It's been five years since Spider-Man's previous appearance in movie theaters, but Marvel's webslinger has been plenty busy on video-game consoles. Since 2007, he's headlined four games and made guest appearances in at least four more. None of them have been particularly outstanding.
Fans have been hoping that a new movie Spidey might reinvigorate the video-game franchise. But while the Quebec-based developer Beenox has given "The Amazing Spider-Man" (Activision, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) some new tricks, it still feels a little threadbare.
Moviegoers beware: The game takes place after the events of the latest film, and it blithely spoils a couple of major plot points. The upshot is that a few more human-animal hybrids (like the movie's villain, the Lizard) have escaped from the labs of Oscorp Industries. Meanwhile, robotics whiz Alistaire Smythe has shifted Oscorp's research focus, creating an army of mechanical behemoths to take down the mutants. Spider-Man, being somewhat of a hybrid himself, is stuck in the middle.
Spider-Man's duels against Smythe's robots and familiar comic-book villains like the Rhino, the Iguana and the Scorpion provide the noisy, somewhat predictable spectacles you would expect in a superhero game. But the main story also includes missions in which Spidey has to infiltrate various Oscorp facilities. You need to carefully plan your attacks here, taking out Oscorp guards one-by-one so they don't gang up on you. The gameplay is reminiscent of "Batman: Arkham Asylum," but it's frequently marred by awkward camera angles that make it difficult to spot your enemies before they spot you.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" becomes exciting only when you step outside its main story and take to the skies. Swinging between the skyscrapers of Manhattan is exhilarating, and the new "web rush" feature, which lets you pinpoint your next goal and zip right to it, is very handy when you're trying to find the stray comic-book pages hidden all over town.
Spidey's aerial acrobatics are so thrilling it's a shame they aren't better integrated into its story. There's plenty to discover in "The Amazing Spider-Man," but it falls short of being the truly inspired adventure fans have been anticipating. Two stars out of four.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is due at the multiplex in just a few weeks, but the Christian Bale version of Batman won't be getting a video-game doppelganger. Instead, fans of the Caped Crusader can enjoy "Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" (WB Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $49.99), a more lighthearted, family friendly romp.
The designers at the U.K.-based Traveller's Tales have hit upon a successful formula: Take Lego-ized versions of beloved characters like Harry Potter and the "Star Wars" gang. Set them loose in brightly colored versions of familiar settings where they can destroy the furniture and build new devices out of Lego blocks. Throw in some clever but not too challenging puzzles and enough collectibles to keep the kids busy for weeks.
"Lego Batman 2" adds a few new elements, most notably some first-rate voice acting, that energizes the confrontations between Bruce Wayne and a rogue's gallery of villains. (And other heroes, too: Batman's surly attitude toward Superman is hilarious.) Also, the game world is more open than usual, so you can freely explore Gotham City in between story missions.
There are dozens of playable characters as well as an assortment of suits that give Batman and Robin special powers. And cooperative play is available throughout, making "Lego Batman 2" one of the best games available for parents and kids to play together. Three stars.