expect the same thing from FOF. It's an action/adventure title that has you control a main character and run around various areas defeating enemies while destroying objects, such as boxes and barrels, in order to collect tokens to purchase upgradeable abilities. Sounds like tons of fun, doesn't it? We'll it's not as bad as you would think, but it's not as good, either.
Friend or Foe includes many instances of fun and excitement through the various levels of gameplay. The premise involves Spider-Man being abducted by a flying spaceship, only to realize that he's been kidnapped by Captain Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and one of the many comic book characters that are featured in the game. Spider-Man's help is needed because a meteor shower has broken apart over Earth and fallen in various parts of the world. Spider-Man now has to locate all of these meteor shards and defeat holographic enemies known as Phantoms, and unfortunately for him, these meteor shards have mind-controlling powers. Some of his most evil nemeses have been affected, such as Green Goblin, Rhino and Sandman, just to name a few.
The story line is actually one of the game's stronger attributes, since it makes good use of the license. It's a completely original story and gives us a chance to do something we haven't been able to do: team up with Spidey's enemies and take on a greater foe. Fortunately, the game also features a two-player co-op mode, which allows for anyone to jump in and play at any time and a two-player versus mode that is more of an accessory than a bonus. You're given a decent amount of players to fight with, but it's still very basic. Some of your sidekick choices include Silver Sable, Black Cat and Lizard, and as you defeat your usual foes, they then become selectable options as sidekicks. The concept itself is pretty cool; it's just the execution that becomes a problem.
Sort of like the PS2 classic series Sly Cooper, you go though various areas, defeat enemies, leave the room, cut to a video that scans the room you've just entered and the enemies infesting it, and then it's time to get down to business. Unlike Sly Cooper, the enemies and environments in Friend or Foe aren't as diverse or enjoyable, and the game is extremely easy. The title features great presentation during cut scenes that feature Spider-Man and his villainous friends and mission briefings, which frequently show Captain Fury having battles of wits with the spaceship's computer. During gameplay, characters will spew comical one-liners, but it's nothing special, and the soundtrack is easily forgettable.
In Friend or Foe, our neighborly superhero travels around the world to locations like Tokyo and Nepal, and while some of the buildings and structures may make it seem like he's in a different country, the backgrounds themselves do not do the exotic locations justice. Even though the environments look bland, the characters look similar to how they'll probably be portrayed in the upcoming cartoon series, and they actually look pretty good. My only gripe with them is that they look too small at times.
The worst part of the environments, and the game itself, has to be the fact that as Spider-Man you cannot swing and climb around. Sure, you can swing on one web strand to kick an enemy, but you can't swing around the levels. The whole point of playing a Spider-Man game is to be able to swing around and climb all over the place. While we may not notice it in games where Spidey has co-billing, like Marvel Ultimate Alliance, games centered solely on Spider-Man give you the ability to swing around somewhere.
Throughout the title, you'll battle small, medium and large Phantoms. The problem is that the Phantoms are essentially the same in each level, with the only difference being that they reflect their environments. For example, while in Egypt, the Phantoms look very pharaoh-like, while in Transylvania, they'll look more like grave monsters. Despite looking different, they all fight the same way, and with no variety in enemies, the game starts to get repetitive very quickly.
Spider-Man has a good variety of web abilities and attacks, which, as previously mentioned, you upgrade through the game with tokens. By pressing the C button on the Nunchuck, you're able to switch between three web abilities: Web Line, Web Shoot and Web Stun. You execute your web abilities using the B button on the Wiimote, and different combinations of the A button (your primary button for attacking) and the B button will allow you to pull off some pretty cool attacks, but don't expect to be moving your arms all over the place. Friend or Foe features very limited motion controls, ranging from grabbing enemies with the B button and flicking your wrist to the left or right to throw them, or flicking your wrist downward to slam them. I guess it's better to have limited motion controls than try to overdo it and have terrible controls, even though the wait continues for an awesome Spider-Man game with great motion controls.
There may be a few mini-bosses along the way but by far the best part of Friend or Foe is the boss battles that occur as you reach the end of each city. The boss battles features basic platforming and pattern recognizing design, but it's still fun to play because it gives the game a Spider-Man essence that makes it enjoyable for any Spidey fan. Fighting Venom atop a church tower or Sandman in the deserts of Egypt not only lends some authenticity, but also the variety and difficulty that much of the game needs. The only downfall is that most of your web abilities don't cause any damage, so you finally get to use a bit of your gaming smarts.
Activision's chance to capitalize on the Spider-Man license should not fall on deaf ears, though, because the simple mechanics and easy gameplay in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe are the perfect fit for any young Spider-Man fan or casual gamer looking for an action title for the Wii. During the holiday season, it will make a great gift under the Christmas tree, but it's not the superhero game with which most gamers will be looking to update their gaming libraries.
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