Spider-Man 2 as a GBA game represents the culmination of a troubling phenomenon. In this new generation of Playstation 2s and Xboxes, programmers have ditched the 2-D world in accordance with demand for the comparatively unexplored and potentially exciting 3-D realm. From Super Mario 64 to Silent Hill 4 we can appreciate the progress, in much the same way older gamers can appreciate 2-D development from the trailblazing Pitfall to the beautiful Yoshi’s Island. But with the advent of the GBA–which is essentially throwback hardware launched in a 3-D graphics-driven era–it seems as if the art of 2-D game design has been lost. Indeed, even the GBA Castlevanias, while competent and stylish, are ultimately soulless clones of a Symphony of the Night game that probably should never have been copied. At any rate, all of them pale in comparison to say, Castlevania III, from the NES years. They just can’t do 2-D right anymore, and for my money, Spider-Man 2 is the final nail in the coffin.
The disappointing adventure is based loosely on the happenings from the hit movie. I say loosely, because the creators of the game saw fit to throw in a host of enemies and situations that have nothing to do with the film in a misguided attempt to give us ‘more’ than a simple movie play through. I can see the merit in providing us more than just Doctor Octopus as the lone boss character from the feature, and yet–it seems ultimately messy and unfocused to offer up The Lizard and Rhino (among others) as combatants for no good reason in the context of the story. The result is a mish-mash of mostly disconnected missions. If you’re at all a fan of the film–which is very likely if you’re investigating this game–you’ll be disappointed in having to waste so much time painstakingly picking through sewers to pick on slimy little green things all in the name of extending the proceedings. Truly, I feel a better title for the game would have been “Spider-Man versus Doc Ock with a lot of meaningless battles and stuff thrown in to stretch things out and kill any enjoyable ties to the movie you loved.” That probably wouldn’t have fit on the box properly though, so I can see why they made the decision they did.
Spider-Man 2’s music is negligible, which is a kind way of expressing the fact that I barely noticed it at all. That much said, we can be thankful that the tunes aren’t particularly abhorrent either. The character graphics are the game’s big upside–Spider-Man himself looks great, especially in motion. However, many of the locales are boring and samey, such as the cityscapes and sewers. Some horrific 3-D levels are tossed in for bad measure, involving Spidey swinging about trying to locate certain spots where he can set down and fight in bonus rounds after a fashion. These scenes are abominable because they manifest a losing battle against underpowered hardware; the GBA simply cannot manage this, and the result is ugly, extremely blocky buildings that actually hurt the eyes as you navigate them. And for what? These extra missions could just have been slipped comfortably in between the normal scenes with little trouble. It’s almost as if the developers felt it necessary to do a little bit of 3-D ‘showing off’ even with this 2-D offering. They shouldn’t have bothered.
The special move buy-in system is appreciated however. It’s cool that Spidey can earn points as he beats up on baddies with his fists and webs, toward purchasing better fighting techniques between levels. The drawback here is that there are too many techniques, and effecting them with just a few buttons at your disposal means that you’ll often perform the wrong move by accident. Paring the techniques down to a handful of more inspired and distinct moves than the copious number of lamers available would have been preferable.
In the end, there’s almost nothing about Spider-Man 2 that makes the game come recommended. It’s far too long and tedious, allowing us to save along the way, when its old school appeal would have been better served by fewer levels, no saves and less repetition. That is to say, if you’re going to do old school side-scrolling action, it’s a good idea to keep many of the correlating old school conventions intact. Let me make this clearer still: old school games have a tendency to get repetitive. So why give us a ton of lame, breezy levels with saves? Give us say, ten solid, challenging scenes instead. Give us fewer moves, but moves that we find cool and memorable, like Double Dragon 2 and its cyclone kick. By depressing comparison, I’m hard pressed to remember any of the special moves in this game that boasts a plethora. And so on: you get the idea. Sadly, Spider-Man 2 hasn’t much to say for itself at all. But it does whisper one thing: new 2-D is dead.