Another day, another Wii retrospective. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is a real oddity; a game that comes with an ‘Official Movie Merchandise’ logo both in-game and on the box, but, despite Spidey’s design – and that of some of the featured villains – hewing close to the movie costumes, there’s otherwise little relation at all to the Sam Raimi trilogy, which was (X-Men aside) the only big Marvel franchise around when this game was originally released. It did, after all, arrive in the pre-MCU and even pre-Andrew Garfield days of 2007, the same year that Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was released.
It’s an attempt to make a simpler, more family friendly Spider-Man game that kids can enjoy, with drop in/drop out co-op gameplay that ensures a parent or older sibling can give younger players a hand where necessary. The character design has a really unique style; it’s cartoonish and exaggerated, eschewing the usual attempts at ‘realism’ that we’d normally see in a Spider-Man game. Gone, too, are any attempts at free-roaming – instead, the game takes place across a series of relatively small, mostly-linear levels with a bit of platforming thrown in for good measure. Though Spidey can webswing, it’s not an ability that will be utilised very often – and very rarely for any sort of traversal.
The game starts with an extended cutscene, seeing Spider-Man battling the Green Goblin (in his Raimi-movie attire – not the most popular of looks for the character, it must be said), Doctor Octopus, Sandman and Venom (who seems a lot closer to his comic book incarnation than that seen in the then-current Spider-Man 3 version). The James Franco New Goblin shows up to help Spidey out, before they all disappear one-by-one, with Spidey himself being rescued by a pre-MCU, classic Nick Fury.
It’s really jarring these days to see Fury portrayed as a Clint Eastwood-esque white guy, given how Samuel L. Jackson completely owns the part, but this is of course his original incarnation, dating back to the 1960s – the Samuel L. Jackson version only came about in Marvel’s Ultimate line, with his first appearance being in 2001. The Ultimate version of Fury was very closely modelled on Samuel L. Jackson – and the character himself even acknowledged this fact in an issue of the Ultimates, stating that he’d like Jackson to play him if a movie was ever made about the team. We all know how that turned out!
In any case, Fury rescues Spidey. There’s some nonsense about the meteor that brought Venom to earth being broken up and the shards scattered across the world, with Spider-Man being sent on a globetrotting adventure to retrieve the shards – but there’s also another element to the story in that a mysterious villain is controlling various antagonists from Spidey’s rogue gallery (and a few less villainous characters too) – as Spider-Man bests these villains in combat, they join Spider-Man on his mission to find the shards and find out who’s behind the plot to control the villains.
It’s all a bit incoherent, but the cutscenes are very nicely animated and all are well written too. The aforementioned character design is great and feels suitably chunky, giving the game a unique feel in relation to other Spider-Man titles.
The gameplay itself can get a bit repetitive, however. The general villains you’ll be facing for the majority of the game are sort-of robotic characters called PHANTOMs (it’s a silly acronym that I really can’t be bothered to explain), who are devoid of any personality for the most part. There are a few different variations on these bad guys, but few are very interesting. In general, the game takes the form of a scrolling beat ‘em up with a few very mild switch puzzles and minimal platforming elements. There’s a single secret room to find on each stage (which unlocks an arena to be played in multiplayer mode) and DNA strands, which unlock concept art in the main gallery.
Even in single player mode, Spidey is accompanied by another character – initially, this can only be The Prowler, but you’ll soon unlock a number of other characters to choose from (Black Cat, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Iron Fist, Venom, Sandman and more); none of these have a moveset as varied or useful as Spidey himself, though – so more often than not you’ll only willingly take control of one of these characters if you’re the second player and you have no choice.
When a player dies, orbs are lost – these are collected when bad guys are beaten and used as currency to upgrade characters at the Helicarrier hub between levels – but there doesn’t seem to be any other detrimental effects, which means that it’s generally easy to progress; you’ll sometimes encounter enemies that have ridiculous life bars or attack patterns (or worse, both), but progression is simply a matter of hammering away at them until they’re overcome.
Though the baddies are repetitive in nature – with mid-level bosses and the main villains providing some respite from this – the levels themselves end up being quite varied in scenery, even though they’re low in detail (which admittedly fits the cartoony aesthetic).Main bosses can be quite frustrating to fight, however, mostly because the difficulty comes from their life bars being ridiculously big, making the fights quite tedious. It is satisfying to build up a roster of previously evil characters to fight alongside you, however, and they’re all written, animated and voiced with a surprisingly decent amount of character.
The Wii version thankfully avoids motion controls for the most part, which are not overly prominent – which is a relief, to be honest. There are slight quirks with the controls not being particularly intuitive, especially when selecting power ups (with the d-pad and C allowing you to use power-ups and switch between abilities), but they’re relatively straightforward and the game doesn’t present that much of a challenge overall anyway.
Though it was poorly received at the time of release, Friend or Foe does hold some appeal for a Spider-Man fan such as myself. Though it’s repetitive and doesn’t present much of a challenge, the globe-trotting, villain collecting gameplay is unique (at least for a ‘modern’ Spider-Man game) and the cutscenes even look pretty good on the lower resolution of the Wii. I’m a big fan of the chunky-looking characters too; it’s a pretty appealing aesthetic in my opinion.
It’s not the longest game in the world – but it’s definitely a good choice for younger players and those of us who don’t mind a somewhat mindless beat ‘em up; it’s a shame there’s little variety in enemy types but the environments do – eventually – get a lot of variation, away from the urban environments you’d normally expect from a Spider-Man game. It’s not a game I can unreservedly recommend (and certainly wouldn’t have recommended at all, at full price), but – for younger players and Marvel completists in particular – it’s worth checking out as another one of those games that’s become a low cost addition to the Wii’s library.
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