I love the ol’ Web-Head, but with how many games he’s had there are bound to be some duds, and the chances of finding the bad ones certainly increase when we look to the handheld systems. Spider-Man doesn’t actually have a horrible record there, but many of the titles began to feel similar and worn. When I stumbled across Battle for New York on the Game Boy Advance, I wasn’t expecting much, but appearances can be deceiving.
Upon turning the game on, I was presented with the option to start a prologue mission, but the face that greeted me wasn’t that of Spidey or his alter-ego Peter Parker, but a green one. The game makes an interesting choice of having the player start as one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes, the Green Goblin.
Just before that, there were some spectacular looking digitized artwork for the cutscenes (by Ron Lim, but I hope he wasn’t behind this cover art), revealing to me that there was a reason the Goblin looked like a hulking beast, instead of the version I grew up with and liked more. The story for Battle for New York takes place in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, a more modern take on its main characters with re-imagined origins for many.
The plot centers on Norman Osborn attempting to recreate Spider-Man’s powers for himself by using his company’s high-tech labs and his own Oz Formula. It doesn’t go exactly according to plan — being a huge monster and all — but side effects or not, he calls the process a success and now wants to turn other people into creatures just like him. If Spidey can’t stop the Green Goblin, he’ll lose the Battle for New York. Not a bad setup. This game was meant to retell Spidey’s early encounters with the Goblin through an entertaining perspective.
At this point, it felt like I had misjudged the game and was seeing some concepts I really enjoyed. But as I said before, those appearances can be deceiving.
Development duties were handed to Torus Games, an Australian company with quite the long history in video games, but they won’t sound too familiar to most. The group has stuck mostly to licensed IPs of titles meant for younger audiences (Ben 10, Scooby-Doo, Monster High) and were probably more known for their work on handheld and mobile projects in the early days.
Torus weren’t complete strangers to Spider-Man, as they held the developer role for Spider-Man 2 on the Game Boy Color as well. Both games were published by Activision, who are responsible for several Spider-Man games in that era. With all of this combined, Battle for New York should have had a lot going for it.
They had an interesting idea, telling two sides of the same story to fill in more gaps and allowing the players to cut loose and experience the villain’s different playstyles. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to playing Venom a year earlier in Ultimate: Spider-Man for the GBA, the handheld companion to the console version.
Battle for New York is also a side-scrolling beat ‘em up that requires the player to complete certain tasks before leaving the stage. Green Goblin and Spider-Man do play differently enough with limited variations to their attacks and both are able to scale walls in their own way. There are some issues with the gameplay however.
Playing as the Goblin doesn’t feel unique enough, as his only main difference are the various types of fireballs he can throw. The monster’s attacks feel weak and take multiple strikes to knock down a normal person. He is big while never appearing strong or intimidating and there is no satisfaction when landing any of his punches. Playing as Venom was way more fun.
Spider-Man has a weaker punch, if that’s possible, and takes fewer hits to kill, but his wall-climbing skills are better and he has his trusty web-shooters. I mean, he does have them, but the developers made them quite useless this time around. The web-swinging in the game is not as intuitive and often landed me in fires or lasers when all I wanted was to escape.
It also sucks how quickly his web fluid depletes, feeling like the slightest action costs too much and I kept accidentally swinging when I was just trying to jump. This puts a huge penalty on what should be Spider-Man’s main tool for interacting with the world and his enemies and it just isn’t fun, making it one of the game’s greatest flaws.
Hit detection is the other big issue. Punches never feel like they actually land while projectiles clip through objects. Figuring out the actual blast radius for area attacks and damaging effects is difficult while taking hits can be hard to avoid. Some enemies are placed in annoying spots and get in cheap shots, especially when the screen works against the player. Controlling both characters is a bit sluggish when the fists start flying. On top of all of this, boss fights feel flat, as their patterns are basic and the encounters are not creative in any way.
The stages are designed to encourage some exploration with minimal backtracking. Playing as the two different characters and seeing both sides of the story means revisiting many of the same levels. Most quests give a simple task, to destroy objects or rescue civilians and have an indicator that shows the player where to go, which is quite helpful at points but the design of each area makes the objective-driven gameplay tedious at times, especially when the core mechanics aren’t enjoyable.
Playing Battle for New York can be a bit tiring, sadly, with so many elements rehashed from earlier entries and nothing enticing to keep the player going, even if the story can be slightly intriguing. The game gets tough after a while and when death occurs, that means the level has to be started over from the beginning. Even if the levels can be short, there are often many enemies and maze-like elements that make restarting a sizeable burden. There are upgrade points handed out between levels but these stat increases never felt like they did much.
The game is at least somewhat nice to look at. The backgrounds might be a bit bland, but the cel-shaded look and incredibly fluid character animations show some work was put into the presentation. The music however is a little weak and nothing even plays during those excellent storyboard cutscenes. Something about the game just screams that it was either rushed or simply trying to cash-in on the success of the last one.
There was another version of Battle for New York that came out on the Nintendo DS which added more to the package, including mini-games and much needed special moves, but I’m not too eager to give that one a shot now. Nothing about what I played was horrible, but it also didn’t capture my attention or innovate any gameplay while handcuffing Spider-Man with the web fluid meter. There are much better games featuring the hero, even just from Torus, but I’ll hate this one most for wasting such an amazing name.
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you shouldn’t screw with Spider-Man’s web-swinging either.
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