The days of Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run hogging the top spots of the App Store's charts have passed, but Endless Runners are still being churned out in no small number. To stand out amongst them would take more than a few positive reviews on some no-name blogs. You'd need a prominent character, something at the forefront of the pop culture zeitgeist. You'd need a hero. You'd need Spider-Man or Batman, or some other popular dude in latex.
So Gameloft went and made Spider-Man Unlimited, the most shameless Subway Surfers clone mine eyes have ever seen. Coins are replaced by vials ('cause Peter Parker's a scientist I guess), and you run, jump and slide in three lanes. There's also enough colour to keep everyone from kids to the most cynical comic book lover engaged in its infinite loop of non-rewards for hours.
Spider-Man has a few tricks to differentiate his plight from that of the humble Subway Surfer: he can swing his way through the city, crawl up walls, and smack down robots and members of the Sinister Six. Each of these tasks is achieved by swiping, tapping, or through the use of gyroscope controls, and it was alarming just how quickly I became hooked on the Wall Crawler's version of the Bridge to Bay Fun Run.
It works because it looks somewhat organic. Spider-Man doesn't have a jet or a plane or a boat, he gets around on his own two feet and by shooting webs. You read through panels and pages of Spidey running and swinging his way through New York City, so this format makes sense. The only thing that looks ridiculous are the boss fights, which require you to punch and kick floating S.H.I.E.L.D insignias at prominent baddies.
There are currently four story chapters and I have no intention of playing through them. Mainly because the story is threadbare at best and provides some enticement for laying down dosh to fuel the most addictive aspect of Unlimited's free-to-play revenue model: unlocking Spider-Men via portals. Certain missions are locked unless you have specific Spidey costumes, or have reached a certain level, which is barred for common costumes.
The progression model is super stingy. Costume rarity is classified as follows: common, uncommon, rare and epic. Some costumes appear in multiple classifications, for example: you can get a common, uncommon and rare Classic Spider-Man. You can rank up costumes by absorbing doubles or spending Iso-8, with one Scrooge-like caveat: the double must be of the same rarity level as that of the costume you're trying to upgrade. You can't use an uncommon Web Armor Spider-Man to rank up a rare Web Armor Spider-Man and vice versa. This means that you're going to have be awfully patient or spend a fair wad of cash to unlock extra team slots and rare portals.
Iso-8, the mysterious isotope that appears in various other Marvel mobile titles, is the second in-game currency that can be collected by completing story missions or spending real money. You don't earn much from story missions, and the substance is prohibitively expensive otherwise (to both procure and spend), so I've found myself investing hours in the Events which refresh every 1 to 3 days and each have their own particular theme, which in turn offers score multipliers for using specific costumes. Ranking on the leaderboards usually nets you fuck all in the way of Iso-8, but it's a good way to unlock thousands of vials and standard portals: the most cost-effective means for unlocking costumes.
This method doesn't have to cost a thing in terms of dollars, but my word does it take a lot of time. It's also extremely frustrating when you find your team stacked with various versions of the same fucking costume. There are quite a few costumes to be unlocked, so it hurts when you finally earn enough Iso-8 to snag a rare portal only to be saddled with another Spider-Clone that you can't level up (rare and epic varieties in this instance).
Also annoying is the scoring model which affords bonuses to using rarer costumes by default, and Event bonuses can throw that off exponentially. When you've got the right suits on hand, you'll find your score multiplied by factors of 20 or more. When you don't have the required costume for a given event, there's almost no point in participating because you'd need to survive umpteen times longer than the dude who spent $50 levelling up an epic Spider-Man.
I know I'm coming across as negative on the whole Spider-Man Unlimited experience, but that's only because I see a great game crushed under a business model. On the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the game is fluid and beautiful. There's the odd hitch in frame rate, but it's never enough to throw you off your game. The same can't be said while playing on a standard iPad Mini. During the hectic later stages I found that the game chugged to the point where my inputs weren't being recognised. Across both versions I noticed delays in receiving Event rewards, but I got what was coming to me in the end.
Spider-Man Unlimited doesn't do much to reward loyal players, but it's easy enough to enjoy spending very little (and presumably even no) money, as swinging, punching and running don't cost a thing. If you enjoyed Subway Surfers or any other Endless Runner, give this a chance. It may end up wresting your interest from AAA fare in the hope of unlocking yet another Bulletproof Spider-Man.