Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4) Review

Control is something we too often take for granted in video games. Even exceptional games usually require the player to get into the meat of things before they get truly engaging. But every so often, a game comes along where it’s thrilling as soon as you pick up the controller. It’s rare that you find a video game where the simple act of moving the character is a joy unto itself. Super Mario has continuously won us over by setting the standard for platforming controls in both his 2D and 3D iterations. Sonic the Hedgehog dared us to see just how fast he could go, bouncing around stages like a pinball. Alucard traversed the haunted halls of Dracula’s castle with a sense of grace worthy of Ayami Kojima’s beautiful illustrations. And Link paved the way for 3D combat with the likes of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker.

Thanks to Insomniac Games, Marvel’s Spider-Man now enters these hallowed halls. Although there’s plenty to enjoy about Insomniac’s take on the iconic web-slinger, its single greatest joy is found simply in moving Spider-Man around New York City. From swinging on skyscrapers to running up walls, Marvel’s Spider-Man succeeds in making players feel like they’re the one behind Spider-Man’s mask. It’s that rare kind of game that just feels right. This is how Spider-Man should play.

“Dr. Otto Octavius once again proves to be the most complicated character, just as his Spider-Man 2 incarnation remains the most complex character in any Spidey film.”

Insomniac puts their own spin on the Spider-Man mythology. Mercifully ignoring the origin story we all know, this version of Peter Parker has donned the Spider-Man name for eight years, frequently butting heads with the forces of William Fisk (AKA “The Kingpin”), and putting away super villains like the Vulture, Rhino, Shocker, Electro, and Scorpion some time ago. When he’s not fighting crime, Peter works as the assistant to an down-on-his-luck Dr. Otto Octavius (who has yet to become the villainous Doctor Octopus), giving up his job as photographer at the Dailey Bugle (though his lady-friend Mary Jane Watson is now a reporter for that very newspaper). Meanwhile, Norman Osborne has not become the evil Green Goblin, instead having been voted as the (corrupt) mayor of New York City some time ago.

This unique take on the Spider-Man universe gives the game a fresh slate to build on. With Spider-Man being a veteran at his spider-duties, and his two most iconic villains yet to take up their mantles, the story and setting of the game definitely stand out in the franchise.

The game begins with Spider-Man taking the fight to Fisk himself. But after the Kingpin gets put behind bars, a new, more vicious mob begins to overrun New York City, the Demons. That’s a brief summation of the setup, though without spoiling anything, it does get a lot heftier than the simplicity of its setup would suggest. The story is split into three acts, with the final act almost feeling like a full-on sequel to the rest of the game. Overall, it’s probably my favorite Spider-Man story since Spider-Man 2.

“This is probably my favorite suit. It just looks so cool!”

Though the story is progressed one mission at a time, various side quests can be found around New York City, which not only give players plenty to do at their own leisure, but also provide numerous means to build up Spider-Man’s abilities. By completing side quests and meeting certain objectives, the player can unlock new gadgets – which give Spidey different web-based moves – and even new spider suits (many of which pay homage to Spidey’s past), with each suit providing its own bonuses and abilities. Spider-Man can also gain experience points and level up (it seems like every game requires RPG elements these days), which allows you to unlock new moves and upgrade the gadgets and abilities you already possess. Thankfully, not only does Spider-Man gain experience by traditional means (combat, completing missions), but doing things as simple as performing stunts during your web-slinging travels will inch you ever closer to the next level.

It’s actually surprising, how deep Spider-Man’s abilities go. With so many different play styles between Spidey’s moves, suits, gadgets and abilities, there’s no shortage of options for those who want to tackle the game their own way. I personally preferred trip mines that lassoed enemies together in webs, and throwing baddies to stick them to walls. But others may prefer explosive webs and the suits’ special weaponry. Or they may just love throwing environmental objects at enemies. There’s all kinds of ways to enjoy the combat of Marvel’s Spider-Man.

Speaking of combat, you will be doing much of it throughout the game. Mechanically, it works a lot like the combat system of the Batman Arkham series, though it flows more fluidly and feels more polished. And as stated, you have a lot more options to work with here, so no matter how many times you get in a scuffle, you can always try out different abilities and combinations to see what you like best. Unfortunately, there is one drawback to a number of combat sections that lives on from the Arkham games, and that’s that many combat sections just drag on and on. Again, the combat is never bad, but there will be numerous occasions when you’ll feel like the waves and waves of enemies feel unnecessary and redundant. It’s not a major issue, but while the sheer joy of swinging across New York City may never lose its luster, you may feel that many of the combat sections overstay their welcome.

“This version of MJ is infinitely better than whatever Spider-Man: Homecoming was going for.”

