I've been sitting out of a lot of movies this past few years due to the COVID pandemic. Even though I'm vaccinated and boosted, I'm just still not comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of randos. And if I did go to a movie in a theater, I would wear a mask, and that can get uncomfortable for a whole 2 or 3 hour movie. I could maybe be convinced to go to a theater for a small movie with a mostly-empty theater, but for a big summer blockbuster, I'm just not there yet. So despite being a big Spider-Man fan, and generally having liked the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far, and despite the movie's universal acclaim and praise, I passed on seeing No Way Home in theaters when it released last year. I waited until it finally showed up on streaming, and just now finally got around to watching it this past weekend.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far is that none of them have been terribly surprising. Both Homecoming and Far From Home had pretty predictable plots, with the only real surprise being Mysterio's deathbed public reveal of Spider-Man's true identity. No Way Home does not deviate far in terms of predictability. The multiverse aspect and return of villains from the previous movie continuities was in the trailers, and the fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles was one of the worst-kept secrets of any movie ever.

In fact, the only real surprise for me was that this movie did not do the one thing that I really thought that it would do. It doesn't have any new villains -- not even in a bit part. I thought for sure that some new minor villains would show up early in the movie, knowing Spider-Man's identity, and threatening him, May, MJ, and/or Ned, and that would be the impetus for Peter going to Doctor Strange to reset the timeline.

Specifically, I was expecting to see the Scorpion. The end-credits stinger from Homecoming introduced Mac Gargan, who very much wanted to learn Spider-Man's identity from the Vulture. I thought for sure that with Spidey's identity being public, that the opening act of the movie would have J. Jonah Jameson hiring Mac Gargan to become the Scorpion to hunt down Peter Parker and capture or kill him. Peter would defeat Scorpion, but not before Gargan goes too far in threatening Peter's friends and family, leaving Peter with no choice but to go to Strange to help protect the people he loves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Mac Gargan © Sony Pictures, Disney
I was surprised that the Scorpion did not show up early in this movie to raise the stakes.

This never happens. The impetus for going to Strange is that Peter and his friends aren't accepted into college because the colleges are afraid of the controversy of admitting a known vigilante. It feels like a flimsy excuse for wanting to change the timeline or mind-wipe the entire planet, especially considering that the MCU's Peter has strong connections to Stark Industries, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, and shouldn't have any problem finding ways for him and his friends to have professional lives together.

So I thought the lack of Scorpion was a huge missed opportunity. It would have raised the stakes, provided some act 1 action, and allowed for the inclusion of a new character. It also would have served as a red herring for the movie's trailers by letting Disney show some action scenes with a villain, while trying to keep the rest of the villain roster a secret for as long as possible. Maybe this was part of the original plan, but Marvel axed it after a version of Scorpion showed up in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe they didn't want to look too similar to Spider-Verse?

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Marvel's Miles Morales: Spider-Man - title

I could've played Miles Morales on the PS4 back when it was released in November of 2020, but I really wanted to wait until I got a PS5. So I waited. And waited. Eventually, my number on Sony's waiting list came up, and I got a PS5 just in time for Christmas. Miles Morales, Demon's Souls, and Returnal were the first games I bought for it.

Early set pieces put a large emphasis on protecting civilians and reducing collateral damage.

If you liked Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 -- and who didn't? It was great! -- then Miles Morales is largely more of the same, but with the distinct urban flavor that comes with the Miles Morales story, and a story about corporations using "not in my backyard" politics to exploit under-privileged communities. Combat is virtually unchanged, aside from a few new gadgets and powers, and the locomotion is even more identical. So pretty much everything positive that I had to say about that game also applies to this game, and I'll try to keep this review short by not retreading the same praise and critiques.

There is a greater emphasis early in the game on trying to protect civilians. This is a welcome change, and I wish Miles Morales would have gone a bit further with it. Protecting civilians is a large component of early setpieces, but it is largely dropped once the story gets started proper. It's a shame that this isn't carried through into the rest of the game, since a major theme of the story is Miles serving as a protector for the under-privileged, mostly ethnic minority, population of Harlem.

