Saturday, August 27, 2011

Level Up: Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions

(Note: This episode is very long and complicated. I strongly suggest you listen to the original audio if you can, as this is a watered down version. Here's the audio file.)

Our adventure starts quite calmly when our hero is intercepting a museum heist by one of his famous villains; the Menacing Mysterio. After a quick altercation, it seems justice will once again be victorious, but suddenly things take a dramatic twist; as Spider-man lunges after Mysterio for the final blow, the villain uses the artifact he was taking to guard himself. The object he was pilfering? The Tablet of Order and Chaos. Upon breaking, the fragments were sent throughout 4 dimensions in the Spider-man universe: The futuristic 2099, the past Noir Dimension, the modern Ultimate Universe and the classic Amazing dimension. It’s up to the Spider-man of each universe to retrieve all the pieces of the Tablet or Order and Chaos, or else reality will cease to exist. To make matters worse, classic Spider-man villains are attracted to the fragments and they gain special abilities from the mystical energy inside. Will Spider-man be able to defeat all his adversaries and stop all reality from collapsing? With their four combined efforts, I hope so!

The story is tally made for video games; here’s a great example of a plot that decides to either go big, or go home. The mystical elements add the connection between the four heroes in a logical manner. Of course, the main attraction is that their worlds might end soon, and you feel it. But let us not forget the astounding amount of villains that show up and each one fits perfectly in the universe designed for the game. We have a plot that didn’t pull any punches when making a game based on a license to make it all work together. A true pleasure for the Spider-man fans.

So, we’re talking about the graphics from the Wii version of this game, and like any multi-platform game, everyone says the same thing: they look too much like a cartoon. This time however, I’ve seen a fair bit of people say it actually works in favor for the game: we have a character from comic books and we’re shown four universes almost exclusively from comic books too. The more “cartoon” look actually suits the game more for some people than its more serious looking counterparts.

Now, to just talk about this game in itself, you have to realize that there are four dimensions you’re dealing with here; each has a different tone and each should have its own look. And OMG did they hit it right on the money. Noir dimension keeps it pretty monotone, Amazing is very basic, Ultimate is vibrant and 2099 has a shiny futuristic. They all look great and unique… but you might not notice it. The reason is because Spider-man’s Spider-sense in this game puts a filter over the camera, pointing out mission objectives, tokens, bad guys, etc… This means much of the world’s unique look is glazed over, and since there’s no reason not to have it on, it’ll be what your levels look like most of the time.

But (no surprise here) the voice acting might be this game’s main attracting. Again, Stan Lee returns as the Narrator (something he didn’t do since Enter Electro!), but what are even better are the people playing each Spider-man: all four of them have previously voiced him in an animated series. Amazing is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, who you might know from other movies and TV Shows *cough* How I met your mother*cough* but did voice Spider in “Spider-man: The New Animated Series” from 2003 (he won a Spike Video Game award for this game). The one people might recognize most is Christopher Daniel Barnes, who played Spider-man in the 90’s series, voicing Spider-man Noir in here. The least recognized would probably be the voice of Spider-man 2099 Dan Gilvezan, who voiced the wall crawler in Spider-man and His Amazing Friends (a show from the 80’s). And finally, my personal favorite and the fan’s favorite too, Josh Keaton who voices Ultimate Spider-man, having just finished doing his voice in The Spectacular Spider-man cartoon.

Beyond just this, the bad guys also have great voice actors, including Jennifer Hale (I previously talked about her), Jim Cummings (who’s done so many voice works, I don’t know where to begin), Steven Blum (same story), John DiMaggio (probably best known for Bender from Futurama), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future), Nolan North (Deadpool from Hulk Vs, among many others), Tara Strong (who’s done a bunch of voices for Nickelodeon) and a couple more great actors that I just don’t have time to mention here. Even if you don’t like the Wii’s graphics, the voice work should make this game enjoyable for anyone on any platform.

At each of the three acts, you’re given 4 level choices; one for each Spider-man dimension. Upon starting a level you’ll be introduced to that level’s villain. By the way, the levels are well designed to reflect both the villain of the time and the dimension you’re in. But I digress. Each dimension has its own “gimmick” of sorts: you can call Amazing’s dimension the “basic” one, though his has more of a concentration on figuring out the tricks to harm baddies. Ultimate’s is similar, but there will be more bad-guys and you have a rage meter, which lets you go super powerful for a limited time. *Twenty-Ninety-nine* 2099’s dimension has a concentration on speed: you’ll have to activate a “bullet time” function of sorts to sneak behind bad-guys and there will be free falling stages where you have to quickly maneuver around obstacles. And finally, there’s the Noir dimension, probably the most unique. Unlike the others, you’ll want to avoid fighting most of the time here and instead stick to the shadows. From there, you can sneak up on enemies and take them out (much like if you were playing a stealth game). These four different focuses on game-play are basically the game’s main attraction. You don’t need to master them all to beat the game though: generally, if you’re good at one, you should be able to beat the others.

