As It Turns Out, Fashion-Based Mechanics Aren’t Just For JRPGs Anymore

So you remember when you were a kid, and you’d head out to the video store on Friday night on your way home from school to pick up a game? And even if the game you ended up with was kind of mediocre–possibly because Nintendo Power had slightly exaggerated the quality of Shatterhand or Power Blade–you played it anyway for the entire weekend, because what else were you going to do, homework? No, you played it, because you’d made your choice for the weekend and you were going to see it through to Sunday night, even if you ended up with that piece of shit Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Remember that?

Well, that’s pretty much exactly how I felt when a friend of mine loaned me Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.



My friend described himself as the world’s only Web of Shadows fan, and after playing through it this weekend, I can understand why he might be so lonely. I mean, it’s not so much that it’s bad as it’s a fun game with deep, deep flaws that all sort of average out to something that makes sure to hobble itself every time it starts to rise above mediocrity.

To start with, you’ve got the story, which is essentially 2008’s version of Maximum Carnage for the Super NES, because it is apparently against federal law to make a Spider-Man game that doesn’t involve Venom and the black costume. In this case, Venom hugs Spider-Man a little too hard in the opening cutscene and gets symbiote all over him, which means that you can switch back and forth between costumes, each with slightly different combat styles.

It also means that Mary Jane takes every opportunity to be a hateful bitch of almost Lucy Lane proportions about the whole thing, to the point where the very first piece of dialogue in the game is her yelling at you about your choice in underpants.

Now, it seems like I’m one of the few people who actually likes MJ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll freely admit that there are a ton of stories out there where she’s just awful–if anyone remembers the “Mary Jane: SMOKER!” subplot from the mid-90s, you know what I’m getting at here–but between that one issue ofUntold Tales, her break from the shallow, party-girl persona in the aftermath of Gwen Stacy’s death, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and the fact that she was the Spider-Man love interest I grew up with, I’ve got some genuine affection for her. And yet, when she starts harranguing you for saving her life in a way she does not approve of, even I wanted to respond by chucking her off a bridge with a hearty “When I give a dog a bone, I don’t want to know if it tastes good or not” rather than the henpecked, whiny “But Emmm-Jayyyyyyy…” that the game provides.

Which brings us to another staggering point against the game: The voice acting. It is ROUGH, with occasional jaunts into terrible to keep things interesting, and the worst of it is Spider-Man himself. Oddly enough, he’s not bad at all when he’s not talking to anyone, but the second he starts interacting with another character–especially when he manages to be both groveling and dismissive with Mary Jane–it’s all over. I mean, seriously, was the guy who did Spider-Man’s voice in Ultimate Alliance so busy that they had to get this guy? Yeesh.

And then there’s the generally inconsequential morality system. It’s been noted elsewhere that it’s tempting to take the bad guy route for the sole reason that Spider-Man’s “evil voice” is less likely to rise to the shrill whining of the heroic model, but considering that the five or so actual choices that you make are vague to the point of being “Do Something Good” or “Do Something Bad,” there’s not a lot of incentive to stick to the straight and narrow anyway.

Heck, there’s even one choice that is basically “Shack up with the Black Cat” or “Lecture her on responsibility.” And considering what an adamant harridan the alternative is..



…there’s not really much of a choice there either.

There are also (allegedly) things you can do in the game itself that nudge your morality to either side, mostly involving the NPC pedestrians. If one gets injured, you can haul them to the hospital to get on the good side, but if you fail to save them–like, say, if you aren’t able to pull them out of the air because the target lock system sucks, or because the B button shoots impact webbing and rescues civilians and the game has no idea which you want to do even when you’re locked onto a civilian, or because they’re bleeding out on the pavement while you’re in an unskippable cutscene, which is frustrating even if you don’t particularly care about getting “Black Points”–you get edged over to the bad side. And none of this, of course, really matters all that much.