The game’s other downside is that many of the side quests will become repetitious after a while. Almost every optional objective is part of a series of similar objectives (conducting research for Harry Osborne while he’s away in Europe, performing quick challenges for the Taskmaster, etc.). In small doses these side endeavors can be entertaining detours in their own right, but for those aiming for either one-hundred percent completion or maximizing Spider-Man’s stats, you may grow weary of doing the same objectives over and over again.

“One of the game’s best segments has players taking control of MJ, with the player telling Spider-Man when to jump in and take out an enemy.”

These elements ultimately prove to be minor complaints, however, as the main story is filled with fun twists and turns both in terms of its narrative and in its gameplay. There are even sections where you can play as Mary Jane Watson or Miles Morales which emphasize stealth (given their lack of super powers). Admittedly, the Miles Morales sections lack variety, but the MJ segments find ways to keep building upon themselves in fun ways.

Of course, the biggest appeal of the game is Spider-Man himself. The Arkham titles were previously considered the benchmark for super hero games for the way they made players feel like Batman. But I don’t think even the best entry in that series quite captured the essence of its titular hero the way Marvel’s Spider-Man puts players in the role of Spidey. The combat is fun and always evolving, but it’s the simple act of motion – the speed, the momentum, the physics – that provides the game’s greatest triumph. The game even features one of the most robust photo modes you will find in a game, a totally unnecessary but greatly appreciated feature that really hits the point home of all the crazy scenarios and actions Spidey can find himself in.

“My all-time favorite Marvel character, J. Jonah Jameson, makes a triumphant appearance via his podcast, which you will frequently hear among your travels. Per the norm, he negatively comments on Spider-Man’s recent activities depending on the player’s actions.”

The side quests and other character sections aren’t always winners, and sometimes the game may not know when enough waves of mobsters are enough, but they’re small prices to pay for how well Marvel’s Spider-Man realizes its story and characters, and for how exhilarating it is just to travel around New York City as everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.



Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! Review

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! was Insomniac’s second entry in their Spyro the Dragon series, and continued the Sony Playstation’s unique brand of platforming heroes during the late 90s. It’s sister series, Crash Bandicoot, struck gold with its second entry, and in many ways, Spyro did just the same for his second outing: It was bigger, more varied, and had more polish. But while Crash Bandicoot 2 has only minimally been affected by age, some of Spyro 2’s elements have suffered a bit more with time, thus holding back an otherwise solid platformer.

This second Spyro adventure features similar gameplay to the first title: Spyro still runs, jumps, headbutts, glydes and breathes fire at enemies. His sidekick Sparx the dragonfly still serves as Spyro’s health meter and grabs nearby gems. But there have been some changes and additions to the formula as well.

While Spyro still has to collect gems, he no longer needs to rescue his fellow dragons (a fairy now serves as a checkpoint, and saving can now be done any time via the pause menu). In their place are Talismans and Orbs. Each level contains one Talisman, acquired simply by reaching a certain goal, and are needed to progress in the adventure. The Orbs are optional, and anywhere between two and four of them can be found in a stage or world.

Defeating enemies no longer gives Spyro additional gems. Instead, each level contains a special power-up gate (super jump, super fire breathe, etc.) that requires a certain number of enemies to be defeated before its granted power-up becomes available.

Throughout the course of the game, Spyro can learn how to swim and climb, and even gains a new headbash attack. But it isn’t just new abilities that separate Ripto’s Rage! from its predecessor, as there’s a stronger sense of variety to be found in the gameplay and levels.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!At first, Spyro 2 may seem smaller than the original, with only three hub worlds compared to the first game’s six. But these three are all much bigger, and house more levels within them. Each level presents a different theme, and along with the usual likes of water and forests, some levels introduce more unique themes like the Himalayas (complete with monks and a yeti) or a level built around mad scientists. Although the ultimate goal of each stage is more or less to get to the end and nab the Talisman, each level puts a nice little spin on the premise with different challenges and stories, with each stage beginning and ending with a short cutscene that provides some simple humor and personality.

Additional gameplay variety is provided through mini-games. Most stages feature a good mini-game or two to change the pace from the item collecting. The majority of the mini-games are good fun, but others can be a bit clunky, leaving things feeling a bit inconsistent. There are some particularly annoying instances where not all of the mechanics of a mini-game are explained beforehand. An early stage features a hockey mini-game where Spyro has to keep the puck in his mouth and spit it into the enemy’s goal. In my first few tries I kept trying to headbutt or breathe fire to move the puck, since nothing informed me otherwise. If a mini-game deviates from the overall game’s usual mechanics, it’s nice to be informed of such.

However, the mini-games – and the other methods of acquiring the orbs – ultimately make the game feel more versatile and less repetitious than its predecessor. Even with the lesser mini-games in tow, their addition is more welcome than cumbersome.

