Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions had a lot going for it last year with its snappy presentation of four incarnations of the webhead powered by a scrappy developer. While not quite in swinging distance of comic game king Batman: Arkham Asylum, Shattered Dimensions brought a massive jolt to a franchise on life support — and with a nip here and a tuck there, Spidey could very well have given Bats a run for his money.
Building on that very strong foundation, this year's Spider-Man: Edge of Time does tighten things up a bit by focusing on the two stronger Spider-Men with a fun story that could do its own trade paperback proud — a similar predicament reared its head in the comics in 1995, actually. But for each step forward, Edge of Time takes two back.
Opening in 2099 with Miguel O'Hara crawling around the Alchemax building to spy on nefarious Alchemax scientist Walker Sloan, future Spidey uncovers plans to travel back in time and found Alchemax decades before it was originally established. O'Hara attempts to stop Sloan as he walks through a time portal but is held back by forces in the gateway and sees a vision of present-day Spider-Man killed by Anti-Venom. Once out of the gateway and back in 2099, O'Hara remains unaffected by the change and finds Nueva York transformed into an Alchemax dystopia — determined to stop and undo Sloan's evil temporal shenanigans, O'Hara uses a DNA sample of Peter Parker's to establish a time-defying communication link between the two. Our heroes soon learn that actions in one time can affect the other and try to use this chaotic causality to help each other.
The storyline in particular is one big step forward from last year's loose and modular "let's blame Mysterio" thread tying the alternate universes together as it is now central to everything you do and experience because of the whole "causality" thing. While different voice actors have stepped in it's mostly for the better — Neil Patrick Harris may be missed as Peter Parker but his replacement is equally witty and nimble, and 2099's O'Hara actually sounds age-appropriate unlike Shattered Dimensions' weird uncle performance. Val Kilmer lends his voice to Sloan, although he doesn't really do much with the role.
Nor does Beenox do much with anything beyond narrative. Identical across all current platforms, the whole of the game takes place inside the Alchemax building in both time periods, depicted as a barren and dull series of corridors and boxy rooms with the occasional shaft to plummet down — a far cry from Shattered Dimensions' characteristic boss-tailored stages. Stages aren't entirely static, though, as causality makes sure that what happens in one time period can affect building layouts, enemy placement and assorted elements in the other. It's a neat gimmick but strictly a narrative one as player choice has zero place in Edge of Time; if future Spidey is in a bind and present Spidey fails to, say, punch the predetermined object to prevent said bind from existing, it's game over. And because you've got two Spideys in separate time periods you'll frequently play through the same areas with a slightly different lick of paint.
Where stages offer at least token elasticity, enemies are bog-standard beat-em-up fare: you've got your standard punching guy, shooting guy, big angry guy and shield guy. A limited rogues gallery would be more forgivable were its limits not so obvious. Baddie designs feel uninspired, limited and blend together, and for the most part are generally not that satisfying to wallop due to braindead AI that tends to be more of a nuisance than a threat, demanding little battle strategy beyond the same handful of upgradeable attacks spammed ad nauseum against causality-spawned hordes. Boss battles are infinitely more fun than the standard punching bags but still don't require much in the way of mental capacity to defeat, nor are there that many to go around.
The Web of Challenges has carried over from Dimensions — essentially a list of achievements to unlock extras like story-boosting newspapers and a broad range of alternate costumes — and adds a bit of longevity for after the five-hour campaign ends, although on 3DS the challenges are nigh-on invisible. At points on console a window pops up to notify that a challenge is available in the area, which you can choose to accept or ignore. This window doesn't pop up on 3DS, so if you wish to take them on you'll have to do so outside of your playthrough.
This is just one of the ways the 3DS port is a lesser experience than its console brethren. While the stereoscopic effect is pleasant and lends a strong sense of space to the environments, there are several notable technical hitches that lend the impression that Beenox quickly shoved the game onto a cartridge. A significant drop in animation quality makes some attacks and environment effects appear stuttered, certain textures occasionally skitter and level pop-in is very obvious. Audio doesn't suffer, fortunately, but the erratic camera is an even bigger pain to deal with thanks to the inability to use the D-Pad and Circle Pad at the same time.
It's a shame that Beenox couldn't quite keep up the momentum of Shattered Dimensions and give the ol' webhead the game he truly deserves after all this time — considering the amazing strides made with storytelling, it's disheartening that the rest isn't as spectacular. Good times are buried within Edge of Time but it feels a bit too rushed and incomplete to swing through with a smile, and the 3DS version's technical deficiencies don't help unearthing the fun at all. Beenox has proved it has the chops, so hopefully Edge of Time is a mere sophomore slump rather than indicative of Spidey's future — otherwise we're going to need one of those time portals.