On the one hand, Spider-Man Unlimited is a free-to-play mobile game from Gameloft. On the other, it's a game with fourteen different versions of Spider-Man to collect at launch. "Free-to-play mobile game from Gameloft" versus "fourteen different versions of Spider-Man." I am so conflicted.
Released last week for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, Spider-Man Unlimited is an endless runner/swinger starring Marvel's most iconic character. Villains from across the multiverse have converged on poor Peter Parker's world in order to drain it of its precious ISO-8 and leave it for dead. To battle these fearsome foes, Spider-Man must recruit alternate versions of himself.
It's part mission-based endless runner, part collectible card game. The game's Unlimited Mode functions like your standard running game: run, swing and fall through a never-ending, obstacle-laden course, collecting resources and points until you fail. The episodic story mode features missions with definitive goals — defeat 10 enemies, collect ten random items, defeat the Green Goblin — with their own resource and experience point rewards.
Along with those two modes, Spider-Man Unlimited also features regular community events, challenging players to climb leaderboards for a chance at fabulous in-game prizes.
The card-collecting mechanic works a lot like monster collecting in those rampant puzzle dungeon games. Collect (or purchase) enough resources and you can summon a random alternate Spider-Man to join your team. At launch there are fourteen Spider-Men to collect, from Mangaverse Spidey to the Cosmic Spidey. These various heroic arachnids can be leveled up through play or ranked up by combining similar cards.
It can be a little hit-and-miss.
Spider-Man Unlimited is a lovely and responsive endless runner. I really enjoy the comic book art direction. I love the heavy dose of Spider-Man lore I've already encountered in the game, and the promise of new Spider-Man variations (where's Spider-Ham?) and episodic content coming out every couple of weeks has me honestly excited.
So what's the catch? Well it is a free-to-play Gameloft game, after all.
While ISO-8, the currency used to purchase continues (up to three), consumables, power-ups and premium characters in the game flows relatively freely through normal play, it doesn't flow so freely as to make spending $4.99 on 26 units of it isn't tempting. Coupled with the random card purchasing mechanic, it's easy to spend five dollars and be disappointed.
And then there's my old arch-enemy, the energy meter. You've got five chances to play before you have to wait for it to refill or buy a refresh. It only costs a measly three ISO-8, but that doesn't change the fact that mechanics specifically aimed at limiting play are vile and should be set on fire. Why won't it die?
So it all comes down to a battle between a nifty little story-based runner steeped in 50 years of Marvel Comics history and that goddamned energy meter. I'm going to keep playing Spider-Man Unlimited, but damn if I won't curse Gameloft's name every time I run out of spider lives.