With Spider-Man 3 slinging its way to theaters in May, Activision had us down to get some exclusive hands-on time with the Wii version of the anticipated game. Although the game is taking the same approach that it's PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 cousins are in terms of using the movie plot as its base and expanding on it, developer Vicarious Visions is offering content specifically for the Wii that ranges from a unique control scheme to exclusive comic characters to altered gameplay mechanics. We had the chance to try out a sampling of levels from a work-in-progress version of the game to see if it swings.
The first two levels we tried were tutorial levels that took you through the basics of the control scheme, which uses both the Nunchuk and the Wii Remote. Getting around is pretty standard for a Wii game from Vicarious, as many elements are similar to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. You'll use the Nunchuk to move Spidey and wave the Wii Remote to perform attacks. Quick attacks will be initiated by swinging left and right while strong attacks are triggered by an up and down motion or by pressing the A button.
If you flick the Nunchuk when Spidey's head flashes (a marker that his spider sense is kicking in), you'll be able to dodge attacks. You'll jump with the Z button and stick to walls when you hold the B button when you're near one. Holding Z and B together performs a webzip, which helps you move to a point quickly. The A button lets you interact with highlighted objects. Pushing down on the D pad lets you perform an adrenaline attack, which powers up your normal attacks. Hitting left or right on the D pad puts you in Spidey's sexy black suit (more on that in a second). Up on the D pad lets you enter photo mode and snap shots, like any good struggling photographer who happens to have superpowers does.
The plus button calls up your scrapbook, which is a rundown of what you've done in the game, and lets you access the hero menu where you can level Spidey up using hero points you earn. The minus sign calls up a city map to let you get an idea of where trouble is brewing. Finally, the 1 button lets you lock the camera onto a target. When the camera isn't locked, you'll be able to rotate it around you by tilting the Nunchuk left or right.
In addition to all that, the game puts a new twist on Spidey's webswinging by letting you physically spin his web lines. If you hold down the B button and flick the remote forward, you cast a line at the nearest building and start to swing. Releasing B will make Spidey release his web. You can choose to shoot another with the remote, or hold the Z button on the Nunchuk and flick it to send out a line from Spidey's other hand. Insane? Sort of. Do you look goofy? Yes, a little. Is it fun? Kinda. The mechanic is a little tough to get a handle on initially, especially if you want to go all pro and do the dual-hand webswinging, but it seems like it could be cool once you pick it up.
Following the controls tutorial, we had the chance to try a gang mission that showed off the massive city map and the crime system. Though all the console versions will feature gangs terrorizing the city, the Wii version of Manhattan will get one extra gang to disrupt things. Managing crime is important, as it affects how the city and its residents will evolve throughout the game. A well-protected city will thrive and look nice, while a sketchier one will be a lot more interesting (read: dangerous).
If you successfully complete missions and follow the various plotlines through the game, one of which features exclusive appearances from Shriek and Morbius from the comics, you'll earn hero points. You'll be able to spend the points in a submenu that is laid out like a spiderweb version of the Final Fantasy X sphere grid. The various points on the grid will let you power up Spidey's existing abilities, as well as earn new ones by spending hero points, letting you customize your wall crawler.
One of the big elements in the level showed off the Wii game's unique way of using the black suit. Unlike the other console versions of the game, the Wii version will let you put on the suit whenever you want. However, it's not all fun and games. To paraphrase the comic and film, with great power comes a big price tag. Though the black suit lets Spidey do significantly more powerful attacks, if you use it for too long, you'll notice the edges of the screen will start to darken and your line of sight will be reduced. If you don't change suits, you'll pass out. Unfortunately, taking the suit off isn't as easy as putting it on. Once you initiate the change back, you'll have to match onscreen prompts using the D pad. If you complete the sequence properly, you'll be able to get the suit off. If not, you can try again or pass out.
After getting in touch with the gangs in the city, we got to try out a fight between Peter Parker and "New Goblin" Harry Osborn, who's picking up the crazy baton from his deceased father. The fight differs from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, which get up close between the two fighters and mix in some God of War-style button pressing. On the Wii, Peter is hanging off of Harry's glider, and you'll have to avoid cars by flicking the Nunchuk or remote to get out of the way as Harry tears down the streets into traffic. When you can find a moment, you'll have to get Peter to jump on top of the glider and pummel Harry. During the battle, you'll have to match onscreen prompts to dodge his attacks while getting in some licks of your own until he goes down.
Once we beat yet another member of the Osborn family into the hospital, we got to have a close encounter with the Lizard. The level opened up with a cinematic that finds Peter visiting his ill-fated college professor Curt Connors. One quick look at the prof's recent home movies, and it's clear his experimental regeneration serum needs some more work. Rather than restoring his lost limb, the serum turned him into a surly, bipedal reptile that enjoys causing mayhem. The level showed off the various ways the Wii Remote and Nunchuk are tapped in minigame form, as you go and rescue people from burning cars and on the side of buildings. The mission featured a chase and melee with the lizard's minions. The last level we tried pitted us against the Sandman underground in the subway, which is the perfect place to fight a villain with the ability to morph into sand--well, not really.
The visuals in the game are solid, though they obviously lack the next-gen ultrabright shine of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. Despite that, Vicarious has managed to get a comparably sized city onto the Wii and a solid, open-world experience. You'll see cars and people going about their business. Given the Wii's limitations, things are a bit boxy in places, but there doesn't appear to be anything too ugly on hand. The game's frame rate holds up pretty well, even in the incomplete version we were playing around with. Spidey and his foes move at a decent clip already, with some inconsistency during the more insane levels. The character models, as with the city, are solid but a touch boxy. The main characters display more polygonal love than the assorted NPCs, as you'd expect.
The game's audio is pretty typical. There's voice for the major characters, a convincing array of sound effects, and a varied selection of sound bites from the denizens of the town. The film's stars are on hand to bring their alter egos to life, and more significantly, the mighty Bruce Campbell serves as your spiky narrator. Campbell's goofy quips are a funny complement to the action. The game's score offers the standard mix of original tunes and movie themes to keep the experience authentic.
Based on what we've seen so far, Spider-Man 3 on the Wii is shaping up to be a unique Spider-Man experience. Though the game's structure is familiar, the mechanics and character progression should keep it interesting. We're cautiously optimistic about the Wii control scheme. It seemed cool from what we played, but we wanted more time to get a proper feel for it to be sure it holds up over the long haul of the game. Spider-Man 3 is slated to ship in time with the film this May.