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Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man! Well, four Spider-men actually. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, your not-so-friendly futuristic Spider-Man, your gloomy Spider-Man, and your younger, alternate Spider-Man all swing into action for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions on the Wii.

If it isn't obvious already, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is the biggest fan-service attempt for Spidey-fans ever. Blending four unique takes on the iconic hero, each with his own unique world and art style, is no short order and it is a real treat for the famed wall-crawler's fans. No matter which Spider-Man you grew up with, chances are you will relive your childhood through this adventure.

The mainline series of the Spider-Man universe, "Amazing Spider-Man," is the character which most people will be familiar. Peter Parker swings around a bright and colorful world that is complimented with cel-shading techniques that really make the artwork pop. It'd be best to describe the artstyle as living, breathing, comic book come to life.

The next most popular universe is "Ultimate Spider-Man." Launched in 2000, this take on Peter Parker re-tells some of the origins a bit and sports a bold, high-contrast style. If you went into the comic book shop today, chances are this would be the book you would notice before the others. The visuals are striking and use lots of primary colors.

What's left are the underdogs. "Spider-Man Noir" and "Spider-Man 2099." "Noir" is obviously a darker and grittier recent take on the Spider-Man universe and most of the visuals are black and white; which play up the darkness of the shadows to great effect. "2099" on the other hand is a far-flung future where neon is king. Fluorescent colors streak across a busy future city, which honestly makes "2099" the most visually confusing universe of the bunch. Actually, since this is the Wii version, all four art styles could have been so much better if they could have had proper time to optimize for the platform. As it is, you can see the basic ideas of each art style, but the limitations of the hardware makes all the in-game visuals look outdated.

Although, on the audio front, the development team at Beenox knows what fans want. From the moment I started the story, Stan Lee himself narraed the adventure. Each version of Spider-Man also gets their own voice actor, including Neil Patrick Harris as "Amazing Spider-Man!" The other Spider-Men are also cast according to fan requests. Every notable voice actor that has portrayed the web-head in the past has their own role. The voice actor of the animated series from the 90's is represented, as well as the actor from the 1981 series, and the voice actor from the "Spectacular" series run from 2008 is here too. That, plus a lot of original voice actors for the villains, including Mark Hamill, really show that plenty of heart and consideration went into the casting and the game is better for it.


Gameplay:

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions starts off with "Amazing" Spider-Man battling Mysterio inside a museum over a mysterious tablet. As Mysterio steals back his sought artifact, Spidey accidentally cracks the stone tablet into pieces. Little did they know, the tablet was actually holding the universes together and now Madame Web must step in to sort out the mess. While the tablet was shattered (the title makes sense now, right?) in the "Amazing" dimension, the pieces were actually sent scattering across all four dimensions. So to recover each piece of the tablet requires the cooperation of each of the four titular Spider-men.

So as is apparent by now, the four universes correspond to four different level types. "Amazing Spider-Man" is the most balanced of all the levels because it offers a good mix of action and platforming between busy cities and lush jungles. Crawling up walls, beating up bad guys... it's all there. "Amazing" serves as a good primer for what to expect later like creative boss battles and hostage rescuing. My favorite levels, by far, were during "Spider-Man Noir." Having to stick to the shadows to sneak up on the bad-guys and take them out silently to advance is very reminiscent of last year's excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is really uncanny how much they borrow from Arkham Asylum and it is even more uncanny how much of it works so well, like Spider-Sense acting as a visual X-ray to locate enemies and items. It fits really well within the story, and I think this is the stand-out portion of the entire game.

Coming off the stealth focus on "Noir" leads into the all-out action of "Ultimate Spider-Man." The "Ultimate" levels place more emphasis on the combat and different combat techniques than any other and it actually becomes a double-edged sword. At times, the combat is satisfying during the "Ultimate" levels because of the black symbiote suit, which grants over-the-top attacks. Many of these attacks are so useful that when you go back to other levels, which won't have the special attacks, you feel as if something is missing. (Also, "Ultimate" Spidey has Deadpool. Voiced by Nolan North. So it's automatically my second favorite.)

And finally, "2099." This is by far the most confusing of all of the levels. I loved reading "2099" through the 90's and to see it so heavily restricted is kind of disappointing. These levels are essentially the same as "Amazing" except with added sections where Spider-Man is sky-diving towards the city below and must avoid obstacles or catch bad guys. This isn't a unique gimmick, no matter how many times the perspective changes during the falling sequences. It makes "2099" feel less important. And adding to the already laborious process of close quarters combat with duplicate enemy types, the repetition of the whole game really sinks in during "2099."