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! features a more prominent story and use of cutscenes than the first game, and although they end up being a tad excessive, this game’s writing and voice acting are a big improvement over the first Spyro (Tom Kenny now voices the titular dragon and a few other characters), so it’s far from bad.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!The story is simply that Spyro is in need of a vacation, but upon entering the portal to his desired vacation spot, he is instead transported to another world called Avalar. It turns out, a scientist of Avalar, simply called “The Professor,” as well as a faun named Elora and a cheetah named Hunter, have created a portal to other worlds, and accidentally brought the Napoleon-esque dictator Ripto into Avalar. Ripto and his cohorts have taken over the joint, but Ripto has a fear and hatred of dragons, so Elora had the idea to bring Spyro to Avalar to defeat Ripto and his goons. It’s a simple, cartoonish plot, but it works for what it is.

In what seems to be the usual case for these early 3D platformers, the camera can be more than a little unreliable. It hasn’t really been improved from the first game, and when swimming or flying, it can even feel more clunky than before. It’s never game-breaking, but it does feel more noticeable in this second game. The swimming mechanics themselves, while a logical addition to gameplay, also feel a little dated when playing today.

Aside from the camera and some of the new mini-games and mechanics, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! is a solid improvement over its predecessor: The core gameplay remains smooth and the collecting is less monotonous. The worlds are bigger and the stages more varied. The graphics are cleaner and more colorful, and the music has also been upped a notch. The characters are cute and the boss fights, while few in number, are fun.

It might not hold up quite as well as Crash Bandicoot’s second performance, but Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage is further proof that the Playstation’s platforming heroes only got better with subsequent entries.



Spyro the Dragon Review

Spyro the Dragon

The early years of the Playstation saw the rise of many new faces in gaming, as Sony was building its brand to compete with the established franchises of Nintendo and Sega. In a robust library that saw the introductions of series like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, the Playstation also had its share of more colorful characters that were more akin to those of its competitors. Crash Bandicoot was the unofficial mascot of the Playstation, but he opened the door for another platforming series to make its debut, Spyro the Dragon, by Insomniac Games.

Much like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro’s original studio produced a trilogy of platformers on Sony’s trailblazing home console. And while the first entry in the series is understandably the roughest, it still provides some good fun.

Spyro the Dragon was a more open-world platformer than Crash, with Spyro’s worlds being a little closer to Super Mario 64’s wide, open stages. Though in a fun twist, the worlds are their own little hubs that have a few smaller stages of their own sprinkled throughout.

Spyro’s moveset not only includes running and jumping, but he can also glide, roll, ram enemies with his horns, and breathe small bursts of fire. He’s a fun character to control, though like many early 3D platformers, the camera can become a bit tricky to maneuver.

The story is that a villainous monster called Gnasty Gnork has cast a spell on the dragons and trapped them in crystals (Spyro was so small the spell went right over him), and has used his magic to turn the dragons’ prized gems into his soldiers. It’s up to Spyro to save his fellow dragons and reclaim the treasure.

I admire the simplicity of the plot, though the opening cinematic’s presentation of having a dragon being interviewed by a news crew (with visible boom mic) before the spell hits seems a bit too jokey, and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the game.

The goal of each stage is to collect every gem (found scattered throughout a stage or by defeating enemies), freeing dragons from their crystalized state (Spyro simply has to touch them, and they then become save points), and finding the more secretive dragon eggs, which have been stolen by thieves. You don’t always have to empty a level of all its collectibles and dragons in order to progress, but completionists will have a hefty task with tracking everything down.

In a fun twist, progressing to the next world is not simply about defeating a boss, but Spyro can move on via hot air balloon depending on how many gems he’s acquired or how many dragons he’s saved.

Spyro the DragonSpyro is joined on his adventure by Sparx the dragonfly, who not only grabs nearby gems, but also serves as Spyro’s health meter. Sparx can take three hits before Spyro is left by his vulnerable self. In another fun twist, replenishing health is accomplished by having Sparx eat butterflies.

The game may look dated, but it’s colorful enough to look at. The music isn’t entirely memorable, but it’s far from bad. The voice acting is fun, but Spyro’s dialogue can be a bit one note if you’re used to more varied gaming scripts.

If there’s any real drawback to Spyro the Dragon it’s simply that, today, it feels like the rough concept that would be polished with Insomniac’s follow-ups. The core gameplay is fun enough, but it doesn’t exactly boast a whole lot of variety, and at times collecting everything feels a bit monotonous. It feels like the very base of Insomniac’s concept, with the sequels adding the depth.

Spyro the Dragon remains a solidly entertaining platformer in its own right, it’s just that in retrospect, it’s easy to see how the sequels improved on it in both variety and quality. Still, if you’re wanting to revisit some of the Playstation’s early gems, or want to introduce young audiences to some retro gaming, Spyro remains a good starting point.