This article was originally published at Aussie-Nintendo.com
Spider-Man games have had plenty of room for improvement since the original came out on Atari 2600 many years ago, so Spider-Man: Friend or Foe really has nothing to live up to. Published by Activision and developed by Next-Level Games, Friend or Foe is the latest spidey release after the horrible and obviously unfinished Spider-Man 3, which was based on the crammed and disappointing movie of the same name. Although an official movie product, Friend or Foe bears a much closer relationship to the comics than any of the movies. If you buy this game expecting to hear Tobey McGuire lazily reading lines from the movies then you have luckily bought the wrong game.
If you look at all the cliché cartoon plots, high up are gems like “the dumb guy gets smart” or “the bad guy has to work with the good guy to get another bad guy”, Friend or Foe is the latter. The game opens with an FMV of Spider-Man fighting many of his arch-enemies before being whisked aboard Nick Fury’s helicarrier. The plot is a simple matter of asteroid shards (the ones carrying the symbiote) landing in five different locations on earth, another mysterious menace spreading “phantoms” around the shard locations and enslaving Spider-Man villains along with other Marvel notables. With the help of Nick Fury, his eccentric computer and characters like the Green Goblin, Scorpion and Venom, Spider-Man has to save the day. The story is all told through enemies FMV’s for each of the five levels. A plot like this is hard to take seriously and rest assured the game seems to pride itself on not doing so.
If you miss the old-school beat-em-ups from the mid-nineties like me, then Friend or Foe might be your kind of game. This game is a comic style beat-em-up at heart and even includes co-op mode. Instead of having Spider-Man swing through an open city with optional goals, Friend or Foe is restricted to an isometric perspective and the game play is much more linear. This may sound bad at first but since it is done well, it is much better for it. Each level is divided into four stages with bosses at various intervals. The bosses are usually Spider-Man’s enemies and join after you defeat them and destroy amulet controlling their mind. After this they become either playable directly by you, a mate or just as a computer sidekick in single player. All characters are upgradeable in various ways and upgrades are bought with “tech tokens” scattered all around the game.
Friend or Foe is multiplatform but the Wii version is thankfully a cheap port without poorly thought out motion controls. Apart from flicking the nunchuk to change characters and the pointer for the menu: buttons and analog are all you require. The controls are simplistic but this is really all they need to be. Those who have played the other Next Level developed Wii game Mario Strikers: Charged Football, will notice some pleasing similarities. Spider-Man can use his web to fling enemies into each other, slam them into the ground, shoot projectiles and tie them up. There are many variations in how he does this and if you just feel like beating them up he can punch and kick as well. It is all very comic and the action is often slowed down for effect. The sidekicks can all do the same but unfortunately none are as much fun to use as Spider-Man.
The presentation is nothing special here. The graphics are polished but merely competent. It is definitely the PS2 standard Wii owners are getting. There are some cool visual effects for destroying enemies but those are the most positive aspects. The levels are extremely simplistic with minimal backgrounds and many feel like they are slightly re-arranged or augmented from previous stages. There are only five different locations including New York, Japan and Nepal and all have a very stereotypical visual theme to match. The music and sound effects are your typical comic/movie fare with a lot of orchestral pieces recycled in each stage and lots of “biff” and “pow” sound effects that are quite underwhelming to the actions they audibly represent.
The presentation is lacking but the games overriding flaw is its repetitiveness. There are only a few types of enemies apart from the various boss battles and after the first two levels; the game becomes a lot less fun. The only changes between levels are the enemy skins which are modified to fit the world theme. There are small, medium, big and large enemies and all have a specific weakness that are learned on the first encounter and can be repeated the same way each time. The bosses present the only variety in the game and although there is a good selection of characters to unlock, there are only about two boss battles per level. While 2D beat-em-ups of old were repetitive, nearly all had a lot more variety than Friend or Foe.
Although repetition is certainly the games major weak point, it is also both very short and very easy. I’m not even sure if you can fail a level as every time my health ran out I either re-spawned or took control of the computer character. The main obstacle to beating the game is boredom: overcome this and you shall surely prevail whether you are five years old or a senior citizen. There is a versus mode for two players and a few things to unlock in each level (whether you manage to collect everything on your first run or if you go back and replay some levels to get them). Maxing out the stats on the characters and unlocking some concept art will only appeal to the biggest fans though.
Anyone who likes side-scrolling 2D fighters (are there any people left?) will probably find a few things to like in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. It takes the unusual step of confining Spider-Man to an isometric battle ground and have him fight together with many of his oldest enemies. The action is constant and mostly fun at first but it becomes very repetitive, all too quickly. Overall, the best way to play the game is with two-players as it does literally double the fun. There are a few team moves that add some variety and being able to chat with a mate while playing will make it easier to ignore the repetitive gameplay. If you’re fan of the genre or Spider-Man then this is probably worth a rental at least. More importantly, it is a whole lot better than the worthless Spider-Man 3. I actually found myself hypothesising while playing the fourth stage what a game with Spider-Man 2 or 3’s free roaming and Friend or Foe’s tight action controls would have been like. My conclusion was “one good game” but it will probably never happen.