The much anticipated the Amazing Spider-Man 2 finally reaches North American theaters this week, accompanied by its tie-in game from Activision today releasing across nearly every platform and handheld available. One of the first antagonists announced for the sequel, also making his big screen debut, is Max Dillon AKA Electro. This wouldn’t be the first expansion out of the comics where the electrifying foe took top billing as a primary threat, that honor would go to the 2001 PSOne game Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro.
Similar to how Sony rebooted their cinematic Spider-Man universe in 2012 with the Amazing Spider-Man, publisher Activision similarly did so with the Spider-Man video game franchise. For the majority of the 1990’s, most games featuring the character were created and published either by Acclaim or LJN, their last outings being a game based on the FOX Kids animated series simply titled “Spider-Man” for the SNES and Sega Genesis and a sequel to “Maximum Carnage” entitled “Separation Anxiety.” The last time any gamer would be able to get their hands on a Spider-man game was on Sega’s short lived add-on console the 32X in 1996, Spider-Man: Web of Fire, a game released in an extremely limited run (rumored thought not confirmed to be 1,500 copies) that was received poorly but has become a rather expensive collectors item.
Hot off the success of their genre defining hit Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, developer Neversoft brought “Spider-Man” to Sony’s PlayStation, cementing a relationship with Activision and Marvel’s character that has been ongoing to this date. The game was a huge success, still regarded as one of the best Spider-Man games to date and the first time the iconic superhero was ever playable in the third dimension. It would find its way to every system available at the time: Nintendo’s N64, a loose side-scrolling adaption on the Game Boy Color, Sega’s last console the Dreamcast, and PC.
In the same year that Spider-Man was released to market, Sony brought arguably the most popular console in history to date to the market in the PlayStation 2, and shortly after made their intentions clear to bring the long gestating big screen adaption of Spider-Man to life, debuting to record box-office at the time in 2002.
Neversoft moved on to make Tony Hawk games exclusively until moving on to the Guitar Hero franchise and Treyarch, now working on the mega franchise Call of Duty, were given the duty of bringing Spider-Man to the PS2 in time for the release of the film. In the meantime, Activision, still seeing life in the aging PSOne and Neversoft’s template, commissioned a sequel to the 2000 game.
Created by Vicarious Visions, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro is one of the few direct continuations of a Spider-Man story in a video game (other examples being the above mentioned “Separation Anxiety” and 2011’s “Edge of Time) and remained solely on the PS One (more than likely due to declining sales on the N64 and the impending doom of Sega’s hardware business.) In the game, the titular villain is hunting for components of a machine called the Bio-Nexus device that will enhance his power to God-like proportions, enlisting the likes of Sandman, Hammerhead, and the in by no means related Shocker to aid him in his scheme.
The sequel didn’t reinvent the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but it did offer some noticeable improvements to its progenitor. Firstly, Spider-Man’s character model was fully “webbed” (a detail that would not be addressed until the first game was ported to Dreamcast), secondly a rudimentary lock-on was added, activated by hitting the L2 button and you could now fire impact webs in the air.
Expanding your arsenal is the new “web yank” ability, triggered by a combination of down+triangle, that can be used to disarm enemies, pull them in for attacks, drop environmental obstacles on them, or to free passageways. Replacing the symbiote stopping fire webbing were two new different types of webbing: Electrified taser webbing and freeze webbing. Also marking their first crossover since “Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge” in the 16-bit era, Beast, Charles Xavier and Rogue appear in the games training and tutorial areas. Spider-Man, returning the favor, was featured as an unlockable fighter in X-Men Mutant Academy 2, released the same year.
What added a lot of replay value to the first game was playing on various difficulties to unlock a variety of costumes from Spider-Man’s history. In part two, not only were there new suits to unlock, but you could mix and match their abilities. Want to wear the black suit alien costume but feel like your cheating? Turn off unlimited webbing. Care to play through the entire game as Peter Parker but find it too challenging? Add more web cartridges.
As a plot point (also a clever way to implement “fog”, a tool used to hide draw distance in the 32 bit era), you couldn’t see the streets of New York City because Doc Ock had blanketed the city in a gas from his hidden base to prepare the citizens for symbiosis. The designers at Vicarious Visions allowed you to venture for the streets in two areas to combat street crime.
Though “Spider-Man” was a very fun game, the lack of variety in the games levels certainly hurt it. Success meant basic switch puzzles, fighting your way out of a room or destroying symbiote generators. For the sequel, Viscarious Visions added some interesting objectives like tracking down mercenaries to diffuse a bomb or stopping a runaway plane from crashing by using your webs to gum up the propellers while clearing obstacles.
While I recommend Enter Electro and have spoken highly about its upgrades from the first game in the series, it has some troubling issues that hold it back. Vicarious Visions addressed some faults with Neversoft’s game, but never touched the elephant in the room: The games camera. You still don’t have any control over the camera at all (something very important in a 3D game and a staple since Super Mario 64 released in 1996) and in two of the boss fights, with Shocker and the first form of Electro, the camera fixes itself so you’re always facing your foe, making it incredibly hard to see where you are in relation to the environment.
The Shocker fight in particular is more difficult than it should be, cause I mean, ya know, it’s the Shocker for crying out loud, and the game tells you to pull boxes on top of him with your web yank, a task that’s way too hard to be effective. An alternate method to beat him is to pick up barrels scattered about, but you can’t see them to do so when you’re close and the Shocker you is bombarding you with blasts from his gauntlets.
Although Electro is a well known foe in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, he doesn’t have quite the same star power to headline a game, and the same can be said of the cast of the supporting rogues. You’ll fight popular villains like Sandman, Shocker, the Lizard and of course Electro, in some quite good boss fights; in fact I’ll say the final fight here is better than the conclusion to Spider-Man, but they don’t have the same level of prestige as Doc Ock, Mysterio, Venom and Carnage from part one.
If you’re planning on playing Enter Electro (which I totally think you should) it’s best enjoyed on the easy difficulty. On the normal difficulty, the challenge feels way too unbalanced and at points can be downright frustrating. Some of the levels are mutli-tiered affairs that don’t check point and death means starting over entire sections.
Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro is not without problems and is not quite as a memorable as Activision and Neversoft’s debut effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable game that’s worth checking out. Due to licensing, I can assure you that you’ll never see this game on a download service, but it can be picked up rather inexpensively and can be played on PlayStation’s 1-3. I recommended playing it back to back with it’s prequel to experience one of the best chapters in Spider-Man’s videogame legacy.