Up until this point, I have been pretty positive about all of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. I wanted to ease into the problems slowly because it is easy to see that Shattered Dimensions clearly WANTS to be a good Spider-Man game, but being on the Wii, it actually makes it one of the worst. I am trying to be delicate, but if you have the option of what platform to get this on, do NOT choose the Wii version. I am willing to overlook the numerous glitches, and gameplay bugs, and SYSTEM CRASHES that I experienced because I might be an isolated case, but the control scheme used for the Wii controls is absolutely dreadful.

Since Shattered Dimensions is so focused on the combat and platforming throughout, the controls need to be tight and responsive. They aren't. Tacked-on motion controls and unintuitive button combinations really drag the entire experience down. As a casual Spidey fan, I had a very hard time staying positive about my investment when most of the time I was waggling the controls frantically trying to make Spider-Man do... anything, but to no avail.

Although I am willing to accept I might have been cursed with an unfinished copy, I feel it is necessary to report on the numerous and pervasive technical difficulties I had while playing Shattered Dimensions. Disregarding the camera control issues, I experienced: buggy targeting that would only target dead enemies, clipping errors where characters would walk through walls or doors and attack before they were scripted, enemies (including bosses) falling through the floor, Spider-Man falling through the floor, scripted sequences that would not activate, scripted sequences that wouldn't stop activating, animation errors where Spider-Man would glide across the level, and finally an old-fashioned system crash where the Wii froze and then powered off. Fans might be willing to look past these flaws to get to the solid game that is underneath, but for anyone else, that is simply unacceptable.


Difficulty:

Due to the repetitive nature of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, with exactly four enemy types per level: light infantry, ranged infantry, medium infantry, and a giant guy with a hammer, it makes it difficult to play for long sessions. Luckily the standard "Easy", "Normal", and "Hard" difficulty options are well balanced to tackle the levels at your own pace. Though, be warned, every setting is maybe just a little harder than advertised because of the aforementioned control issues. I also found the combat to be a little too easy if you spam some of the advanced techniques that are unlocked later in the game.

For the average player, it should take no longer than 30 - 45 minutes per level. So accounting for completionists, it takes around 10 hours to clear the game's 14 levels. Of course, you can always replay missions on different difficulties to unlock cool new abilities and, of course, alternate costumes! The idea that I would be able to play as the Scarlet Spider and Iron Spider was enough to sell me right away, but they are appropriately hard to unlock, so once I did, I never changed suits again.


Game Mechanics:

Now let's get to the nitty gritty of the control issues. First of all, knowing that Shattered Dimensions was not designed specifically for the Wii explains a lot. Condensing more traditional controls that include more buttons and two analog sticks onto motion-based Wii controls isn't easy. But marrying the worst of both worlds is not an ideal solution. During combat, there are two types of attacks: light and heavy. Light attacks are issued by pressing (B) to pound away on the bad guys. For heavy attacks, though, you have to press (B) AND point the Wii-mote in an upward fashion. So in order to pull off complex combos that are earned throughout the course of the game requires an air traffic controller's mindset. Down, down, up. Up, down, up down. Up, up, up. It just isn't fun.

Then there is the grab mechanic. If there are enemies or breakable objects nearby, Spider-Man can pick them up and give them a good toss. A very basic command that many other Wii games can handle adequately is broken because of Shattered Dimensions's necessary reliance on gesture-based controls. You must shake the Nunchuck (usually in the left hand) to grab an object, rotate the camera to aim, and then shake the Nunchuck again to throw it. After the first few tries, it rapidly devolves into another scene of the player flailing around like an idiot and the controls simply not responding. The entire layout of the controls onto the Wii-mote is an exercise in futility, because the layout of having one controller in each hand does not work well with action games, so it was hindered from the beginning.

The underlying principles that dictate Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions are good. It is a unique perspective for the popular comic-book character, including stand-out set pieces from "Spider-Man Noir." On the Wii, the entire experience was obviously an afterthought. The controls don't work well and the numerous technical problems could have easily been fixed with a few months polish. It is very hard to recommend Shattered Dimensions to anyone except fans, but even then if the option exists to play it on one of the other consoles, the Wii version should be overlooked. Nintendo has a notorious reputation with 3rd parties dumping development of other games onto the Wii to make a quick buck. It's a shame that everyone's favorite wall-crawler is now among them.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

Related Links:



Microsoft Xbox 360 Pictureka Microsoft Xbox 360 Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

 
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