Spider-Man is dependable when it comes to fighting crime, but he's as sure as day when it comes to showing up on all the latest video game systems. Sure enough, one of the many launch titles for the new Sony PSP is a 3D action game based on last summer's blockbuster movie sequel (for that matter, the movie itself is also available for the PSP's proprietary universal media disc format). It's a pleasant but fairly simple and short-lived experience that takes cues from 2002's Spider-Man: The Movie game, as well as last year's console companion piece to Spidey's movie debut.
Spider-Man 2 consists of nearly 20 loosely interconnected levels, which touch on the main story points of the film. Spider-Man first has to confront several other villains before the token final battle with Dr. Octopus. While each level is really only a few minutes long, there's actually a good bit of variety from one to the next. You'll go from rescuing hostages from the clutches of the maniacal Mysterio and his weird museum, to tailing Doc Ock across the NYC skyline, preventing him from causing calamity on the unsuspecting populace far below. Along the way, you'll beat up tons of goons, and explore indoor and wide-open outdoor environments. Many levels involve a race against the clock, which makes the rather bite-sized missions feel all the more rushed. The game breaks up the more-standard levels with several fairly interesting showdowns against Spidey's nemeses, and all in all, the variety and brisk pacing is part of the reason you'll probably end up blowing through the experience in no time.
Though this version of Spider-Man 2 doesn't take place in a huge open-ended environment like its console counterparts, it does often deliver the sense of the character's ability to perform fast-moving, gravity-defying acrobatics. You control Spidey using the PSP's little thumbstick, which feels a bit stiff and unresponsive at first, but eventually does the job just fine. Meanwhile, the D pad is used to slowly move the camera perspective around your character. Since using the D pad means having to let off the thumbstick (unless you happen to have more than one thumb on your left hand), it's not at all practical--so it's fortunate that you don't have to mess with the game's camera very often. It's possible to lock onto your nearest foe, execute various punch and kick combos, jump high into the air, shoot webbing at your enemies, and, of course, webswing all over the place. As you pass missions, you'll also earn points with which you can buy some new combos and other moves, and with which you can boost Spidey's strength, maximum health, and a few other stats. However, since the entire game can be finished in a matter of a few hours (counting multiple retries on the tougher levels), these role-playing elements feel pretty shallow. Still, the game is a little better with them included.
The combat in Spider-Man 2 is simple but pretty fun. You don't need to make extensive use of all of Spidey's different attacks and combos, but there's a decent selection to work with if you want. Most of all, the game succeeds at making you feel like you're in Spider-Man's shoes, since you're able to scale any surface (ceilings included), use your webbing like a zip line to make quick getaways, ravel up your enemies in a web cocoon, and other nifty maneuvers. Again, though, there's really not a lot of content in which you'll get to experiment with all these different abilities. Ironically, the game includes a fairly comprehensive (and optional) step-by-step training mode, which explains all the different things Spider-Man can do. But in the same time it would take you to go through the entire tutorial, you could probably rush through the first quarter of the game.
Spider-Man 2's lack of substance is mitigated by the good quality of its gameplay and its fairly impressive presentation. This is certainly the best-looking Spider-Man 2 title outside of the main console versions, which it closely resembles. Spider-Man himself is well detailed, and fluidly, realistically animated. Some nice lighting effects add a sense of depth to the visuals during the indoor levels, which tend to be riddled with objects that break apart satisfyingly when you smack them or smack someone into them. Meanwhile, the outdoor levels definitely look convincing, enough so that when you make Spidey fly above the buildings it causes you to lose sleep wondering just what his webs are attaching themselves to when he's so high up there. The game also sports some prerendered cutscenes that, in some cases, attempt to mimic key scenes from the movie. These inherently look nice on the PSP's bright, wide screen, though the characters in them look a little too stiff and glossy and not so much like their movie counterparts. The in-mission action also suffers from occasional bits of slowdown, as well as some visible seams and other little issues like that, which can sometimes lead to unsightly results. Loading times between missions are also a little too lengthy for comfort. Yet, with all that said, the game's visuals still come away looking great.
The highlight of the audio is probably the game's ample use of authentic speech, including the voices of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Alfred Molina as Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson, and Doctor Octopus, respectively. Spidey's one-liners during some of the boss fights are genuinely amusing. The game's sound effects are good, if predictable, predominantly featuring the "thwip" sound of Spider-Man shooting his webs. The soundtrack, like the level design, actually has some good variety to it, although the music tracks tend to loop frequently and can become grating. Fortunately, you can adjust the levels of the individual audio components to suit your liking.
Spider-Man 2 includes several different difficulty levels, some unlockable production art, and a few other minor extras. The game itself is of good quality and offers a healthy challenge. The bite-size levels would probably be well suited to the Spider-Man fan without the time or inclination to play for long stretches. Still, there's not much to keep you coming back, which may be a tough pill to swallow in light of the game's full retail price. So this isn't exactly the most overachieving action game around, but it's not a bad showcase of what the PSP can do, and it's generally entertaining for as long as it lasts.