As for gameplay, well, that’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the phrase “repetitive combat” springs to mind around eighty thousand times, as do “pointless hour-long tutorial chapter,” “mini-game mechanics played off as combat,” and “pointless quicktime events that just restart if you fail them, so there’s no reason to not watch Spider-Man do a Jazz-Hands freakout when he boots Black Cat off a building over and over again.”

On the other hand, the actual web-swinging is really fun when you’re not stopping every five seconds to pick up glowing spider-tokens that make you stronger, one of the many indicators that this game is actually from 1992. There’s a nice enough ersatz Manhattan to sling around that’s full of nifty Marvel Universe landmarks like the Baxter Building (with a group of the aforementioned tokens shaped like a 4 on the landing pad), Avengers Tower complete with the Sentry’s Watchtower on top, the Rand corporation HQ, and even the Kronas building from Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. There’s a really nice sense of freedom to swinging around ignoring the storyline, and it’s just flat-out fun to climb to the top of the Empire State Building, jump off, and shoot out a web at the last second to go swinging around.

And to its credit, the game does get fun once you advance the story far enough and it turns in Dawn of the Dead starring Spider-Man, with an evacuated city full of zombies symbiotes to goof off in. This is, not coincidentally, around the time that the last of the combat options finally open up, which give you the ability to do stuff like webbing up an opponent and then riding him through the air like a skateboard, doing actual kickflips with his body to inflict extra damage. That’s actually pretty awesome, but since you don’t even get access to that sort of thing until well into the game, you’re still stuck having to slog through the first two incredibly boring chapters until the game decides you’ve earned the right to have some damn fun with it.

Also, it’s one of those games where you fight all the bosses in the first half, and then fight them again in the second half, only this time they’ve got slightly different abilities and are marginally tougher.

Yeah. I know.

Previous to Web of Shadows, I hadn’t played a Spider-Man game since the one that was on Dreamcast, which–if memory serves–was the one that started the franchise that eventually led to Web of Shadows. That one was a phenomenal game for its time, but in the eight years since, I was hoping that things would’ve come along a little further than they have.

Even for all its flaws, Web of Shadows isn’t a bad game, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it more than decent. As a weekend diversion, it ranks right in there with Kickmaster or Bad Dudes, but it’s no Rockin’ Kats, that’s for damn sure.

Man. Rockin’ Kats was awesome.

51 thoughts on “As It Turns Out, Fashion-Based Mechanics Aren’t Just For JRPGs Anymore

  1. You should play Spiderman 2. It has an even better web swinging system.

    But yeah, all the next gen games haven’t quite risen about ‘meh’. Most of them have good swinging, but little else.

  2. Am I THE ONLY person whose favorite NES Castlevania was Castlevania II? Come on! Giant Mask that bleeds acid! Faux Yngwie soundtrack! Oh well..

  3. Chris, you might want to give the DS version of Web of Shadows a try if you want. It’s a completely different kind of game from the main console version, as it’s basically a side-scrolling beat-em up type game akin to the Castlevania/Metroid style games. It has its flaws for sure, but it’s still pretty fun.

    Here’s a decent litle unofficial trailer for it:

  4. Chris, you really need to play Spiderman 2. The web swinging is so great that the game is alot of fun to play after you’ve beaten all the bosses and gotten all the objectives, you can still rescue civilians and fight bank robbers AND ITS AWESOME.

  5. I too shall sing the praises of Spiderman 2. Not only is the game play greatness, but the voice acting is pretty damn good too. And wonders of wonders – Tobey is allowed to wisecrack as Spidey in between fights and does a pretty good job of it.

    I still remember the line from the funhouse battle with Mysterio’s Spider-Man robots…

    “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself! No, seriously! Stop hitting me!”

  6. I have yet to play a current Spider-Man game that matches up to the quality of the Dreamcast game. Great review.

  7. Spiderman 2 is still the game I play to let off steam. Web Slinging is what sandbox NYC was designed for.

    That said, the combat’s terrible, the plot’s bad, and the camera spazzes out anytime it thinks it might have to go indoors. It’s not a great game, but it has one great element that makes it stand out and the parts that are bad don’t hold it back.