Spider-Man has always been a hero for the common folk,
but this Spider-Man is also a hero for the under-privileged and down-trodden.

Christmas vacation

The campaign itself is also considerably shorter than the first game, taking place entirely during the Christmas season. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it's nice to have a more focused, 20 or 30 hour campaign. I have other shit to do, and it's nice to be able to finish a game's story without feeling like I have to play it every waking moment of my free time for weeks or months on end. And that 20-30 hours isn't just the story; I actually completed 100% of the side activities in that time as well.

On the other hand, playing as a younger Spider-Man just learning the tricks of the trade would seem like it would be well-suited to a longer, multi-faceted campaign with a series of escalating challenges and threats. It would have been nice to see Miles start out by focusing more on fighting petty crime in the Harlem area and adjacent districts, before moving onto more widespread organized crime, and then finally the super villain threats. There's no such escalation in Miles Morales' story. It jumps straight into the big super villain story and relegates all the "friendly neighborhood" stuff to simple side quests.

Insomniac wastes no time getting to the supervillain plot.

This does also mean that it gets its super villain surprise twist out of the way early, since it's a twist that is almost as obvious as the appearance of Doctor Octopus in the previous game. On the topic of the super villain "twist", I did find it annoying that a large part of the conflict depends on the Tinkerer making such a big deal about Miles' perceived dishonesty, but the Tinkerer wasn't exactly forthcoming either. Yet Miles never points this out.

Considering how polished Marvel's Spider-Man felt, despite also having a much bigger story and more side content, I was surprised to find a number of side quests in Miles Morales that were broken. This was doubly-surprising considering that I'm playing the game well over a year after its release. That's plenty of time for Insomniac to have fixed these bugs, even if they only have a handful of people doing maintenance on the game, while the rest of the team works on Marvel's Spider-Man 2 and Marvel's Wolverine. Even more concerning is that the specific side quests that broke for me were all related to the F.E.A.S.T. storyline, which is the most narratively and thematically important line of side quests in the game. I would think these would be the most stable and polished side quests in the game.

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I don't know if I'm going to be buying a PS5 anytime soon (or ever), so I may not have an opportunity to play Miles Morales, which is Insomniac's follow-up to its smash hit 2018 game Marvel's Spider-Man. Instead, I decided to go back and play the DLC for the 2018 game, "The City That Never Sleeps", which I had bought, but never got around to playing. This got me thinking more about how Insomniac implemented the web-swinging mechanics, and what I hope they'll do to iterate and improve the mechanic in future games.

This blog post is a transcript of the video essay above.

I had previously mentioned Marvel's Spider-Man essay about open world gaming's possible recent inflection point, but I didn't go into much detail. Basically, I just threw it in as an example of a recent open world game in which the traversal of the map had a large mechanical focus, turning the map into more of a play space and less of a convoluted, time-wasting mission-select screen. I didn't spend more time talking about Spider-Man, however, because as much as I like Insomniac's game, and as fun as the web-swinging is, I still felt like the web-swinging traversal in that game was pretty simple, and the environment did not act as much of an obstacle to the level of the other games in those videos.

Besides, Insomniac's Spider-Man didn't stray very far from the boring checklist-inspired open world design that my earlier videos were railing against. Traversal doesn't consume resources other than the player's time, and the player isn't responsible for balancing Peter's heroic and personal lives (the tension between the two has always been a big part of the Spider-Man story), nor are there any other mechanics that try to pull the player towards one set of content to the exclusion of another, and so where you are on the map, where you're going, and how you chose to get there is largely meaningless. It's any other open world game you've played in the last 10 years. The web-swinging is just a much more stylish and spectacular method of moving from filler content to filler content.

Spider-Man games make for an interesting case study in open world game design.

Spider-Man games in total do represent their own interesting microcosm of the virtues of open world, sandbox game design, and also of the ways in which open world games can fall flat on their faces and fail miserably. Spider-Man could make for an interesting case study to go along with Death Stranding.

