The Spider-Man games on the DS had a bit of a yo-yo thing happening starting out: Spider-Man 2 was not really that great, but Ultimate Spider-Man was terrific; Spider-Man: Battle for New York was a poor man’s attempt at trying to duplicate the quality of Ultimate Spider-Man but Spider-Man 3 returned things to form with a unique take on the open-world genre in two-dimensions and touch-screen controls. I try to avoid when at all possible using clichés, but in this yo-yo analogy, what comes up must sadly come down and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe on the Nintendo DS is indeed the downward drop in quality game. Though it at least tries to differentiate itself from the game that’s on every other console, it somehow manages to be duller and at times obnoxious. Like the console game this is a game strictly for the younger crowd that should be avoided for anyone with two digits in their age, and even then they should be cautious.
Spider-Man: Friend or Foe on the DS has the same premise as that everywhere else where Nick Fury recruits Spider-Man to work with Black Cat and his rogues gallery from Sony’s first Spider-Man film trilogy to stop someone from using the meteors that brought Venom to earth to create beings known as P.H.A.N.T.O.M.S. It uses the same opening as the game elsewhere, but the similarities end there. The rest of the story is told via talking heads side-by-side or small motion comics but there is a decent amount of voice work squeezed onto this DS cart from the likes of James Arnold Taylor and Josh Keaton.
On other consoles and handhelds, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is a harmless, mindless brawler that was clearly intended for a younger audience or enjoyed with a like-minded friend via co-op who are into the Spider-Man and his rogues gallery mash-up concept. That’s true as well for the DS game, yet despite being the most different version out of all the SKU’s, it somehow manages to be the worst even though you can tell that the developers at A2M (Artificial Mind and Movement, minds out of the gutter people) tried. The first place in which FoF falls flat is in the base combat which is terrible. You have two combos: three punches in a row or three kicks in a row and it’s easy to miss an enemy, get caught in an animation and then lose a lot of health when a bad guy counter attacks you. Friend or Foe elsewhere at least had a decent combat as well as combos that could be purchased that mixed in your web powers, but the only upgrades here are to your health and capacity to use more of your web powers which aren’t that helpful, save one, that temporarily freezes an enemy in place. Health upgrades aren’t really that important either come to think of it, as when one of your characters runs out of power, you automatically switch to the other and then your partner comes back after a very short downtime.
On the DS, Friend or Foe tries to be a little more than a brawler with a set up where characters can move between two screens: the bottom screen is a street view and the top is generally around the top of the city sky line and the transition is fairly seamless but the perspective also looks a little weird during the transition. This design adds more to this game than all the other versions of Friend or Foe as it gives the illusion of depth as you’ll have to venture on the streets, in back alleys and rooftops to do things like save civilians or destroy objects in order to proceed. Given how broken and not fun the moment-to-moment combat is, perhaps A2M should have just stuck to making a simple brawler, mainly because of how the touch screen is implemented in these side-distractions.
This game is full of some of the most annoying touch-screen mini-games I’ve ever seen in a DS game. The most challenge that comes from this very easy game is having to do things such as unlocking a door by slowly sliding a series of tumblers up and down with a time limit when the instructions tell you to be slow and methodical. This is in the very first level of the game. Failing this forces you to hear the instructions over and over with no option to quickly skip past them and throughout the game other mechanics are added like this where you’ll have to trace a line from the top of the screen to the bottom to match numbers or turn a safe dial. All of these are a chore to do and were more than likely added to break up the repetitive brawling but you’ll want to get past all these touch-screen games in order to get back to fighting, should you choose to stick with Friend or Foe. Worse still the developers ask you to spend precious in-game currency to unlock all these mini-games as a bonus mode along with a survival mode, boss rush and free play.
The hook of Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was being able to partner Spider-Man with the roster of villains from the first film trilogy along with redesigns of characters like Black Cat, Prowler, Iron Fist, Blade, the Rhino and the Lizard. This mechanic too caries over to the DS game, but it’s been dumbed down significantly. First of all, you can’t pick what character is your partner for each level, instead one is chosen for you at the start with a few chapters swapping characters out between stages. The only one to play as certain characters is to spend in-game currency on them, and they’re rather pricey, and even then you can’t do so in the main story mode, only the free play mode. Partner characters also can’t get new abilities or moves, so the only reason to really use them within a level in the main campaign is if Spider-Man happens to run out of health and you need to use your partner to give Spider-Man a chance to come back. This game has local co-op, but you need to know someone who also has a copy of Friend or Foe which is a pretty high barrier to entry then just plugging in a second controller for most other versions, save the PSP port.
As under utilized as the partner characters are, at the very least some of them make up some pretty decent boss fights which make up the best part of this bland game. Save the final boss, all are made up of the villains from the film, so Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Sandman and Venom, all of which have to be beaten using environmental tricks instead of just punching or kicking them until they’re beaten. These are quite possibly the only good part of an otherwise below average brawler.
For a younger player who loves Spider-Man but can’t quite wrap their heads around some of the more challenging games that are also on the DS, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe might be worth a look but everyone else can skip this without feeling guilty. The beat-em-up gameplay, which makes up most of the title, isn’t fun or particularly well done and the mini-games that use the touch-screen only serve to drag out an already boring and shallow game. If you’re at all intrigued by this weird movie spin-off game concept, chances are you probably own something else that can play this like a PS2, Wii or Xbox 360 where it’s easier to play with a friend and knock it out over the course of a few play sessions. This is easily the worst solo Spider-Man game on the DS and of the worst Spider-Man themed movie games as well.