    Ironically, when Web of Shadows was still in production, I thought it might be the game that got me to buy a PS3, if it was halfway decent. It wasn’t.

  8. YES. I cannot argue with you about anything you say here. Especially the intro, but for me it was playing it because, well, basically I wasn’t playing anything else at the time. I really did like the simple webslinging through the city, which was very zen at times.

  9. Agreed on Spidey for the Dreamcast. Good combat, great voice-acting, and a storyline that was actually pretty good, despite the fact that Carnage was involved.

  10. The way that original 3D Spider-Man game (released on Dreamcast, N64 and Playstation, among other things) used Venom and Carnage is how they should be used in all things Spidey. Mostly comic relief with bad arseness coming through in actual fighting and not in posturing.

  11. Previous to Web of Shadows, I hadn’t played a Spider-Man game since the one that was on Dreamcast, which–if memory serves–was the one that started the franchise that eventually led to Web of Shadows.

    The Spider-Man (with a HYPHEN, people) games based on the films are worth playing, Chris, if only for the tutorial levels narrated by a sarcastic Bruce Campbell. Plus, the web-swinging experiences are pretty damn great.

  12. Dude, Castlevania 2 rocked.

    I don’t know what you’re smokin’…

    But you need to upgrade, son.

  13. I’ll throw in another vote for Spider-Man 2, it’s a great game. When you get into the rhythm of the button pushes for web swinging it’s fantastic.

    Also, though the web swinging isn’t as fun, Ultimate Spider-Man was a blast. And I really hope you’ve played Hulk: Ultimate Destruction or you’re missing out.

  14. hell yeah for spider-man 2!

    The final Mysterio “boss” battle was pure gold.

  15. Spider-Man 2 was a good progression for the franchise, but doesn’t hold up to current generation games. It was odd that the most frustrating elements (such as the chase sequences) became the backbone of sequels like Ultimate Spider-Man.

    I agree with pretty much all of your review, Chris, but since you didn’t stop in on previous entries in the game series, you won’t have noticed one of the most frustrating things about Web Of Shadows is the control system, which inexplicably changes with each new iteration of the games. Man, but trying to turn around and swing towards a web-token or even just mount a wall from street-level without having to double-jump and slide up it was annoying.
    The final boss was a good idea (Venom as Cthulu), but poorly-realised.

  16. I really like Ultimate Spider-Man, although it was pretty repetitive. The best part is the web swinging through New York.

    And I have to also recommend Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Desctruction. You can literally destroy anything you come across and/or use it as a weapon. Cars? Gloves Weapons. Tress? Baseball-bat-like Weapons. Giant boulders? Bowling-ball-like weapons.

  17. I always heard about Shatterhand in GamePro but never got to play it.

    But PowerBlade was a fantastic game! It was like Terminator 2, but with BOOMERANGS! Fantastic!

    Do you know what the toughest NES game EVER was? Disney’s Tale Spin.

    You heard me.


  18. Do you know what the toughest NES game EVER was? Disney’s Tale Spin.

    You obviously never played TMNT on NES, then.

  19. Who cares about Castlevania II? The best Castlevania was III: Dracula’s Curse, and the best Castlevania character ever, Grant DaNasty.

  20. I would also like to chime in in favor of Castlevania II. I thought it was challenging and a lot of fun – – –

    until you got lost. And then it was an unending 8-bit hell.

    If you want to talk about underwhelming comic property video games, you should check out the Iron Man game for PS2, which was ostensibly tied to the movie. It was like the least interesting parts of Tomb Raider crossed with the least functional parts of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

  21. I find it hilariously funny how many advocates creep out of the shadows each and every time Sims brings up Simon’s Quest.

    I also found it shocking that there actually was more than one copy of Kickmaster in existence. It was one of those NES titles I rescued from a local bargain bin (along with VICE: Project Doom) that turned out to be surprisingly fun gaming diversions.

