Friday, January 15, 2010

A Closer Look at Spider-man for the PSX

As most of you probably know, I am a HUGE Spider-Man fan.  HUGE.  I have an entire upstairs filled with Spider-man comics, toys, posters, plastic banks, toothpaste, cereal, even pillows.  Spider-man was my hero when I was a kid.  To this day I have a slavish, idealistic vision of Stan Lee’s greatest creation.  Even though the comics aren’t as good as they used to be, I still buy Amazing Spider-Man every month; I feel I owe it to the wall-crawler after all he has given me.  I have mental problems.  That notwithstanding I am a HUGE Spider-Man fan.

When I was a kid playing the Atari 2600, I made an incredible discovery: Parker Bros. had granted me the opportunity of a lifetime, I could be Spider-Man.  Around 1982, Parker Bros. released a Spider-Man game for the VCS and I had to have it.  Sure, the game wasn’t much, climbing a building, snagging some bad guys and avoiding the Green Goblin, but it was Spider-Man, alive and under my control!  Thus began my love, and hate, affair with Spider-Man video games.
Later offerings would fail to wow me the way this initial foray into the pixilated Marvelverse did.  LJN released an entirely unspectacular Spider-Man game for the NES.  The premise was perfect: Spider-Man vs. the Sinister Six, six of his greatest foes, but thanks to the half-hearted efforts of the programmers at LJN the game turned out to be virtually unplayable.  Don’t think I didn’t try.  The Gameboy proved to be a bit more successful in bringing the web-head to life, but the original game was a little tricky to control and rather short.  On the Super Nintendo and Genesis Spider-Man games showed more promise with better controls, bright, colorful graphics and increased depth.  However, the games quickly revealed themselves to be repetitive side-scrolling fighting games that weren’t different enough from the thousands of other similar games that flooded those systems.  The addition of new and playable characters like Venom and the close tie-ins to the contemporary comic book storylines were a big plus, but they turned out to be really nice set dressing on what could have been a Double Dragon or Batman game.

Then it came. The promise of Spider-Man action like it had never been before.  Controlling Spider-Man in a completely wide-open three dimensional world, the ability to web-swing between skyscrapers,  fighting Spidey’s rogue’s gallery and saving the city, it was all going to be a reality and it was going to happen on the Playstation.  I owned a Playstation!  The math is really rather simple.  Anticipation was high and rumors flew regarding who was going to be in the game and what it was really going to be like.  Then, the game arrived…and it was amazing!  It was everything it promised.  Oh sure, there were little things to nitpick: the “mysterious” grey fog that enveloped the lower half of the city (very convenient Neversoft, very), the tunnel-vision story line that allowed for some exploration, but ultimately never strayed too far from the track, the camera angles were at times abysmal, but overall this game delivered everything it promised.  Packed with tons of bag guys, dynamic fighting controls, a dedication to the creative use of Spidey’s web shooters, a variety of level designs and goals, and boatloads of unlockables and hidden areas, Spider-Man for the PSX delivered in a big, big way.  I should know, I played the game through about a dozen times, at least once with every unlockable costume, and I explored every, and I mean every, inch of the playable areas.

And clearly, I was not alone in my estimation of just how good this game was.  Subsequent Spider-Man games for advancing modern systems all seem to take their cue from the ground that was broken by this game.  From its sequel, Spider-Man 2 Enter: Electro to even the most recent Spider-Man movie games, Spider-Man game play has evolved from the primordial ooze that is Spider-Man on the PSX.  So the question remains, when a game sets the stage for the future development of its franchise, can the original possibly stand the test of time?  (Last month I wrote an entire article analyzing this phenomenon, good reading) There is only one way to find out: fire up the Playstation!

And I did.  It was very difficult to resist the urge to just re-up one of my old save files and play as the Amazing Bag-man, or Spider-Man 2099. (The invincible allure of playing as Captain Universe Spidey still gnaws at me…)  But resist I did.  If I was going to give the game an honest shot, it needed to come from playing it through again as if it were new. 
It takes a few seconds to readjust to the controls, what I imagine it would be like were someone from today to revert to driving a car without power steering, but once I got used to the moderately jerky nature of Spidey’s turns, I was off and swinging.  The first level is really just a tutorial, as is to be expected, but there is plenty of webslinging to do and lots of bad guys to web up and punch out.  It’s nice that this sort of thing is here, because while not as tricky as learning the controls the first time around, it is helpful to have a low pressure area to regain your bearings (no matter how many times Spidey reminds me that I have to use his Spidey-compass to find the bank.  You’d think he might already know where the bank is, being the spider-about-town that he is. And furthermore, “Spidey-compass???”  But I digress…).
Who lives here, I wonder?

