Prior to the release of Spider-Man: Edge of Time on the Nintendo DS, development duties for Spider-Man games on the DS had fallen on Griptonite Games who created some pretty great “metroidvania” style games featuring the web-slinger with Web of Shadows and Shattered Dimensions. That particular studio was purchased by Glu Mobile in 2011 to work on mobile games, and published Activision contracted Newfoundland based Other Ocean Interactive to craft Edge of Time. The studio tried admirably to pick up where Griptonite had left off before them, but unfortunately lightning did not strike a third time with the use of the formula.
EOT on the DS features a similar story as its counterpart on home consoles: In the year 2099, Walker Sloan from the Alchemax corporation abuses the time stream to bring about the birth of the corporation in present time, but inadvertantly damages the time stream in the process. To correct this and bring balance to both the present and future, Spider-Man must team up with his future counterpart, Spider-Man 2099 to put an end to Sloan’s plan.
As stated above, EOT is an open “metroidvania” styled game where levels are replaced by an open map that restricts itself until a proper upgrade is obtained to proceed. In the case of EOT, there’s a map for each of the Spider-Men (Spider-Man’s?) and each have their own unique abilities as well as a link between the two time periods where something that affects the past, say Spider-Man knocking over a robot in the present opens a pathway for Spider-Man 2099 in the future. To solve puzzles and progress, players can switch between the two at any time with a simple push of the select button.
It sounds really excellent describing it, sort of like Spider-Man meets the light/dark world mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, however there’s more than a few design errors that make this an exercise in frustration. The first being the design and placement of the map: The map is located on the top of screen and cannot be manipulated to see where you need to go. As the map is quite big, encompassing several buildings, rooftops and city streets, it can make getting to where you need to go a mounumental pain. Tracking your character and knowing what’s a platform and what isn’t, is also on the difficult side as the red dot representing your character dips both above and below the solid ground and wall lines.
Another large issue is becoming stuck and not knowing which time line you need to be in in order to progress. I can’t count the number of times I got stuck in this game and wandered aimlessly through two maps with both characters, only to realize the solution was something as simple as hitting a box in the present to dislodge a robot in the future, or flipping a switch in one period, then having the game tell you what was affected in the other and not knowing where that is.
This game also boasts some of the worst character sprite work I’ve ever seen, especially Spider-Man 2099 who looks like a blue blob with a few red lines thrown in to define his costume somewhat. Both he and Spider-Man also animate incredibly awkwardly and have no smoothness in even their simple walking animation, let alone wall-crawling, web-slinging or fighting. Prepare to chuckle when you wrap an enemy in your web to throw them, and watch them move from one side of your character to the other like it’s a puppet on a stick. This studio did some pretty nice work in the retro-themed Dark Void Zero (also on the DS,) so I know that they’re capable of better.
Graphics are one thing, but EOT doesn’t really dazzle from a gameplay standpoint as well. Fighting enemies, with the exception of bosses, is pointless as there isn’t any experience system or incentive to pick a fight, so it’s just as effective to jump or swing around them. The two experienced wall-crawlers also have the problem of spontaneously falling off a wall when they transition from a ceiling to a vertical surface. The new abilities you pick up for both characters don’t really come into play until you have to take out that one barrier, or get through that one electrical field, to progress the game
EOT does have a lot of problems, but that’s not to say the game doesn’t have a few standouts, some in fact better than any other version. It features way more villains than the paltry Anti-Venom, Black Cat and Atrocity fights found elsewhere. Though the bad guy roster is filled in by B, C, and D listers like Shocker, Overdrive, Big Wheel, Arcade and Menace, their inclusion is welcome none the less. You also get more recorded dialogue from the two leads, Josh Keaton as Spider-Man and Christopher Daniel Barnes as Spider-Man 2099 (my two favorite Spider-Man voice actors,) so that’s always a good thing. It also periodically transitions environments from outdoors to indoors, as well as other buildings, as opposed to just being set in the Alchemax lab facility.
Other Ocean may have bit off more than they could have chewed with the time period swapping, “metroidvania” exploration style design featured in EOT, and while there are the makings of a good game here, nothing clicks either mechanically or graphically. If you’ve played all the other Spider-Man outings on the handheld and want to check this out, you could probably get it for cheap and it shouldn’t take you anymore than three and a half hours to complete. Otherwise, I’d do yourself a favor and check out Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions from Griptonite Games.