  22. Matt Ampersand, you forgot the best vehicle-to-weapon conversion in Ultimate Destruction: Buses into surfboards. Which lead to the best minigame name ever: “Blonsky Don’t Surf”.

  23. Rockin’ Kats was great until the bonus levels with the irritating swinging parts.

    My favorite Spider-Man game remains the arcade one for the simple fact that you can play as Namor, and in the final level you can live out the last half of Super Villain Team Up. Or, if you’re playing as Spidey, any number of Spidey Super Stories.

  24. Shatterhand, Power Blade, and Kick Master referenced in the same post…
    This is exactly why I read this blog.

    The only thing that would make this post better is if the picture of MJ was photoshopped to give her the hair of Kabuki Quantum Fighter.

    And I still have all those issues of NP. Not even in a closet, but right here by my desk.

  25. TMNT was definitely a bitch of a game, but I find that those Disney cartoon properties were impossibly difficult.

    I’m looking at you, DuckTales!

  26. Am I THE ONLY person whose favorite NES Castlevania was Castlevania II?


    Dude, Castlevania 2 rocked.

    Hey guess what! You’re wrong.

    Spider-Man (with a HYPHEN, people)

    THANK you.

  27. I have to raise my hand and shamefully admit that I played a lot of and enjoyed some of Simon’s Quest. It was an interesting concept that was shoddily executed.

    But I think if I played it now, I would hate it.

    Unlike Mega Mans 2 and 3, which are still balls awesome.

  28. I’m in the minority here, but I liked Web of Shadows.

    Then again, maybe I’m just comparing it to my last Spider-man game, Spider-man 3, which was a big pile of…symbiote, I guess would be the polite way of putting it.

  29. @stogoe

    I’d forgotten about TMNT… I just loved TMNTII: The Arcade Game so much that I guess I blocked out all memory of its predecessor.

    Really, all licensed products for the NES were ridiculously tough: Tale Spin, Duck Tales, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the Punisher (the side scrolling one where the Kingpin was the final boss) and the Wolverine game all come to mind.

  30. Spider-Man for PlayStation (which from the sound of it, was the same as the Dreamcast game, I guess?) was my favorite Spidey game ever. I especially enjoyed playing through again in What If? mode, with all the visual jokes (the fish in Mysterio’s helmet) and alternate dialogue (JJJ and Scorpion playing Marco Polo).

  31. Duck Tales was hard? I used to run through that every day after school for about a month. Chip’n’Dale’s Rescue Rangers – THAT was tough.

  32. Rescue Rangers was fun tough, which is fine. Unlike Ninja Gaiden on the NES, which is somehow one of my favorite games despite being near impossible. It made me hate birds, which is odd considering my armored sprite form is loosely based on ravens.

    Also wanted to show the love to Ultimate Spider-Man. A fun game, even if you don’t feel like playing a game and just want to swing around New York. I can’t comment on Spider-Man 2, because I hear the PC version is hate, and my finding Web of Shadows never seems to match my having the money for Web of Shadows (same for Iron Man) just like finding a Wii, but Spider-Man 1 is great for the Pinhead Bowling mini-game alone.

  33. BAD DUDES showed how prevalent the Ninja problem was in the late 80’s, in that the US government had to resort to roided out muscle men who jumped out of moving tractor trailers to rescue the President.

  34. President Ronnie will always be remembered for his staunch anti-Big Government, anti-Ninja stance and his historic “Burgers in America” speech.

  35. Whoever mentioned Ninja Gaiden as the toughest NES series knows what he’s talking about.

    Ninja Gaiden 2 isn’t that hard . . . until the final level and sequence of three boss battles. Die at any point and you have to start over from the beginning of the level.

  36. “pointless quicktime events that just restart if you fail them, so there’s no reason to not watch Spider-Man do a Jazz-Hands freakout when he boots Black Cat off a building over and over again.”

    Quoted for hilarious truth.