The levels progress from there in good order, some require you to liberate hostages all stealthily-like lest the terrorist shoot them point blank (and oh hell yes they will, too!);  some have you making a mad dash across the city either to save J. Jonah Jameson from the Scorpion or follow Venom to his hide-out to save Mary Jane.  Intermixed are plenty of good old fashioned 3-D explore-and-fight levels where you have to find this or that, destroy a certain something, or make your way to the end of a given area.  There is one particularly maddening level where you must ride atop a subway train whilst fending off scores (and I mean scores) of lizardmen without falling to your doom.  That level is a menace, even for experienced gamers.  Another very cool level has you deep in the sewers, where, if you poke around a bit, you might just stumble into the hidden lair of the Lizard! Interspersed amongst the various levels are some engaging boss battles against classic Spider-man villains like the Rhino and Mysterio.  The boss battles require a nice blend of brute strength and brains (ala luring Rhino into electrical conduits to stun him so you can bash him with oil drums) and are tough without being tedious.
The story is remarkably deep with several plot twists and comic book style character plotting.  There are cameos galore from nearly all of Marvel’s heavy hitters of the era (curiously absent is Wolverine, unless you count that billboard…).   The game feels like playing a Spider-man comic from the 1990’s which is pretty much exactly what you want from a game like this.

Goodies Galore!
I was truly surprised at how well the game has stood the test of time.  The gameplay graphics are solid, not great, but solid.   The level design is dynamic and holds mostly true to its promise of being a free-roaming, if a bit limited, three dimensional adventure.  The combat is dynamic as well: bad guys can be defeated a number of ways, fisticuffs, webbing, a combination of the two, tossing them off the side of a building, you get the idea.  The web swinging is a lot of fun and you can swing just about any way you want, even zip from surface to surface on webline!  Spidey is also able to crawl on virtually any surface, wall or ceiling, something I honestly wouldn’t have expected from an early attempt at a game like this. There are plenty of power-ups, secret areas to explore, and hidden unlockables to seek out that give the game enormous replay value.  (I really cannot describe fully just how much stuff there is to find and unlock and how many times you are going to want to replay this game) This game also harkens from a nearly bygone era where once the game is beaten you can give it another go on HARD mode.
Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and roses.  The game is dated in a number of ways.  The cut-scene graphics are just plain terrible.  As I recall, even for the time they were pretty bad, and time has not been their friend.  The characters are very blocky and their movements are reminiscent of those puppets on strings that are so damn creepy I will find them and kill them…DIE YOU HORRIBLE PUPPETS!  DIE! (Sorry, got stuck on a thing there…)  The game also suffers from miserable voice acting, but I’ve long since given up on getting good voice acting from a video game.  Beyond that there are some of the long aforementioned minor quibbles.  Occasionally the camera will get stuck behind something and make a jump nearly impossible.  You don’t get to go street level and explore the entire city (we’ll have to wait until the Ultimate Spider-Man game to go there), but considering what you do get, this is a minor point.  And perhaps the biggest drawback:  the game is quite short.  I realize I am playing this again after having worn it out ten years ago, but it only took me about 8 hours to get back through the game.  I had forgotten a great number of the levels, but still managed to work it out in fairly short order.  This is where the replay value saves the day. You see, beating the game on normal level unlocks the Black Costume Spider-Man, and I defy you not to play the game again with that costume on.  It cannot be done.  But that said, the game can be completed pretty quickly even if you are figuring things out for the first time.
Final Look
Quibbles notwithstanding, I would have to say that overall, Spider-Man for the Playstation has successfully stood the test of time and while a bit dated, is just as much fun today as it was when I first spun the disc way back when.  As a matter of fact, after I finish typing this, I’m going to have to get some screenshots and chances are good that is going to result in me playing through the game again, at least one more time!  Maybe it’s just the Spidey fan in me, but I still love this game!  If you are looking for a nice trip down memory lane or just want to see how your favorite modern Spider-Man game got where it is, I still highly recommend Spider-Man for the PSX.
Spidey may be gone, but stick around for Tips & Tricks!

Join me next month because I’m going to stir the pot a bit and probably make a few people mad or at the very least scratch their heads.  You’ll never disagree with me more than you will after next month’s Closer Look!


