When it launched in the fall of 2000, Activision’s Spider-Man would eventually be playable on every platform on the market: PSOne, PS2 (via backwards compatability), N64, PC, DC and even the Game Boy Color. As the game goes, one of those games are not like the other, I’m of course referring to the Game Boy Color port of the game. Whether they actually belonged there or not, a lot of companies tried to squeeze down a 3-D console experience onto Nintendo’s very dated hardware: Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, Perfect Dark, heck even once upon a time someone thought they could compress the entirety of 1996’s Resident Evil onto the device. Even though they have no chance of matching the experience they’re trying to, handheld versions of console games don’t always have to be bad, look no further than the DS SKU’s of Iron Man or Batman: The Brave and the Bold as examples of that. Does Spider-Man GBC reach the same highs as the game it takes inspiration from? Not for a lack of trying on the part of developer Vicarious Visions, but this game is not required playing like its spectacular console counterpart.
Spider-Man on the GBC doesn’t follow the same plot as the console game, but it does feature some of the same story beats, mainly Doctor Octopus using the power of the symbiotes for his own nefarious purposes and the inclusions of both Venom and Carnage. New to this game are Hobgoblin and the Lizard as additional boss characters, as if you’ll recall, the Lizard only had a brief cameo in all the other versions to give you some directions through the sewer maze.
As it was impossible to make a 3-D Spider-Man game on the GBC, Vicarious Visions chose to make a 2-D side-scrolling action game, but they did get a little ambitious with the games design. As opposed to just having levels, this game has a limited open world divided into five sectors: New York City, the sewers, the subway, the docks and finally Doc Ock’s labs. It’s easy enough to get around for the most part and you’ll never find yourself at a loss for where to go to meet your next objective, though two of the areas, the sewers and the final stage, are incredibly confusing labyrinths that lack any clear direction on where to go. By the time you make it to the bosses of these levels you’ll feel like you stumbled your way into where you were supposed to go as opposed to being led to your destination organically.
Fortune does favour the brave however, as intrepid explorers will find power ups to increase health and defense, as well as additional tools that become necessities to beating certain bosses like projectile webbing. You can also increase your base statistics by fighting enemies and gaining experience. This only builds up your power so much though as you cap out at around level six, or after 2,000 experience points, which can be done very quickly.
What makes getting around all the more frustrating is the games controls. They sound easy on paper: jump with A, swing by hitting A in the air, punch with B and rolling from B-A fires trap/projectile web bullets. The issue is that Spider-Man feels incredibly stiff like he’s too heavy. There’s not that many fall into a pit and die jumps thankfully, but deep into the game you’ll have to jump and swing through some pretty treacherous terrain where spikes will be on the ceiling and deadly fluids below you made all the more difficult by inaccurate controls. This isn’t helped by the abundance of annoying small enemies that push you back and drain your health far, far too quickly. Whether it’s a bat, or a bird, or an alligator, each area has their own annoyance that buzzes around you in such a way that’s impossible to hit them and all you can do is watch either your health drain to zero or get pushed into a hole, both of which eat up valuable lives. The game does help you out a little in this area by offering unlimited continues and passwords so you can put down the game when it becomes too much, so even when things are at their worst, you can take a small comfort knowing there’s always a small five character code just a press of the select button away.
The bosses won’t put up nearly as much as a challenge as the members of the animal kingdom provided you learn how to faithfully roll your thumb from B-A to fire your webs. This tactic works a majority of the games bosses, including Venom (who you fight multiple times), the Lizard and the final bosses that occur in the same pattern as the console game (Doc Ock, Carnage, Monster Ock). The only boss who deviates from this pattern is the Hobgoblin who you need to attack in the air as he flies back and forth on his glider, but he doesn’t put up that much more of a challenge. So to summerize, some of Spider-Man’s greatest foes are not nearly as deadly to him as random birds and lizards.
You have to give a lot of credit to Vicarious Visions for doing something more than making a run of the mill side-scroller in bringing Spider-Man to the GBC but issues with difficulty and controls really drag the experience down. This is by no means one of the worst Spider-Man games out there nor is it a particularly bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but as far as Spider-Man games on a handheld go, you can do much better.