Since the landmark Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game, mainstream Spider-Man games have mostly been open world games. The most notable exceptions being Beenox's Shattered Dimensions (which was pretty good) and Edge of Time (which was awful). All the other Spidey games that I've played have been open world games in which you web swing around a virtual Manhattan to reach story missions or to thwart ambient crimes. The quality of these games has been very hit-or-miss, but (as we'll discuss soon) many of them still have their unique merits.

Beenox's Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time are notable Spider-Man games that are not open world games.

Web of Shadows, for instance, had lots of problems with its writing, pacing, and animation, but its novel aerial and wall-crawling combat mechanics made excellent use of the map's verticality in ways that other Spidey games (and open world games in general) rarely even approach. I won't be talking much about this game because I traded in my copy a long time ago, and I don't feel like blowing $45 of Patreon contributions on a game that I'll likely play for 10 minutes just to capture footage and refresh my memory of how the game played. So my apologies if you're a big Web of Shadows fan.

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Where can the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Thanos? My vote is for Doctor Doom to be the next overarching big baddie now that Disney owns Fox (and the Fantastic Four license). Thanos already successfully wiped out half of all life in the universe, and despite the Avengers gaining access to a time machine, they did not undo any of that! How do you up the stakes going into the next phase of Marvel movies?

Well, introducing a multi-verse seems like the logical next step.

It's so logical, in fact that Marvel didn't even seem to hide the idea in Far From Home's marketing. The second trailer, which I think premiered within a week of Endgame's release, pushed the multi-verse idea hard -- as well as spoiling Tony Stark's death for anyone who hadn't made it out to see Endgame within that first week.

It's all spoilers from the next paragraph on. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then I recommend it. It's good! Not Into the Spider-Verse good, but Far From Home is one of the better Marvel movies, and Mysterio is totally awesome.

The Far From Home trailer spoiled the multiverse and death of Tony Stark within a week of Endgame's release.

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A couple weeks ago, I heaped praise upon the Spectacular Spider-Man TV show, saying that it "might be the best media adaptation of Spider-Man, period!". I still believe that holds true, but Sony's Into the Spider-Verse definitely gives Spectacular a run for its money.

Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Verse isn't really an adaptation of any of the Spider-Man comics. Not the original Amazing comics, or even the more recent Ultimate comics. It's a completely original story featuring the modern Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, the son of an hispanic nurse and a black cop in New York. So in that sense, Spectacular remains the most faithful adaptation of the original 60's and 70's, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics featuring Peter Parker. I was kind of hoping to see a Josh Keaton Spectacular cameo in this film, but no such luck. Damnit, Sony, bring back Spectacular Spider-Man! Make it happen!

I also said in the Spectacular review that Spider-Man (and perhaps all comic adaptations) are best-suited to television shows in which the long-form, character-driven storytelling of comics can be allowed to play out. Into The Spider-Verse, however, proves that Spider-Man (and perhaps all comic adaptations) also work much better in animation! The animation here is fantastic. The images are crisp and vibrant, and they really "pop" to the point that the movie almost looks 3-D without actually watching it in 3-D. The action is fluid and kinetic. The character designs and costumes are all interesting (especially Spider-Gwen, Doctor Octopus, and Prowler). Kingpin's massive, hunchbacked visage kind of stands out as odd, considering that all the other characters have somewhat realistic body proportions. Everything else, however, looks really good!

Seriously, this movie's visuals will blow you away. I'm talking, like, remember how you felt when Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Toy Story came out. That's how good this movie looks.

Animation if crisp, vibrant, fluid, and kinetic.

Not only is it pretty to look at from a technical level, it's also ingeniously-imaginative. There's some reality-warping, dimension-hopping dreamscapes that put Doctor Strange and Inception to shame. Most of the action is semi-realistically drawn and animated, but certain action scenes go extra comic-bookey with brief still-images of comic-like panels, complete with sound effects and speech bubbles drawn on the screen. Peni Parker, Noir, and Spider-Pig all have their own distinct animation styles that blend in flawlessly with the rest. Peni and her robot mech are from a future Japan, and are drawn and animated in a distinctively anime style. Noir is drawn like penciled-in black-and-white. Spider-Pig is full-blown Merry Melodies cartoon.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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