It’s pretty astonishing how far developers have come with the mobile platform in such a short period of time. Where once game designers were trying to emulate traditional games on a touch screen with virtual buttons and sticks/directional pads, now the best of the best in the mobile space are games that are intelligently designed to be played using the touch-screen interface of touches, swipes and pinches. As much as a love a game like say, MegaMan X for example, it’s best suited for a device that has multiple buttons and a directional-pad for movement input. One game that perhaps goes against that trend is Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem, one of the early mobile games from Gameloft that launched back in 2010. Featuring on-screen buttons and a virtual analog stick, two things I absolutely hate in a mobile game if you haven’t picked up on that already, Total Mayhem still manages to be a quite enjoyable mobile Spider-Man even today though its control interface at times leaves a lot to be desired.
A mass break-out at the Triskelion has occurred releasing many of Spider-Man’s deadliest enemies including Sandman, Rhino, Electro, Venom, Doc Ock and Green Goblin and it’s up to our hero to bring them back to justice. That’s really all you need to know about the story for Total Mayhem and it’s a serviceable set-up to thread multiple villains into the game’s simple story, something that proved effective going back as far to the NES days with Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. There’s in-between level cut-scenes complete with some decent voice-acting and a sub-plot involving Green Goblin using materials from Venom’s suit to develop an army of Oz infused symbiote soldiers, but basically all you need to know is bad guys are loose and Spider-Man needs to stop them.
Total Mayhem plays like a traditional 3-D game complete with on-screen controls for movement, attacking, and jumping and while I typically cringe at the thought of a mobile game playing like that, Gameloft actually designed the game within those constraints pretty well, for the most part. Fighting, which takes up most of the game, plays like the Arkham titles where you have one attack and a counter button. As each combat arena is normally small, you can easily bounce between enemies with little to no movement input required and this allows you to keep one side of the screen clear while you focus on punching and countering. You do have a web attack projectile as well as a super attack that builds up as you successfully attack enemies, but mostly you’re attacking and dodging and just like in the Arkham games, it’s a lot of fun.
Unlike a lot of Spider-Man games, you only really get to do uniquely Spider-Man-y things like wall crawl and web-sling at designated points and while it’s incredibly sad to see Spider-Man fall to leap over a piece of a building that he can easily crawl over, I actually didn’t mind the limitations Gameloft put on the character. Freedom to crawl and swing work great in a console or dedicated handheld game where you have inputs that are more exact, but for a mobile game with virtual inputs you appreciate that the development team didn’t get too ambitious with Spider-Man’s powers.
Where things don’t really quite work so well is in the plat-forming segments. Web swinging works really well; You basically have to hit an on-screen prompt like you would in a QTE after jumping once, but jumping across the tiniest of gaps can sometimes cause unforeseeable levels of frustration. This is the type of game where you’ll see Spider-Man plummet to his demise and scream “I was totally jumping there!” at whatever device you’re playing on. This is compounded in many segments where you’re grinding rails and flipping between lines to avoid taking damage like Ratchet & Clank where Spider-Man will either not jump out-of-the-way and take damage or not make the jump at all and force you to restart. At the very least Gameloft provided ample check points so you’re not replaying a large portion of a level over again, but it’s still frustrating nonetheless.
The controls in Total Mayhem aren’t perfect and repeating segments over and over again is a pain, but what softens the blow is the game’s graphics. I played this game on an iPod Touch 5 and it was stunning to look at with a lot of bright, vibrant colours. The game takes place mostly in outdoor environments like the rooftops in New York City, but even they seem to pop with this games wonderful choice of art direction. The villains you face all look exactly as they do in the pages of the comics, but a complaint I have is the choice of Spider-Man’s body type. Like Battle for New York his character model is far too big and muscular when he should be thinner and shorter. This game uses does a better job of setting itself in the Ultimate Universe than Battle for New York did, but it still doesn’t match up in the same way that the first Ultimate Spider-Man game did on the GC/PS2/Xbox.
In an era where mobile games are free with tacked on microtransactions, people may be floored that Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem carries a hefty price tag of close to ten dollars but you shouldn’t let the price tag deter you from downloading this game on whatever device you have. Despite using a control scheme not conducive to the mobile platform, Total Mayhem manages to be a gorgeous looking Arkham clone that will last you a good few hours. The plat-forming leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m sure it will lead to a lot of frustration, but the sections where you’re firmly on the ground or swinging in the air make up for the game’s few weak spots. Pick this game up while you can, especially if you’re a Spider-Man fan.