Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Ever since I was a kid, I always appreciated Spider-Man a little bit more than the other superheroes. Here was a guy who got his powers through a freak accident and took a familial tragedy to heart, using the situation to forge himself into a powerful force for good. But it wasn't just his superhuman agility or strength that allowed him to defeat his enemies; his endless taunting of his opponents, his exceptional intelligence and other mental traits were every bit as important as his ability to crawl up walls. Imagine my intense disappointment, both as a fan and a gamer, when I picked up Spider-Man: Friend or Foe for the Nintendo DS.
From the moment I powered up the game, I got a sinking feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. Seven — count them, seven — screens worth of developer and publisher names. You can't skip them or speed them up, so there's no opportunity to simply turn on the game and start playing. But how much can you tell from a game simply from the start-up screens? Surely, that kind of waiting is justified by exceptional gameplay, right? Oh, how I wish it were true ....
Let's begin with the graphical limitations Friend or Foe foists upon the unsuspecting buyer. The polygons of each character are extremely low-grade, with both heroes and villains appearing as large, awkward blocks of pixelation. Movement is awkward at best, with the partial 3D perspective offering little to no chance at accuracy; Spider-Man is supposed to have legendary agility, so I shouldn't have to try half a dozen times to get him to jump onto a car because the camera is at such an awkward and immobile angle that I can't see what I'm doing. Even the cut scenes are extremely sub-par, with characters apparently incapable of talking and moving at the same time. Believe it or not, those are the good cut scenes, too; interspersed between each mission objective is a Metal Gear Solid-esque text window where a still of Spider-Man's head speaks to a still of Nick Fury's head, with the latter's grimace so intense — even for Nick Fury — that he looks like he just sat down in a tub of pudding.
The sound design is little better. Picking up any of the few in-game power-ups offers a very brief, although not very helpful, boost in Spider-Man's abilities, but is accompanied by a steady, irritating humming noise that is so distracting that I actually found myself passing up boosts that were in the open so that I wouldn't have to hear the sound that came with them. The impacts of attacks sounded mediocre at best, and the archetypical "thwip" that should have accompanied web-slinging was absent. The voice acting is horrendous, with characters often completely missing the tone in which their dialogue was obviously intended to be read. Especially baffling is the sound effect whenever a mini-game is successfully completed; I've never heard any living person make the "woo-hoo" sound that bubbles forth from Spider-Man's lips, and if I'm very fortunate, I'll never hear it again.
One of the most glaring failures in Friend or Foe is the one place where success is most important: the control scheme. Fighting the endless waves of identical enemies is a practice in futility; aiming Spider-Man's attacks accurately is difficult at best, with attackers swarming you from all angles. He also lacks any sort of maneuver that can clear out a crowd without depleting his energy meter — which is constantly depleting on its own. Aerial attacks are limited to Spider-Man's one swing move, with only the lowest point of contact acting as any manner of assault; don't even think about using this against an enemy that's in close- to medium-range, as you'll completely miss your mark.
On the other hand, anything even remotely complex is often explained in detail; the game explains precisely how to beat the boss on the first level, so all you have to do is take out a few randomly spammed spawned enemies and follow its instructions to win. Where's the challenge? Why, the challenge is in figuring how exactly you use the Entangle move that's detailed in the directives given by the disembodied voice! (Spoiler: The L shoulder button cycles through your moves. Yes, the hardest part of this fight is figuring out the controls.) Even Black Cat's lock-picking mini-game is tooth-grindingly annoying, with the tumblers often bypassing their intended targets without giving so much as a shiver. You're allowed to defeat each lock when the game wants to acknowledge that you're in the right spot, and not a moment before.
Adding to the intense frustration is what I've dubbed the "ridiculous factor." Despite the presence of punch and kick attacks, Spidey seems to be incapable of executing the amazing feat of superhuman agility that is the jump-kick. Ryu can do it. Alex Kidd can do it. But it's far beyond the scope of Spider-Man, seasoned superhero who once wielded the Power Cosmic.
Don't bother hoping for his mobility to save you, either. Some buildings can be climbed, and others can't, for no apparent reason; I guess the occupants of this particular universe tend to randomly coat buildings with Teflon. Web-slinging as transportation is out of the question as well, as the moves can't be chained together. The game leads you along on a leash the entire way, forcing you to go down the path it has chosen for you, but hey, you get to explore the inside of buildings and rescue hostages ... who are ... just standing there, unguarded and not looking threatened in any way. (Feel free to look up "hostage" in the dictionary.) Power-ups are so easy to buy that they're boring; well before the end of the second level, I had purchased every health and energy boost in the entire game.
The dialogue is awkward and painful to watch, even more painful to hear and is mostly an excuse to explain what you're doing in any given stage. At one point, you are literally told that you have turn off "huge lasers" (I guess the normal kind isn't laser-y enough) and that "they will keep you from getting inside, so this is important." Seriously, that's what they say. The story is absurd: The super-villains fight you because they're being mind-controlled. Come on, I have a better reason for them to be fighting you: They're super-villains! I'm pretty sure it's in the super-villain charter: conquer world, defeat superheroes and obtain ultimate power.
All told, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is an abomination, an abysmal excuse for a game. Virtually every aspect of this blatant grab for cash is flawed in some significant way, and the makers of this game clearly churned out a severely sub-par product in an attempt to milk the franchise name in the most reprehensible of ways. If you have a Spider-Man fan in your life, and you've been trying to find some way to cause that person emotional trauma, this will be an excellent choice for your technological torture device needs. Otherwise, steer well clear of Friend or Foe; this is easily the worst game I've played in a long time, and that's really saying something. Poor Spidey, you deserve better than this.
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