From publisher Activision's perspective, the N-Gage version of Spider-Man 2 is only a small segment of the multimodal video game blitz it has been prepping for this summer's "sequel season." Things are looking a little different from Finland, however; even if the movie weren't generating a veritable buzz storm, the webslinger's presence on the N-Gage would still be a vital component of Nokia's 2004 release calendar.
Nokia is relying on Spidey's cross-platform debut to buoy its gaming handset's fortunes and fortify its rather tenuous position in the console market. After delaying the N-Gage QD's North American market date by another month and slashing its end-of-year portfolio estimate to 40 titles, Nokia is in desperate need of some good news; a successful outing for the N-Gage's first simultaneous release certainly wouldn't go amiss and could help justify the N-Gage's "gaming machine first, handset second" positioning. Although the beta version of Spider-Man 2 we previewed had a number of non-arachnid bugs in need of squashing, the final product that is taking shape looks to be a solid platformer with an interesting 3D racing component.
Spider-Man 2 chronicles the ultrasticky superhero's fight against the insidious Dr. Octopus over the course of 19 levels. Fifteen of those levels involve maneuvering the bookish Peter Parker's alter ego through 2D platform-and-tunnel mazes, while the remaining four have you webslinging across a 3D New York City. Explanatory cutscenes break up the action between levels by retrofitting narrative from the movie with a series of art-and-dialogue slides.
The platforming levels that make up the bulk of the game are generally quite expansive and seeded with an assortment of thugs, webshooter power-ups, and collectible silver spiders. Depending on the level, Spidey may be tasked with destroying a certain number of toxic waste barrels, chasing after villains like the Shocker and Mysterio, or rescuing hostages. The gameplay for these sequences mainly focuses on getting Spider-Man through the level in one piece. Despite his superpowers, Spidey will succumb to the attacks of quotidian baddies pretty quickly in single combat (especially given this version's hit detection, which is obviously half-finished and very haphazard), so it's best to use his wall-climbing and webshooting abilities to avoid them whenever possible.
You can shoot webs to either side, straight up, or to 45-degree angles, attaching them to walls and swinging like a spandexed Tarzan. Unless otherwise directed, Spider-Man will automatically use his webbing attachments to swing onto the surface in question, which takes some getting used to. Other uses for webbing include combat (you can web up and immobilize enemies with a limited number of regular shots or pick up power-ups that grant web-bombs or webshields), grabbing barrels, or, if you press the jump button in midair, a quick 45-degree shot that functions as sort of a double jump. The obligatory "spider sense" is present, too; when yellowish dots start swimming around Spidey's head, you know it's time to watch out for hidden areas, an oncoming subway, or the like.
Spider-Man's most important ability is probably his inherent adhesiveness, which allows him to affix to and climb any surface with ease. A large part of the platforming missions consists of clambering through tunnels, up walls, and across ceilings, circumventing goons and snagging photo ops at locations denoted by a camera icon (Peter Parker, freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle, has to pay rent in New York--not exactly a tenant's market). Once you enter climbing mode by pressing down or jumping onto a wall or ceiling, you maneuver by pressing the appropriate direction key. This part of the game is still clearly in need of some tuning, as the climbing mechanism is rather difficult to control, especially in tight spots. Nevertheless, the ability to traverse almost every surface in a level is a neat trick, and it will add a new perspective to the game's tried-and-true platforming mechanics.
The 3D sequences, though few and far between, add an interesting bit of racing play to the mix. Spider-Man starts the level stuck contemplatively to the side of a building, then vaults off into space at your command, shooting webs at high-rises and hurtling down the street in his trademarked series of sweeping arcs. The Spidery One can gain or lose altitude as necessary to avoid pedestrian bridges and the like, as well as make sharp turns or perform flips to reverse course. There's also a speed meter that measures your webslinging timing--if you successfully hit the web button at the tail end of a swing, Spidey will do a little scissors kick and accelerate; however, if you botch the new webshot, Spidey falters and loses some velocity.
Graphically, Spider-Man 2 has a fair amount to offer. We're extremely impressed with the game's animation, especially for Spidey himself, who performs his acrobatics with a lithe, insectoid grace that's straight out of the comic books and movies. The level palettes thus far are bright and clear, and the other sprites are of functional, if not overwhelming, quality. The 3D levels are pretty pixilated but run with little slowdown. Spider-Man 2's audio is competent and features several different catchy background tunes. Sound effects at the moment are a little on the weak side, however; hopefully Activision and Backbone will grace the rogues' gallery with a more compelling array of fighting noises and grunts for the final version.
Spider-Man 2 needs a little more time in the oven before it's ready for consumption, but the beta version is a generally enjoyable title that puts some novel gameplay elements on display. It's clearly not enough for the N-Gage to be trucking out GBA ports six months ex post facto at this stage in its career, and Spidey is a definite step in the right direction. We'll give it a full rundown when it comes out in a few weeks.