Making a superhero game suddenly became a lot more of a challenge last year, thanks to Rocksteady’s excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum. Activities tangential to what these characters are, like flying through rings and grabbing lost balloons for dumb kids, just doesn’t cut it anymore after roaming the terrifying asylum soaked with the lore, action and atmosphere that draws people to the Dark Knight in the first place.
Beenox’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions echoes Arkham Asylum in both attention to and understanding of its source material, and at times cribs right from its playbook, ending up with one of the more inspired Spidey games in a while thanks to its spotlight on underrepresented spin-off universes. While it unfortunately doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the Bat, it’s a game in which Spider-Man and action fans should find plenty to like.
The story is expectedly thin, mostly serving its purpose as an excuse to tie the four dimensions together, but seeing how it’s narrated by comic book legend Stan Lee we can’t complain. The nefarious fishbowl-headed Mysterio breaks into a museum at night to steal a mystical tablet, only to be confronted by Spider-Man. The ensuing kerfuffle shatters the tablet and flings the pieces across a dimensional rip; Madame Web steps in and tells Spidey he must retrieve them before his domed adversary can, lest Bad Things happen.
The dimensions in question will be familiar to readers of the Spider-Man comics and are diverse enough to pique the interest of lapsed or casual fans. Amazing is the good ol’ blue-and-red-suited “classic” universe that everyone knows and loves, and the Symbiote Suit returns for the Ultimate universe, bringing along a Rage mode for heavier attacks. The real star lenses here, though, are 2099 and Noir.
The futuristic Nueva York of 2099 is the most visually interesting, with its vibrant colours and unique reimaginings of baddies, and also includes special free-falling sections as well as a time-slowing mechanic of mixed use. Noir’s dark take on an alternate 1930s New York is the gameplay curveball of the bunch, emphasizing stealth and sneakery over fisticuffs by taking down grunts from the shadows and even including a Last Known Position mechanic similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s refreshing to see these different takes on Spider-Man in a game, especially considering that Noir and 2099 are probably not popular enough to warrant releases of their own, despite here exhibiting the strength to do so.
Spidey generally took a turn for the open-world since the excellent Spider-Man 2 movie game, but Shattered Dimensions scales it back to the pre-Maguire days, when Neversoft ran the web-head’s adventures. In exchange for the free-roam mess around, Shattered Dimensions brings linear, focused stages themed after members of Spidey’s rogue gallery. Sandman’s stage, for example, takes place in the classic Amazing universe and is set in a mining area out in the desert. 2099‘s Hobgoblin is an explosive, partially aerial encounter set on the rooftops of Nueva York. Their presence is felt everywhere; instead of slogging through a bunch of bad guys to find the room where the villain is hanging out and waiting to stab you, each stage feels like one prolonged battle, with plenty of humorous banter between Spider-Men and foes throughout. Noir maintains these aspects to a degree, but stages mostly retain the same warehouse/ alley setup.
All of this diversity is welcome, but after awhile you can’t escape the feeling that you’re just going through the same motions in each stage. While some do buck the trend a bit, like Ultimate Deadpool’s bizarre TV show set, there’s a definite pattern to everything: fight/sneak up on some guys, rescue civilians, midstage boss fight, more fighting/sneaking, more civilians, end boss fight. Coupled with the very similar feel shared by three of the four dimensions, the game doesn’t quite reach the variety for which it sets out.
Despite the lower horsepower, Shattered Dimensions on Wii is still quite attractive, aided no doubt by the comic book art styles. Everything is fast and fluid with a lot happening onscreen, and smaller touches like the pulsing on the 2099 suit are still present in this version. There’s also plenty to unlock thanks to a robust character and ability upgrade system, bolstered by the 180 linked mini-achievements in the sprawling Web of Destiny. The added motion controls are minor and mostly work, apart from one particularly obnoxious way of choosing between strong and weak attacks. With the B trigger as the attack button, tilting up or down toggles the quicker weak attacks and stronger, slower ones. No More Heroes did this as well, but unlike Travis Touchdown, Spider-Man doesn’t provide a visual clue as to how you’re holding the Remote. Depending on how you naturally hold the controller during play, you might run into the issue of executing the wrong attack unless you stay annoyingly aware.
The camera is quite poor at times, becoming especially erratic when wall-crawling, and the lock-on mechanic leaves a lot to be desired. There’s an auto-lock function for when you’re not specifically holding down the C button, but it’s very loose and indiscriminate; if an enemy is standing next to a box and you try to shoot your web to zip over to them, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll instead pick up that box. When taking down someone from the shadows in Noir, your proximity to the target can feel arbitrary, and you must be positioned just so at times, which doesn’t always make sense. During boss fights, the C-lock automatically goes to the big bad, which isn’t a problem unless said baddie has minions. So, if the boss goes flying to the other end of the room and you try to lock on to a minion pummelling you, the lock will always target the boss first and interrupt your flow of combat.
One aspect that deserves special recognition is the writing and voice work. The Tobey Maguire-isation of the character is completely reversed, presenting Spider-Men with nimble quips and a strong sense of humour that had us laughing out loud on many occasions. Neil Patrick Harris as Amazing Spider-Man steals the show, with 2099’s Dan Gilvezan sounding kind of like your corny dad (in a good way). Unfortunately, the game tends to loop the same jokes and jabs multiple times during each stage, which kind of drags it down at times through repetitive annoyance.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions’s four takes on the web-head offer enough of a change of pace from past Spider-Man releases to feel refreshing and different. A few technical missteps and eventual sense of the game retreading itself keep it from standing as a must-have, but anyone with a passing interest in these spin-off universes, or just Spidey himself, would do well to check it out. After all, those neighbourhoods won’t friendly themselves.