Miles Morales becomes his own kind of hero in Marvel's Spider-Man spin-off: Review
Despite some familiar beats from the previous game, Miles Morales strikes out on his own in fun and satisfying ways.
On the pages of Marvel comics, Miles Morales and Peter Parker, two Spider-Men from different walks of life, do not operate at the same time in the same space. In Miles' reality, Peter dies and the Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also got bitten by a radioactive spider, feels compelled to pick up the mantle. Marvel's Spider-Man, the fast-selling 2018 videogame for Playstation 4, took a different approach. Not only would Peter and Miles exist at the same time, but once Miles developed his abilities at the end of the story, Peter would become a mentor to train the newly minted web-slinger. That presents the main question for Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a shorter spin-off to that game, coming to the PS4 and PS5 consoles this Thursday. How can Miles stand on his own two feet under Peter's shadow?
The answer is to remove Peter from the equation. (Not permanently, of course. There's still a more formal game sequel reportedly in development at Insomniac Games.) At the start of Miles Morales, set in the winter one year after the events of Marvel's Spider-Man, both Spideys team up for another tumble with Rhino when the villain escapes from his Raft transport container. The fight rips through the streets, through a shopping mall, and into an abandoned building site for the Roxxon energy corporation. The sequence awakens Miles' electrical bioshock abilities — which he calls "venom" — and is quickly followed by the news that Peter is traveling abroad very soon with M.J., who's going to Symkaria on assignment for The Daily Bugle. That leaves Miles alone to protect New York City, especially his new home in Harlem, from any potential threats.
Miles — and for that matter, the game itself — remains, somewhat, in Peter's shadow. Part of that is due to the similarities between the two hero origin stories: the trauma of losing loved ones in the line of fire (Miles' father Jefferson Davis vs. Peter's uncle Ben Parker) helped shape both young men into the protectors they would eventually become — something the makers of the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse play with to great effect. It's also partly by virtue of the repeating story beats from Marvel's Spider-Man, which saw someone close to Peter, his mentor and boss, Dr. Otto Octavius, secretly being the villain pulling larger strings in a battle against the executive of a major corporation, Oscorp's Norman Osborn. Without giving too much away — but still noting a mild spoiler warning for those who wish to go in with a largely clean slate — a similar situation plays out with Miles in this game.
Roxxon, headed by Simon Krieger, is developing NuForm, a new kind of energy with serious Devil's Breath McGuffin vibes that they hope will supply all of Harlem with clean fuel for years to come before planned global expansions. An armed, underground militia group called the Underground, has a problem with Mr. Krieger. Led by a masked adversary known as the Tinkerer, they are strapped with highly advanced weaponry, which puts Miles' home borough in danger due to their constant attacks on Roxxon soldiers, who are indistinguishable, aside from the red of their armor, from the Sable International crew in the previous game.
Simon, though much more of a douchey corporate bro than Norman, still bears similarities to the previous game's exec: both tend to slap their name on technology that someone else developed. Beyond that, it's no secret anymore that Prowler, a "villain" figure who's also Miles' uncle, Aaron Davis, is in this game. On top of the claws, his function isn't too far off from Black Cat in Marvel's Spider-Man in that he's someone from Miles' past who arrives in his present as a sneaky, slippery character with his own agenda.
Miles Morales and its titular hero manage to strike out on their own in the face of that recurring setup. Miles isn't like Peter. There's a different vibe to him which comes through in everything from his unique way of hurdling through the city by "thwips" to his brand of fighting style. The opening battle against Rhino, someone Peter already fought in the past, feels fresh as Miles finds himself webbed to the villain's back with the player steering this tank of a guy through a mall to avoid innocent bystanders. Miles' powers, too, are distinct. Yes, he can web and do all the things that comes with that, but his bioshock and camouflage abilities offer new ways of combat that are wholly satisfying. The same goes for his suits. The Bodega Cat getup — which sees Miles carting around a cat named Spider-Man in a backpack — lives up to the hype, while an Into the Spider-Verse suit, once unlocked, will make it feel like you're playing through the world of the movie.
Miles just sees New York with a different set of eyes than Peter, which naturally turns the familiar into new territory. A deaf street artist, likely responsible for the colorful Black Lives Matter mural spotted in the game; a same-sex couple working to maintain the F.E.A.S.T. homeless shelter facing heat from a shady figure; and the jovial Teo of Teo's Bodega are some of the people Miles helps along the way. The teen sees this community, which is a realistic reflection of the melting pot that is New York City, as his extended family. That mentality effects the way he approaches heroism. He doesn't just look out for "the little guy," he looks out for those society thinks of as disposable.
By the end of the game's main story mission, after Miles proves himself to be more than just "the other Spider-Man," which is something his enemies often sling at him, Harlem itself embraces Miles. One man tells a TV reporter, "He's our Spider-Man." No offense to Peter, but he can take more trips in the future. The city is in good hands. Grade: B+