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Spider-Man Spins Web of Adventure

The PlayStation game puts players in the original webhead's tights scaling super-heroic graphics.

September 28, 2000|AARON CURTIS

The Amazing Spider-Man has never been my favorite superhero. I'm more of an Incredible Hulk fan. But until Hulk gets a video game that lives up to his superlative appellation, I'm sticking with Spidey's truly amazing adventure on Sony PlayStation.

"Spider-Man" delivers the sort of varied and engaging play that makes it easy to pick up and tough to put down. Full of challenging missions, sneaky bad guys and tricky puzzles, "Spider-Man" puts players in the original webhead's tights and lets them climb and swing all over New York.

The game starts with our hero's alter-ego, Peter Parker, at a science convention when a Spider-Man impostor storms the place and makes off with a piece of equipment. To make matters worse, it seems as if the reformed evil genius Dr. Octopus may not be entirely out of the demented criminal business. Finally, the schizophrenic combination of Eddie Brock and Venom is lurking around the Big Apple.

Needless to say, Spider-Man has had better days.

From there, it goes downhill. Chaos reigns and Spidey swings from melee to melee as creator Stan Lee narrates cut-scenes that blend seamlessly with the action. And what action it is. All of Spider-Man's super-heroic abilities translate almost perfectly from the pulpy pages of Marvel Comics to the digital bits of PlayStation.

He swings from building to building with well-timed shots of webbing. He sticks not only to the obvious sides of buildings, but to ledges and outcroppings and ceilings, making it easy to sneak up on bad guys and pounce before they think to look up. And with the ability to spin web spikes, web domes and balls of web, Spider-Man has plenty of tools at his disposal.

Such a wide range of options generally threatens to complicate otherwise straightforward action games. But "Spider-Man" incorporates them so well with easy-to-learn game pad combinations that players will feel like a crime-fighting Charlotte in no time.

The action takes place in a third-person perspective and players generally see Spider-Man from behind. The game works with PlayStation's analog controller, but I found the thumb stick lacked the refinement needed on some jumps or when aiming a particularly tricky shot of webbing. Using the standard directional pad was better.

Graphically, "Spider-Man" performs like a superhero. Because Spider-Man can climb all over everything, the game engine has to spin rooms in every direction. It does so without noticeable glitches and without sacrificing sharpness. Furthermore, many of the objects can be picked up and moved or tossed, making the environments considerably more interactive than most standard action games.

Now, if the designers at Neversoft can do the same thing with Hulk, we'll be in business.

"Ecco the Dolphin:

Defender of the Future"

The problem with describing a game as the "most beautiful" is that every week designers figure out how to extract more from the technology they use--not to mention the fact that the technology itself keeps getting better, faster and more powerful.

That said, "Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future" for Sega Dreamcast features the sort of drop-dead gorgeous graphics that make even those who eschew video games turn their heads and take notice.

My brother, for instance, thinks video games are a waste of time, but he nonetheless spent an hour just exploring "Ecco's" virtual sea floor.

The original "Ecco the Dolphin" set the graphics standard on the 16-bit Sega Genesis, but this 128-bit incarnation is generations beyond its namesake. Not only does it establish a new visual benchmark for Dreamcast games, but "Ecco" also offers game play more difficult than it looks.

Players assume the role of Ecco, a futuristic dolphin out to save the world from the evil Foe. Sounds simple, yes, but "Ecco" is one of the hardest Dreamcast games yet. For starters, it's tough to get used to the free-form, 360-degree movement that allows Ecco to swim almost anywhere he can see.

The missions Ecco takes on require players to collect various crystals, shards, gifts and songs. It can get tedious sometimes, but I found myself pressing on just to see what the next patch of ocean looked like.

"NASCAR 2000"

There are many uses for "NASCAR 2000," a frustrating racer for Game Boy Color. For instance, use it to prop up a wobbly piece of furniture or as a cruel joke on unruly children. But don't use it for a good time.

The problem here is that the tracks of "NASCAR 2000" are impossible to see. Not that it matters much because they're mostly oval. But the graphics are so lousy and repetitive on this hack job that it's virtually impossible to see where players are driving.

It reminds me of the old "Night Driver" on Atari 2600. You remember: The white rectangles zipping madly from the center of a black screen as cookie-cutter trees and cars passed on either side. That worked in the 1980s, but it doesn't cut it in 2000.

Sure, "NASCAR 2000" allows players to tinker with their cars, but that's hardly a fair trade, given that the racing--you know, the reason we buy racing games--is so crummy. There are better racers out there. Much better.

Don't waste time on this one.

*

Aaron Curtiss is personal technology editor of The Times. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Essentials

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future

* Platform: Sega Dreamcast

* Publisher: Sega

* ESRB* rating: Everyone

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Drop-dead gorgeous

NASCAR 2000

* Platform: Game Boy Color

* Publisher: EA Sports

* ESRB rating: Everyone

* Price: $30

* Bottom line: More like NASCAR 1980s

Spider-Man

* Platform: Sony PlayStation

* Publisher: Activision

*ESRB rating: Everyone

*Price: $40

*Bottom line: Way cool

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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