Not much has changed in the New York you explore in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. As you swing through a snowy cityscape everything should feel familiar. The buildings still look the same, the little shortcuts you’ve created for yourself are still there, and even the crimes taking place are the same. This is because Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a fresh coat of paint on a game that already exists. Except this time you’re playing as the new kid on the block, Spider-Man’s new protege, Miles Morales.
It would perhaps been unreasonable to expect Insomniac to bring us a whole new New York to Miles Morales just two years after Marvel’s Spider-Man hit the PlayStation 4. Video games like this just take too long to make, but the decision to make Miles Morales a standalone title meant they were going to need to find something that would help it stand out. Something beyond just a new story to make it unique. And what they chose to do was focus on the details and that is where this game is at its best (minor spoilers ahead).
It can sound like a hindrance for a game developer to be forced to use the same assets to make a new game, but in that challenge comes an advantage. They’ve already made this game before, and that time can be spent on making unique parts of the universe that add to what’s already there. Take Miles’s bedroom for example. When you first enter it you’ll notice a clear place on the wall where a painting used to reside. As you work through the game’s story that place on the wall will be met with a new coat of paint. Continue playing and a mural begins to form.
This may sound minor, but these small details are what the entire game is built on and it makes playing this game incredibly fun. It is also what separates it from the original Spider-Man the most. When Morales is swinging around town he’ll receive calls. If he receives them from his Mom he’ll frequently flip back and forth between Spanish and English. It’s not only a nod to his Mom’s Puerto Rican heritage but an opportunity to allow Morales to be himself. It’s an easy reminder that you aren’t playing as Peter Parker this time around, even if the setting is the same.
This attention to detail even goes into the gameplay. In Spider-Man (2018) Peter is a full-grown adult that has been doing the job for years now. He swings through the air gracefully and when webbing up enemies he does so with an ease and smoothness you would expect from a veteran hero. When you’re playing as Miles, however, you are reminded that he is a smaller teenager with nowhere near as much experience. He twists and turns while he swings and when he’s yanking someone with his webs he shows much more visible force while doing so than Peter ever did. This is a 17 year old novice you’re at the sticks of, and even with the extra super spider-aided strength, these powers all feel a bit new.
It’s all subtle presentation, and thankfully none of this will ever impact your ability to play the game. Combat is just as smooth as it was before and thanks to new gameplay additions such as Miles’s Electric Venom Powers there are extra wrinkles that help the game still feel new. You had far more gadgets at your disposal when playing as Peter, but what Miles lacks in gadgets he makes up for in powers. Superpowered punches, acrobatic crashes into the ground, and electric fast darts at enemies help Miles be his own hero, and players who master these powers will have the best time with the combat.
You can still upgrade both yourself and your gadgets by going across the town doing side missions. There are new collectibles to hoard and missions to complete, but they are of course optional. Players who are really enjoying the game will likely go out of their way to do all these and the rewards are absolutely worth it. Many of the extra side quests also create a little more story and world building to help flesh this game out even more, and perhaps set up some DLC or sequels in the process.
That will have to be where any set up exists because the story itself is very self-contained. If you are someone that did not play Spider-Man (2018) you can safely play Miles Morales with fear of minimal spoilers. A couple of major moments will be spoiled for you because they needed something with which to build the story for this game, but what follows is largely unique and excellent in its own right — as long as you like superheroes. It’s not formulaic by any means, but many of the superhero moments you expect from a superhero story are in Miles Morales, and fans of something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe will feel right at home in it. Others will likely lean on the great supporting characters, who are well-written, voice acted and feel like real people. There are no characters who exist merely for the sake of moving plot along. Everyone matters and during the few moments of the story that you may not enjoy it’s those characters that will push you through.
Fittingly, Insomniac made sure Spider-Man’s “Be Greater. Be Yourself” mantra was reflected in Miles Morales. This may initially look like the same Spider-Man, but when you look at the details it is so clear that it isn’t. It is well deserving of being its own stand alone title. It is unashamedly itself, which is what makes it excellent.