Following the success of 2000’s Spider-Man from developer Neversoft, Activision released not one, not two, but three different Spider-Man games in 2001: Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six on the aging Game Boy Color, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro on the similarly aging PSOne, and Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace on the freshly released Game Boy Advance that served as the wall-crawler’s debut on the handheld. Hailing from developer Vicarious Visions who wowed the public with what they could do with the GBA hardware in their port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, does Mysterio’s Menace wow in the same way Spider-Man’s debut on the PSOne did? Not quite, but it’s a pretty good game nonetheless.
While working at the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker receives a call from his wife Mary Jane reminding him to pick up a fish bowl for some new fish she just received (I am not making this up, this is how the game starts). Before he can say walloping web snappers, a news broadcast flashes stating that multiple heists have been reported, prompting Spider-Man into action while at the same time putting Peter Parker’s errand on the back-burner…or so he thinks.
Vicarious Visions first Spider-Man game, Spider-Man on the Game Boy Color, was a side-scroller that tried something different in that it didn’t have traditional level progression, instead allowing players to explore a fairly basic 2-D open-world. Mysterio’s Menace also goes against the grain but in a way that’s more reminiscent of Capcom’s MegaMan. Starting out you have the choice of three levels and you can choose which order you want to tackle them in. Successfully completing a level branches it out into a second and when all are mastered, you venture into the final stage with the master of illusion himself, Mysterio. You do start every stage with a set number of lives, and should you lose all them, you can continue back from the start. The saving grace is that you have unlimited continues and a password is always readily available in the pause menu should you need to give the game a break.
The levels themselves are fairly generic: a dock, a museum, a lab etc. but they do the trick and encourage you to explore them for hidden power-ups that add to Spider-Man’s basic arsenal, even taking another page out of MegaMan in that certain parts of levels are off-limits until you get the right tool, for example an electric proof suit that will allow you safely traverse live wires in the dock stage. Though this is a great addition and adds some replay value to a pretty short game (7 stages in total), I really wish Vicarious Visions would’ve created a game that screamed “WE LOVE MEGAMAN” and had you collecting tools from bosses you defeated. I completed the game with only finding a few additional containers of web fluid and didn’t have that much trouble with it, so I didn’t feel compelled to spend additional time tracking down a new suit to collect something I didn’t really need.
With a title character being a D-lister like Mysterio, though he is still one of my favorite Spidey villains, you can safely assume that all the other villains leading up to him wouldn’t be above that tier: Rhino, Scorpion, Electro, Hammerhead and even Big Wheel make up the extra muscle and neither pose that much of a threat, nor are they very memorable to fight. Three of them: Big Wheel, Rhino and Hammerhead fall into a pretty typical move back and forth and hit them when they run into a wall or stop moving and the others have their own simple exploitable patterns. Mysterio himself is another story however, and will keep you on your toes, and in fact, I can’t think of a Mysterio boss fight I didn’t really like, going back as far to Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six on the NES.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of difficulty in the bosses is due to the fact that Spider-Man controls very well. You can do everything a spider can like adhere to any surface, swing on webs simply by jumping and hitting the “A” button and take out thugs with simple punches. The triggers on the console allow you to fire an impact web and a capture web, the latter of which is one of the most important tools in your arsenal for taking out regular stage enemies, following up with a flurry of punches. The abilities you pick up don’t require any additional inputs, merely adding passive abilities or more web fluid, which is a good thing because it doesn’t over burden the player with too many inputs that the GBA simply doesn’t have.
A little on the short side and lacking any major marquis villains, Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace is still a very good side-scrolling action game that any fan of Spider-Man should check out. Though a little disappointing that hidden stage abilities aren’t woven more into the narrative and standard mechanics, they nonetheless challenge players to do something more than just run from the start of a stage to its conclusion, which is something you don’t really see in licensed comic book games. Like a lot of early Activision Spider-Man games, this one feels like it was made with a lot more care, attention and a true love of the character.