You've got to hand it to Beenox for its stewardship of Spider-Man's games. While each entry has had its share of problems, the studio has pushed the webslinger in fun and genuinely interesting new directions by tapping into the character's rich diversity and exploring comic book universes largely ignored in video games, such as Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir. Coinciding with the wall crawler's cinematic return in The Amazing Spider-Man, Beenox's movie tie-in retains a lot of what made Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Spider-Man: Edge of Time enjoyable experiences but is comparatively restricted in scope now that it has a specific vision to stick with. While Spidey himself is more fluid and agile than ever, the overall package suffers on a creative level — and a litany of technical flaws and gutted key features mean the 3DS version feels like a half-hearted port.
The Amazing Spider-Man picks up after the movie's credits roll, instead of retelling the events of the film, which allows Beenox a bit of freedom in shaping the narrative (although there are, you know, spoilers). While on an after-hours tour of Oscorp with nanomachine specialist Alistair Smythe, Peter Parker finds himself caught in the middle of a predictable outbreak of cross-species experiments and Smythe's robotic "solution" to the problem. The strife eventually breaks its way out of Oscorp and into the streets of New York, sending Spidey on a quest to find an antidote and save the city from Oscorp's menaces both biological and mechanical.
None of the film's actors lend their voice or likeness, which removes the game world a step from the silver screen, although the voice actors do a fairly decent job of it all the same. The rogues gallery is restricted so as not to overshadow the film, using a number of B-tier terrors reimagined to fit this interpretation of Spider-Man's world. While it makes sense in this universe to see opponents like Rhino and Scorpion depicted as mad science experiments gone horribly awry, it's disappointing that these iconic foes feel so disposable — and characters like Felicia Hardy come with intriguing set ups but fail to go anywhere compelling.
What was supposed to be the next step for Beenox's Spidey games — a return to free swinging around Manhattan— is completely absent from both the Wii and 3DS versions, stiffing players with a far more claustrophobic experience. The sensation of zipping about to your next destination is gone; missions are selected between stages via a bulletin board to move the story forward or perhaps indulge in the odd combat challenge on the side. This sense of confinement wouldn't be so bad were stages more complex or interesting than largely indoor treks through anonymous sewers and Oscorp corridors, but it's apparent that much of Beenox's effort has gone into the recreation of Manhattan found in the HD versions instead. Without that thrill of swinging around skyscrapers, though, The Amazing Spider-Man feels sorely incomplete on 3DS.
What makes this hurt the most, though, is that Spider-Man can handle beautifully, effortlessly swinging and crawling around his environments with an agility and precision seldom seen in his games — when everything cooperates. The new web rush maneuver is key to this: holding X at any time, be it while crawling on the ceiling or soaring through the air, slows time to bring up a reticule that propels Spidey in virtually any desired direction upon release. The ability to turn on a dime is incredibly helpful when moving one of the most potentially disorienting superheroes, and it's used to great effect in both navigation and combat, letting you use stealth tactics to clear a room or go in fists ablaze with aerial strikes. The few battles built around zooming through the air are particular highlights and something we would have liked to see more of to break up the monotony of corridor fights.
Web rush is such an obviously simple addition that it's hard to believe that it took until the year 2012 to figure out, and in a lot of ways it feels like the Rosetta Stone for translating Spider-Man's inherent quirks into fluid and viable gameplay. The core problem may be now solved, but the implementation isn't perfect: as the reticule frequently fails when it's needed the most, you swing hard between the feeling that you're the embodiment of The Spider and boot-crushing disappointment.
Beenox has picked up a few things from previous games and the superhero genre at large; combat is streamlined and fluid, mimicking Batman: Arkham City's attack, dodge and special (read: web) triumvirate, allowing for far more acrobatic strikes than past games and a new dynamism to the camera during battles. Spidey is as powerful as you would expect, however, which means that swaths of generic enemies pose little real threat. We have no doubt that Peter Parker would completely smoke a room full of thugs without breaking a sweat, but in a video game this sense of strength makes encounters too easy — and where Arkham's fisticuffs reward precise timing, The Amazing Spider-Man's lack of rhythm makes combat feel a touch heavy on mashing.
Unless you're asleep at the wheel it's almost impossible to mess up, and even then zipping out of harm's way is as easy as a tap of web retreat to send you towards the nearest surface to regain your footing. Spider-Man's abilities from the get-go are potent enough to make tech and ability upgrades seem almost trivial: Parker is powerful, yes, and the feel that nothing can touch you is fun, but it doesn't make for a sustainable balance to keep combat interesting throughout, no matter how cool it may look up front.
While combat is fluid, the graphical presentation is less so — like Edge of Time, it's obvious that certain concessions were made to get the game running on 3DS, and visual pleasantry has seen some hefty sacrifices. Shadows are virtually nonexistent, lending a flat and dreary quality to the world that does the generic story locations no favours, and animations lack frames, stuttery when the framerate dips. We also encountered a number of glitches, ranging from sticky movement to dropped sound and one console hard lock after a contentious boss battle.
To ostensibly make up for the lack of city roam, the 3DS version includes the Vigilante StreetPass mode where Spidey goes out on missions to clean up the city. You don't actually control Spider-Man in this mode, though, instead sending him out on missions around Manhattan where the odds of success are shown with a percentage informed by your level. Mining enjoyment out of this mode is something of a chore, proving far less an interesting incentive to continue playing than the story-wide Web of Challenges in past Beenox games.
Beenox has done some good work with the webslinger, but to call its latest Spider-Man game "amazing" on 3DS would be a massive stretch. The story is passable, nestling deep enough that you want to see where it may go, and almost in spite of itself delivers enough moments that really capture the essence of Spider-Man, but between the repetition and glitches there may come a point where you'll have to have a good think about whether it's a game you want to see through to the end of its six-to-eight hours.