Spider-Men of the Multiverse, unite!
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited about this game. I love my Spider-Man comics and cartoons, and even the first two movies. What excited me, and still excites me, about Shattered Dimensions is that you get to play as four distinct Spider-Men: Amazing, Ultimate (in the black suit), Noir, and 2099. Many players might have never heard of those last two, but I'm very happy to see them represented on screen for more people to experience. This level-based game is very fun overall, but it suffers considerably because of the Wii-specific combat intricacies. I never felt completely in control during combat, which itself is a big part of the game. Does the rest of the game make up for these irritations? Read on and find out.
The paper-thin story merely sets up an excuse for players to inhabit the bodies and worlds of the four different Spider-Men. To make a short story even shorter, the Spider-Men of the multiverse must track down stone tablets in order to avoid universal extermination. This involves tracking down each Spidey's rogues gallery, who all conveniently found the tablets before Spider-Man. You'll face plenty of interesting foes, including Amazing's Kraven the Hunter, Ultimate's Carnage, 2099's Hobgoblin, and Noir's Vulture, among many others. All of the Spider-Men are voiced by different actors (who had all assumed the role of Spidey in various cartoon series), of which Neil Patrick Harris may be the most familiar. Bad guys are usually voiced by their cartoon counterparts as well; I distinctly recall Kraven's voice as Kraven in the '90s cartoon.
So the game is a Spider-Man fanboy's dream, no doubt. Even the level design is constantly changing. Amazing traverses the world outside of New York City, while Ultimate is largely confined to it and is more focused on web-swinging to get around. Spider-Man Noir is set in 1930s New York, with everything is black and white, and he's much more stealth-oriented than the other three. Spider-Man 2099 offers the most visual panache, with a futuristic New York, vibrant colors, and interesting skydiving sequences that break up the brawling. The game looks great and sounds even better, although the Noir segments are artificially more difficult because of the fuzzy aesthetic. I will say that the game’s structure never really changes: each level starts with a bad guy discovering a piece of the tablet and running away. Spider-Man chases him to the end of the level and that’s the boss fight. There are never any real breaks from this sequence, and it can get old.
It's just too bad the forced Wii controls pull the game down. First, my biggest non-Wii-specific complaint is that you have to babysit the camera all the time using the D-pad. The game tries to auto-focus the camera behind Spidey, but it's just not feasible when you turn a tight corner, web-zip between pillars, or are surrounded by thugs. As a result, you'll be manhandling the viewpoint as much as you did in Super Mario 64. Getting around the environment is pretty easy, as Spider-Man can double-jump and zip-line around wherever a yellow arrow pops up. Holding down the Z-button begins a web-swinging sequence, and it feels great, although I wish web-zipping were mapped to a different button, because it's not always easy to zip during a swing.
Combat is where things start to fall apart, though. Spider-Man presses the B button to attack, but to do strong attacks you have to tilt the Wii Remote up at just the right angle while pressing B. It's not terribly intuitive and it is never comfortable. I’d rather waggle the entire Remote to do a strong attack instead of trying to hold it at a specific angle.
The other frustration is web-line attacks. Shaking the Nunchuk, in theory, makes Spider-Man grab an enemy or an environmental object that's being targeted. Unfortunately, there is no lock-on button, and the target is determined by the camera angle and/or where Spider-Man is looking. This makes for some awkward and oftentimes fudged fights. It's really bad when you're surrounded by enemies because the targeting is constantly switching around. Holding down the C button makes Spider-Man dodge lots of attacks, and tapping a direction makes him evade. I found the easiest way to defeat a gang of enemies was to evade in a way that made them funnel toward you, taking out one at a time. Anytime you're out in the open, surrounded by enemies, some of which will be shooting at you, it's not much fun. Some of the boss fights include scripted first-person brawls where you swing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk while pressing buttons to do various punches. It's nicely visceral, but also feels unnecessary.
There is a bit of variety in the various upgrades and level-specific challenges along the way. I actually really liked the challenges, and many of them made me approach fights or platforming sequences differently. Clear enough challenges and a new tier of abilities will become available for you to spend experience points on. The abilities range from being able to recover from mid-air hits to disarming your opponents and blinding enemies with your webbing. You can also buy health bar extenders and alternate costumes for the Spider-Men. At a certain point, it's almost like you have too many combat options to remember them all, but it's certainly appreciated, and Spider-Man looks great doing everything.
Of the universes themselves and how they play, Amazing feels the most natural, with no gimmicks to speak of. Noir is very hit-or-miss, with some incredible stealth takedowns and interesting boss fights mixed with trial-and-error "pick off these dudes in the right order" sequences and graphical fidelity that's not suited for this sort of aesthetic. I would like to see the Noir stuff fleshed out, though, because it's the most interesting take on Spider-Man. Ultimate feels very similar to Amazing, but Spider-Man has the Venom suit that augments his combat with a rage mode. Finally, the 2099 Spider-Man can very briefly enter a useless bullet-time state and partake in skydiving sequences in which he must avoid obstacles and, where possible, make his enemies run into said obstacles.
The game looks great overall, with vibrant colors and great animations. Environments are dynamic and fun to explore, with lots of pickups scattered around. The voice acting, as I said, is superb, and the music is sufficiently exciting.
While there are some things lacking about the game (specifically anything Wii-centric), Shattered Dimensions is a very fun, worthwhile Spider-Man game that genuinely feels different and engaging. Fans should definitely look into picking up the title, but because of the failings of the Wii version's combat, you might want to look into getting the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version if you have the option.