After twenty eight years of crime busting Spiderman is more popular than ever, with the latest in the long line of Spiderman comicbooks topping the million sales mark. It's a remarkable achievement, especially for Tod McFar-lane, the writer and illustrator, who was rumoured to have collected a cool quarter of a million dollars for the first issue in royalty payments.
This is Spidey's second computer outing. He was previously spinning his stuff on 8-bit machines, in an adventure game from Adventure International. Strangely, this time it's a puzzle game. It might not seem such a good idea on paper considering the average gung-ho trigger happy computer gamesplayer, but on screen everything comes together, with absorbing puzzles, and a more than adequate challenge for your joystick skills.
Mysterio, one of Spidey's oldest adversaries, has kidnapped the web slinger's missus, Mary Jane Watson Parker, and hidden her in an abandoned movie lot. Obviously this gives a lot of scope for traps and characters. In fact the first bad guy on screen looks rather like R2D2. setting the mood for some really bizarre events later on.
In an industry which is increasingly leaning towards big graphics and countless frames of animation (usually at the expense of playability), it's nice to see something which goes against the grain. The main Spiderman sprite is extremely small, neat and fun to control. Spidey can crawl on most surfaces, shoot webbing at the bad guys and, of course, swing around from line to line.
At the start the puzzles involve flicking switches and levers to free yet more switches and levers which will ultimately reveal a final exit, letting you into another themed section. Further on in the game the puzzles become more elaborate, set over several screens with plenty of bad guys. For instance, there's a complex laser matrix that you've got to negotiate or else you'll end up getting fried, and escape can only be accomplished by flicking a lever on the previous screen.
There's a novel restart system. When a level is finished Spidey arrives in a room with a huge clapper board. Jumping on its arm triggers a restart switch letting you continue from that point if anything untoward should happen. A Spiderman graphic at the side of the screen shows how much energy he has left, slowly transforming into a skeleton as he weakens. Should a full frame appear then it's scratch one arachno-sapien.
Spiderman is virtually unrestricted in where he can move. Some surfaces have been deliberately Spider-proofed (ie made slippery) by Mysterio, causing some problems. These often add to the difficulty of a puzzle, as well as making escape from some traps extremely hard.
Releasing a potential action licence as a puzzle game is a daring move. The game is well executed and a lot of fun, so much so that I couldn't really envisage a Spiderman shoot 'em up now that I've played this. Controlling Spiderman is sometimes awkward, especially when you first start playing, but it's only a matter of learning how things work.
Spiderman is original, taxing and fun and could definitely be a surprise hit this Christmas.
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