Written by Adlai Rosh
Marvel’s Spider-Man was a surprise hit in 2018. At least, I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It was a surprisingly competent action game with enthralling web-slinging and a plot that felt as familiar as any Spider-Man story. So when I heard that Miles Morales was getting his own game, I was excited beyond all belief. Insomniac had a tough act to follow – not only did they have to meet the expectations set by the first Spider-Man title, but they also had to deal with the amount of people in love with Into the Spiderverse. Myself included.
Miles’ story feels a lot more personal than Peter’s. The new web-head has to deal with the work-life balance that plagues Peter, but the stress of having to move to a new neighborhood. And with Miles having reign over Peter’s stomping ground while the OG Spider-Man goes on vacation, he has to fly solo to prove to himself and others that he’s worthy of being called Spider-Man.
Miles is a compelling character. While Peter was at the job for 8 years beforehand, Miles has been at it for less than a year. He’s got a lot of self-doubt about his ability to step up to the plate, and he doesn’t have the web of contacts that Peter does. While the game plays like Marvel’s Spider-Man, it’s just different enough to feel fresh. Miles’ web swinging isn’t the graceful, acrobatic ballet of Peter’s. It’s wild, loose, and playful, less like a well-practiced dance and more like he’s having as much fun as possible. While Peter handles problems with a practiced, witty demeanor, Miles is noticeably more awkward. It’s very cute, in a way, seeing this budding superhero bumble around helping citizens find lost cats and stop car hijackings with equal amounts of goofy bravado. The game’s soundtrack is defined by hip-hop beats, giving the game a fresh soundscape instead of the first game’s epic, if sort of stereotypical, superhero soundtrack.
While he is a gadgeteer genius, he doesn’t have as big an arsenal as Peter. With just four gadget types at his disposal, it’s easy to feel a little stifled at first. However, the game’s combat opens up when Miles gains access to his Venom powers, pumping up his attacks with powerful bio-electricity that stuns and disarms foes. It’s a lot more active than the gadget juggling of the first game, as you have to make decisions on the fly instead of diving into a menu every time.
The game is noticeably pared down compared to the first Spider-Man – expected, as it is a spinoff. There are hideouts to clear, collectibles to collect, and challenges to complete, but thankfully they reward two distinct kinds of tokens instead of the painful currency juggling of the first game. With no mandatory stealth sequences, the story went by in a breeze. While I won’t spoil anything, the game felt notably short, even with the smaller scope. It could be because of the lack of distractions, and the story didn’t feel rushed at all.
The writing on the game is extremely contemporary. Social issues seem to be on display even more than the first game. Gentrification and corruption is a running theme, the citizens of Harlem having to struggle with the looming pressure of the tech giant Roxxon’s urban development. While the first Spider-Man was never one to shy away from social justice, the story pushes this angle even further and even more explicitly. While the first game had the police be comically hypercompetent, due largely to the Oscorp surveillance tech prevalent in the area, the citizens of Harlem have no such system. Here, the cops are less of a presence, either being bribed to look the other way or just outright not responding to calls.
The contemporary nature of the game’s writing extends past the themes, though. Miles’s best friend, Genke, serves the same role as Yuri from the first game. The two of them engage in delightfully nerdy conversations constantly, making in-jokes and references. Miles listens to podcasts while swinging around, and the host is similarly relatable, occasionally reminding the listener to stay hydrated. While the writing can veer into some embarrassing territory, it’s still an earnest effort that got a few chuckles from me.
Overall, Miles Morales is a quirky, fun spinoff that brings new gameplay to an already solid formula. While its DNA is still notably Marvel’s Spider-Man, Miles’ journey into his own Spidey-hood sets it apart from the original.