When you look at the time line of the Spider-Man movie handheld tie-in games, it’s a pretty interesting one. When Spider-Man (2002) came out, there was only the Game Boy Advance, and it was initially that way for Spider-Man 2 until later in 2004 and into early 2005 when the Nintendo DS, N-Gage and PSP launched to stores. In the case of Spider-Man 3, it arrived in 2007 when the market had determined the N-Gage a failure and both the PSP as well as DS were enjoying success with the later getting its first redesign, the Nintendo DS Lite. Given how big the install base must’ve been for the DS and the PSP at the time, having a dedicated Spider-Man 3 game for the GBA seemed a bit unnecessary, but you can always count on Activision to release as much product as possible. I’m not exactly complaining either as Spider-Man 3, while on the short side, is the best dedicated Spider-Man movie game released for the Game Boy Advance.
Spider-Man 3 like the movie it’s based on as well as the two games that came before it cherry picks plot elements from the source material while expanding the plot and playtime with other Spider-Man villains. This basically means that you can expect to fight the likes of New Goblin, Sandman as well as Venom all the while the title character struggles with the black suit alien symbiote costume. For those looking for a comprehensive retelling of the film, the Game Boy Advance game doesn’t do a particularly good job, however given most people’s feelings of Spider-Man 3, that once again could perhaps be for the best. The story is told by still shots with some text between missions and it does its purpose of adding context to the game’s events but is pretty forgettable and skippable.
Both Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 were developed by Digital Extremes, however for chapter three, it sees the return of Vicarious Visions who made the first ever Spider-Man game for the Game Boy Advance and the underrated X2: Wolverine’s Revenge. While Digital Extremes didn’t make two bad games, and actually pushed what the hardware could do with the use of 3-D, Vicarious Visions have proven themselves wizards with the GBA ever since the devices launch with games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and it’s good to have them back. Spider-Man 3 shares a lot of similarities with its predecessors, meaning it’s another 2-D side-scrolling action game with an emphasis on open, non-linear stages with objectives to complete peppered within, but it feels a lot more refined than either of the games that came before it.
The big complaint I had with each of the Spider-Man movie games that came before Spider-Man 3 was that while they looked good, they lacked polish in the collision detection department when it came to both getting around the environment and fighting enemies. Spider-Man 3 is still a good-looking game though in a few respects like Spider-Man’s character model it doesn’t look up to par with DE’s works, but it’s easy to take hit in presentation when it means you get a better playing game. Spider-Man carries over a similar move set: basic attacks, web-slinging, and zipping to places with the R-trigger, and it immediately feels so much better. When you want to quickly zip to either a ceiling or wall for example, you do so without any arching animations that throw off what you need to do. The grappling points introduced in Spider-Man 2 also return, though they’re much easier to utilize this time around, essentially being strategically placed for you to move quickly upwards during a few chase sequences with arrows in the environment pointing you to where you need to go.
Another issue that made level navigation cumbersome that’s corrected here is simple markers telling you where you need to go. Spider-Man 3 has a lot of the same in-level objectives that need to be completed like saving hostages, disarming bombs, etc., but when you’re in their general vicinity, a guide arrow will appear telling you where you need to go and how much time you have to get there. Completing your objectives also requires a much more creative use of your spider-powers than in either of the movie games. Some of the best examples are having to pull civilians off of unstable flooring in a collapsing building and gumming up sprinklers with your webbing to redirect water to put out fires. You could say this makes Spider-Man 3 an easier game, but I would argue that it just makes things more manageable. That being said, there is a distinct lack of challenge until the later bosses and stages and the game is pretty short as well. I casually started it in an evening after work and completed it before I turned in for the evening on the medium difficulty. Finishing the game does unlock a hard mode so there’s some inventive to go back at least once more if you’re looking for a greater challenge.
Regular stage enemies were best avoided unless it was absolutely necessary in the games leading up to Spider-Man 3 and bosses could normally be beaten with cheap exploits or just spamming attack. Combat isn’t the most engaging in Spider-Man 3 and the game loses the unlockable moves and upgrades from Spider-Man 2, instead you only get increased health at arbitrary times, but you do get a sense that you’re actually connecting with an enemy when you hit them. Replacing traditional move upgrades is the black suit which you get early on and activates once you build up a meter by attacking enemies. It makes you stronger and faster but you lose if after one hit as if you’re Sonic losing all your rings. It strikes a good balance in making the upgrade feel valuable but it also doesn’t make you reliant on it as well. The implementation of the black suit is perhaps handled better in the GBA game than most other SKU’s, or arguably better than the source material.
The bosses are easily the best the Spider-Man movie series of games has had on the Game Boy Advance with actual stage gimmicks that you need to exploit that are true to the characters weaknesses in the comics. Like pretty much every Sandman fight in every Spider-Man game ever for example, you need to douse him with water, and Venom needs to be weakened with sound in a similar way to how he was beaten in the film. Compared to Green Goblin and Doc Ock in their respective games, Sandman and Venom provide just the right amount of challenge for a final boss without becoming too frustrating. The other characters that round out your rogues, such as Electro who is exclusive to this version of the game, also have fights that require some though and skill to how you beat them as well.
Spider-Man 3 will go down for most if not all as the worst of the Sam Raimi trilogy of films, but as far as the Game Boy Advance tie-ins goes, it’s easily the best. Whether or not it needed to exist given it released in competition with both PSP and DS versions is still debatable, but if you’re looking for a Spider-Man game to play on the go, you may want to give Spider-Man 3 a second look. It’s on the short side, but great for simple pick up and play sessions and a tighter game overall gameplay wise than its siblings on the GBA. It’s not exactly required playing nor will it even stand out like some other Spider-Man handheld games on other devices, but chances are you may have missed this game due to either your feelings on the film, the console game, because you played it on another handheld or a combination of any of those. Spider-Man 3 is a game you can get on online retailers like Amazon for very cheap (I got it at literally a penny plus shipping) so if you have any devices around that can still play Game Boy Advance carts, you might want to give this game a look.