But there is a fair bit of missions and objectives to complete. During this gaming generation, the PS3 and X-Box 360 had trophies and such for every game, but Spider-man: Shattered Dimension had some on the game itself, to allow you to buy more upgrades, costumes and what have you, meaning that even on this Wii version, you won’t miss out on tasks to complete. This is why you might want to practice and excel with ever Spider-man.

Except for that, this is pretty much your usual adventure-brawler type shtick; you move around the map to your next destination, thugs will show up from time to time, you eliminate them and then move on until you beat the boss of the level. To beat down people, you’re given the choice between light and heavy attacks, and you also have a lot of web-based moves you can pull off. Speaking of the web, swinging and zip-lining with it is absolutely fun. Other than that, the only things I have left to talk about are the Wii specific controls. As with a lot of games ported to the Wii, there are moves you’ll pull off by shaking the controller, tilting it or just moving it around in some way or another.*A bit annoyed* Like in most cases, these are very intrusive, *slightly chipper* but they can be changed in this game. Though, you can’t play with a classic or GameCube controller, since there will still be parts where you need to point at the screen.

The game hasn’t been well received from the mainstream reviewers, but who knows, maybe Mike’s future will happen and people will see this as a flawed, but really good Spider-man game. And if not, I know a lot of Spider-man fans have already expressed their approval in this title. Everything was worked out to the last detail so that each Universe would feel unique, but still go well together on the same disc. The story doesn’t hold back and you can’t help but be in marvel (pun intended) at the voice acting crew. Sure, you could complain about the camera or the glitches this game has, but the first problem never bothered me more than slight adjustments like driving a car, and as for the latter; I played through all the levels at LEAST 5 times each and encountered about 3 problems. Now, having played through this game five times, it might show I’m a little bit more biased then most of the mainstream reviewers, but I still think this is a great title. I give Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions for the Nintendo Wii 10 levels out of 10.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Level Up: Spider-man 2: The Sinister Six

Last week I made a reference to Vicarious Visions as “new developers”, not meaning that they were new in general, just that they were new to the Spider-man 3D project. As a matter of fact they had even previously worked on a Spider-man game: while the PlayStation games were coming out, Activision also published Spider-man games on the Game Boy, the first one developed by Vicarious Visions. This is what possibly inspired Activision to let them handle the 3D sequel (maybe while Neversoft handled other projects?), but since they were now moved up to home console, someone else needed to handle the handheld, and so it was given to Torus Games. And now we move onto a third developer with Spider-man 2: The Sinister Six on the Game Boy Color.

The story is the most focus and the most logical so far this month, but for these reasons, I find it’s also the most boring. Basically, it goes that the leader of the Sinister Six (a group of 6 villains) realize that one person has been taking every one of the wall crawlers printed pictures: Peter Parker of the Daily Bugle. (Why don’t more people catch onto this fact?) They decide that to get to Spider-man, they need to get to Peter Parker. But, Peter Parker is conveniently not home when the baddies drop by (cause that would make for a boring game since he IS Spider-man), so instead they take his Aunt May Parker. This adds a personal link to Spider-man having to defeat the villains at the cost of losing that “The world is going to end” immediacy from the last two games I reviewed in Spider-month. This wouldn’t be so bad, but we never experience it ourselves. It’s more like we’re just following Spider-man than feeling his pain.

The gameplay is about what you’d expect from a 2-D Spider-man title: you walk, jump and web swing around levels, beating on enemies until you get to a boss and beat him. Do that for all members of the Sinister Six (guess how many that is) and you’ve beaten the game. If you think I over simplified it, I really didn’t. The levels were also badly designed for Spider-man’s skills: you can beat some levels by climbing up to the tallest point and web swinging until you get to the end. There are levels that limit this, but with only 6 levels, NONE should allow it. Another reason this game is too basic is because of the controls. I don’t blame any of the people who worked on this game for this, but you only have the one button to hurt enemies. Some common enemies take a lot of hits, so you’ll just be mashing that button a LOT. But, I did have fun playing this game especially for the system it was on. Unlike the last game there are no real frustrating moments (except maybe some of the bosses). I could easily see past the tedium and just enjoy it.

So far this month, this would be the best looking Spider-man game for its console. The sprite work is actually really good, especially considering how hard it can be to make Spider-man look agile, tough and like a good video game character. Though some enemies look pretty flat and basic, and the main Spidey villains range from right on the money to really bland, the backgrounds and sound effect balloons make this over all one great looking Spider-man game.

This is good, because being on the Game Boy Color, there’s no voice acting to save it this time. The music is a little repetitive and bit too “techno” for my taste, but when I take the time to listen, I think it’s pretty good. As for the sound effects, they’re more or less stock. Nothing too impressive, but nothing poorly chosen. Overall, I think this game’s audio/visuals are of really high-quality for an 8-bit system.

Spider-man 2: The Sinister Six presents an interesting case, as it is almost the inverse of its console counterpart. While Enter Electro had frustrating moments, but was good as a whole, this game is fun in the short term, but is really monotonous and forgettable afterwards. It’s a really well made game, but with nothing else to offer. I still suggest it for Spider-man fans, or if you find it cheap and want something good to quickly pass the time, but there are other games you might want to play before this one. I give Spider-man 2: The Sinister Six for the Game Boy Color 6 levels out of 10.