SPOILER ALERT!!  This section may contain plot information or reveal aspects of the game better left to discovery.  Proceed with caution.

Explore, explore, explore.  Except for the levels where time is of the essence (i.e. chasing Venom or the Scorpion), take your time and crawl over every building and swing to every ledge.  Sure, your Spidey-Compass, and Spidey himself, will nag you incessantly about getting to wherever it is you are supposed to go, but you can ignore that all you want.  You’ll have to cover every corner of the playable area if you are to find all the unlockable comics and costumes, etc.  Also, there are some real treats for Spider-man fans like myself.  Some of the hidden areas are just too cool to miss.  I’ll not ruin them for you by listing them here, although there are plenty of good Walkthroughs out there that can point you to them if you like.
Some locations and objects will generate context specific dialogue from ol’ Spidey.  Swing over to the Baxter Building (Four Freedoms Plaza depending on the era, I forget) in level one, for example.

Remember, you are SPIDER-MAN, and one of your key abilities is being able to stick to any surface.  You can save yourself a lot of headaches if you spend as much time on ceilings and walls as you do walking around on foot.
Remember, you are SPIDER-MAN, and another of your key abilities is to web swing.  You can quickly span great distances or zip from a wall-to-wall or wall-to-ceiling using your web shooters.  This can help you avoid tedious enemies, dodge attacks, or find hidden passages.  Just be sure you watch your web fluid.

When fighting the Scorpion, keep your distance.  Scorpy’s tail is quick and almost always knocks you down.  Your best strategy is to attack from afar by tossing office equipment at him to get his attention, then when quarters get close, give him a few kicks to the carapace and then haul ass out of there.  Repeat.
Boss levels almost always contain a hidden comic book.  If there is no urgency to defeat the boss, take a second to look around, break some things and see what is what.

Impact webbing will be your best friend later in the game.  It is the only way to defeat Mysterio and it takes down Lizardmen from a safe distance.

When taking on the Rhino, you obviously have to ram him into the electrical generators, but if you are careful, while he is still recovering from the jolt you can use that opportunity to heave an oil drum at him and take him out in short order.  If you cannot get the timing right, then a few trips into the barrels matador-style after he has exhausted the generators should do the trick.  Just jump straight up when he charges at you (and, you know, be sure you are standing in front of some oil drums…)

On the subway ride, stick to the middle of the car (unless you really need a power-up) and use a combination of kicks, impact webbing and web shields to keep the lizardmen at bay.

When battling Venom, both times, use impact webbing and stay the hell away from him.  If you get close enough to punch, he can level you with one good smack, or worse he can snag you with the symbiote and initiate some truly dreadful voice acting that you’ll get sick of really fast.  Impact webbing does a ton of damage and will take him out in short order.
Be very careful when saving Mary Jane.  Venom can activate any of four different switches to fill the tank she in dangling in with water.  What is worse, so can you! And you probably will a million times if Venom jumps out of your way as you fire impact webbing at him.  Close quarters fighting is even worse as multiple punches can toggle the switch off and on repeatedly, causing MJ to freak completely out and whine like there is no tomorrow.  Keep your distance, use the impact webbing and keep an eye on the tank.  If you see water starting to fill, find out which switch is responsible and turn it off fast.  If you miss Venom and hit the switch yourself, be sure you turn it back off immediately before trying to find Venom again.

Fire webbing is essential against the symbiote spawn.  It is the only thing that can take them down with any speed.  Hand-to-hand is a sure way to get your Spidey-butt kicked, so keep your distance and shoot the Fire webbing at them.

In the fight with Carnage, you have to trap him in the Sonic Bubble and hold him there so the sound waves can take him out.  Once in the bubble, well timed impact webbing can keep him there until he expires.   If you have a moment, take a good look outside the windows as Carnage is getting his due…

Escaping from the final level is a trial and error learning experience.  Expect to die a few times before you get out.  Once you know the layout of the route, web-swing to dramatically increase the distance between you and Monster Ock.  You can also zip-line up and immediately web-swing over when you ascend to a new level.  There is some generous lead time, but Monster Ock will catch you if you dally too long.
All this time, Doc Ock just needed a good hug!  Who knew?!
RUN.  I'm not even kidding.

Once you think you’ve seen and done everything this game has to offer you, enter the following code: GBHSRSPM.  I promise you a very good time on this run through of the game.

As you encounter different characters you will unlock their profiles in the extras section. Like these lovely, if mightily polygonal, ladies.

Or this curious fellow...

No comments:

Post a Comment