Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace is the latest handheld game to feature Marvel's webslinging hero and the first to land on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. Thanks to the superior capabilities of the GBA and lessons learned from the two previous Game Boy Color releases, developer Vicarious Visions has fashioned a compelling and challenging action game that isn't merely an evolution from its predecessors--Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace is seven full levels of original gameplay steeped in old-school trickery.
As in previous games, Spider-Man's talents include the ability to jump, punch, webswing, and cling to flat surfaces as the need allows, such as walls and ceilings. In a pinch, you can also use webbing against Mysterio's thugs in the form of web bullets and sticky nets--albeit at a cost to overall web capacity. New to the GBA game, each level has a variety of suit upgrades that enhance Spidey's abilities, including thermal, electric, and armor suits, as well as the nifty black symbiote suit that debuted during the Secret Wars 2 comic book series. Since Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace is a deeply challenging game, the acquisition of these upgrades in earlier levels is often the key to passing future obstacles.
Indeed, Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace is no cakewalk. As you seek out the key items within each level and get to the bottom of a series of technology thefts, you'll have to deal with hundreds of hired goons and six of Spidey's toughest archvillains. There are hordes of gun-toting, muscle-bound thugs, all of which do their best to punch, kick, and flail Spidey when he's down. Sometimes it's overwhelming to have to sneak around so much and avoid the head-to-head battle, but Spider-Man rewards your patience with the joy of exploration and discovery. Each level has plenty of tunnels, tubes, and shortcuts to uncover, many of which will make your journey a lot easier. The boss battles are challenging as well, as each villain, be it Rhino, Hammerhead, Big Wheel, Scorpion, or Mysterio, has his own specific weakness to exploit--and the weaknesses aren't entirely obvious from the outset, either.
What's the reward for biting the bullet and honing your Spider skills? The opportunity to play one of the most beautiful and artful comic-inspired games since the X-Men series on the Super NES. Each of Spider-Man's seven levels is highly detailed and colorful, from the gritty New York City streets and a gambling yacht to the more sinister confines of a working chemical factory and a satanic amusement park. Character sprites, whether Spidey and the bosses or just lowly villains, are fluid and realistic, and they look video-captured in some instances. To top it off, a background of techno-crash music and loud sound effects give the whole experience an urgent and maddening nature. Slight touches, such as the sound of broken glass or swinging webs, also add to the game's overall quality.
Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace has a steep learning curve and isn't terribly lengthy, but outside of these main gripes, it is also a solid platform for Marvel's Spider-Man character. There are times when control response seems a bit loose or when the password backup system is an annoyance, but such qualms are minor when you're having so much fun saving the city of New York and witnessing your exploits retold through a bevy of hand-drawn comic-inspired cutscenes.