    My opinion‘s about the same as yours; I had high expectations of the game and was sorely disappointed. I wonder, though: did you ever have the situation where an enemy would get trapped underground? Or where an enemy would turn invisible because you were fighting him when a cutscene interrupted, and you had to beat him up despite being unable to see him? Ooh, or the really fun one, where I ended up inside a building in the middle of one of those fights where you’re supposed to be protecting people, and couldn’t quite figure out how to get the hell out.

    I loved the PS1 Spider-Man game (it has Four Freedoms Plaza and the Captain Universe costume!), and I still break out Ultimate Spider-Man when I want to do some random web-slinging and maybe a Human Torch race (“Speedball is faster than you!”). I own Spider-Man 2, but I’ve never been able to get into it; I got really used to the USM controls, and the last time I tried to play, it was too much of a departure for me to put the effort in. I guess I ought to give it another shot.

    Incidentally, anyone have an opinion on the follow-up to that Dreamcast/PS1 game, which had something to do with Electro? I never got around to playing it, and I wonder if it was as good as the first.

  37. Ninja Gaiden 2 was my bitch. Ninja Gaiden 1? Holy god was that hard. I used to beat Ninja Gaiden 2 on a fairly consistent basis when I played it, but I finished the original once.

    Rescue Rangers was fun hard: it was tough, but not utterly impossible.

  38. Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro was decent. Not as good as the original, but decent. In terms of gameplay, it was largely the same thing as the first game (seriously, the penultimate battle with Electro was nearly identical to the Doc Ock battle in the first one if I remember correctly), only with a couple new webbing powerups (electric and ice webbing… how you can webswing on icicles, I’ll never know), no symbiotes, and a bitch of a level where you have to stop a runaway plane.

    Oh, and I think there were some new costumes. A couple of the Slingers, the Spider-Phoenix from this one issue of Spider-Man, and a few others.

  39. Be clear: I’m not saying that Duck Tales or Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers were bad. Just that they tortured my poor little eight-year old thumbs like none other.

    I obsessed over Tale Spin and loved every minute of it. I just never beat it. In fact, I never even got half way through it.

  40. People talking about the controls: am I the only one who uses the setup feature to put all the punches, kicks, and web attacks (or other attacks where applicable) where it’s more comfortable, instead of being stuck on the presets? It’s one of my favorite things about current video games.

  41. I chose every “bad” choice in the game, and actually enjoyed it as a sort of “What If?” meets Grindhouse “evil Spider-Man” game.

    I don’t want to get into spoilers, but certain interacitons with Wolverine, Black Cat, and Venom were really something else when played that way.

    That said, the voice acting and first two acts of the game were a heavy price to pay to get to the “Land of the Dead, featuring Your Friendly Neighborhood Sadist” parts.

  42. Yeah, the evil choice in the Wolverine fight was pretty rad. I can agree with the consensus on its many flaws, but I wound up enjoying the game quite a bit. Although nothing in any Spidey game ever will top that last Mysterio fight in the second game.

  43. Also, I just finished the Punisher game from 2005. That was pretty fun, since it was based on the Ennis comics more than the movie (even if Tom Jane was doing Frank’s voice). It has some pretty fun cameos from various MU characters.

  44. I set up TaleSpin on an emulator the other day for my seven-year old. Figured, “Hey, he’s getting pretty good at Jedi Starfighter”, this should be a nice change of pace.

    One hour later, we still hadn’t cleared more than two minutes of game time.

  45. Hehe there is a reason there’s a trope called “Nintendo Hard” on ;) Unfortunately (?), I never had a Nintendo, having to settle for a SNES instead.

  46. TMNT for NES was a BITCH to play. I’ve not beaten it yet. Neither have I beaten Rescue Rangers or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Did, however, beat Duck Tales on Gameboy.

    Fun fact: the Tale Spin game on Sega Genesis shares the exact same BGM and game style as Greendog The Surfer Dude. That still trips me out.