While there have been numerous titles developed in Spider-Man's name, most people would agree that modern console gaming hasn't given Spider-Man the treatment he deserves. Those who've had a chance to play the horde of 16-bit titles (almost all of which are derivative beat-'em-ups or awkward platformers) can attest to the fact that Spidey isn't represented very well in those games. And with good reason - the re-creation of a character with such a dynamic range of motion and an equally dynamic set of powers may have been beyond the scope of previous technology.
Neversoft's recent effort on the PlayStation, though, pleased Spidey's fans and set a new standard for comic-based games. Not only did it provide an excellent framework around which to build future Spider-Man games, but it also proved to be a great experience in itself. Spider-Man was built around the engine that powered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and that engine's ability to effectively render expansive environments was vital in creating the playgrounds in which Spidey and his loathsome villains duke it out. The game's systems - from Spider-Man's arsenal of abilities to the camera that follows him - are all wonderfully functional, but, of course, they're not without their warts. Edge of Reality's recent N64 port of Neversoft's game is a direct one.
The developers obviously went to great lengths in their attempt to faithfully re-create Spider-Man's various powers. As per the timeless theme, Spidey can indeed do anything a spider can - spin his web in a variety of ways, adhere to flat surfaces, and even detect danger, when his spider sense goes atingle. Spidey's webslinging ability plays a large role in the game. He uses it to shield himself from enemy blows, swing from rooftop to rooftop, and entrap his foes. His web attacks are divided into two categories: combat related and mobility related. All of the webspinner's combat functions revolve around the use of the upper C button in tandem with the analog stick. Hitting the button on its own, for example, will shoot a trap web that entangles foes, while hitting up and the button will issue forth impact webbing, which bludgeons them. Other tricks include the webshield, which protects Spidey from attacks before exploding and subsequently damaging all foes within its area; punch pads, which augment damage; and the webyank, which allows Spidey to pull and tug enemies in a desired direction.
Outside of combat, though, is where Spidey's webs play their most vital role. The R and B buttons, respectively, allow Spidey to either swing to an adjacent platform or zip instantly to the ceiling (or floor, or opposite wall - depending on his originating point). The zip line is one of the game's coolest features, as it is accompanied by a dynamic camera change. For example, if Spidey zips up to the ceiling, the camera will realign itself to his capture his new position, allowing clear sight of the floor, which is now below his head.
Unfortunately, therein lies the source of the game's imperfections. First, it must be noted that the developers did an admirable job with the camera - to have anything even resembling a working camera following a character whose perspective changes so often and so drastically is nothing short of amazing. When Spider-Man's camera is functional, the play experience is right on, and you honestly do feel like you're the webhead - crawling, zipping, and brawling your way though the Big Apple with all the corresponding power fantasies and feelings of euphoria intact. Sadly, though, the camera occasionally misbehaves, swinging a bit too wide during a brawl or focusing slightly behind where it should during a wallclimb, capturing a piece of wall instead of the webhead crawling on it. Most frustrating, though, is when the camera inverts your perspective after the use of a zip line - while it may seem as if nothing's amiss (as the subtle change in perspective will surely evade your notice), the controls will be reversed, causing "up" to mean "down" and vice versa. Fortunately, these instances are few and far between, though prolonged play will undoubtedly yield some deaths due to them. While one is tempted to think that a camera-refocusing function would have solved this problem, the feature would have been too problematic to use in cases when Spider-Man isn't on the ground, which, as it happens, is a good portion of the game experience. Again, it bears mentioning that the developer's ability to tame the camera as well as it did is quite an accomplishment.
Spider-Man hits its marks in all other categories. Graphically, the characters are keenly animated and quite dynamic, making elegant use of modest poly counts. Cool effects abound - when in combat with a symbiote, for example, the symbiote's bodies warp in many grotesque ways. The N64 version is luckily free from the texture-warping present in the PlayStation version. Some of the larger cityscapes, though, suffer from an odd variety of fade-in, causing buildings to look quite fragmented as they enter your field of vision. The PS version's FMV cutscenes have been replaced with comic-strip-style stills that appear between the game's stages. While they're not as visually impressive as the PS version's videos, the stills do the job of moving the game's story forward, with cameos by such Marvel notables as the Human Torch, Daredevil, and the Punisher. In truth, the missing FMVs aren't much of a loss, when the game as a whole is considered.
The voice-over work in the game is great, as Spider-Man's repertoire of one-liners has been faithfully re-created. However, though fans of his quips are well provided for, after a few continues, Spidey's remarks start to get repetitive. Much of the supporting cast speaks as well, providing you with audible cues and generally adding color to the experience. Sadly, the background music is fairly minimal most of time, picking up only when the action warrants it.
The level designs are richly varied and provide for a multitude of experiences. Some levels are combat-heavy, others require you to speedily flee from certain threats, and several are focused on a seek-and-destroy objective. The landscapes are also widely disparate, ranging from cityscape rooftops and seedy warehouses to labyrinthine sewers. And there are certain levels that you'll end up seeing several times in order to open up all the game's additional extras (such as its costume changes, cover galleries, model viewers, and training modes).
Fans of the long-running comic series and players in search of the ever-elusive novel game would do themselves a favor by checking out Spider-Man for the N64. Though the game isn't perfect, it is a wonderful accomplishment on the part of the developers, and it is simply very fun to play.