I've gone through a lot of Spider-Media this year.
In addition to rewatches of Into The Spider-Verse and No Way Home, I've read six volumes of Spider-Gwen, seven volumes of Miles Morales, and a mix of classic and modern Amazing Spider-Man storylines I never got around to in the past. I've also made it partway through a replay of the 2018 Spider-Man game and watched most of (the quietly brilliant and my 2022 earworm) Spidey & His Amazing Friends.
This is partly because I'm a big Spider-Man fan but this is more of his world than I've ever taken in within the space of a year – and that is primarily thanks to one Miles Morales.
A solid sequel that not only lives up to the original, but betters it in many ways
I got Insomniac's 2020 semi-sequel as a birthday present earlier this year (but it debuted on PC this year, and therefore counts). And, at the risk of echoing all the things people said when it first came out, it's utterly superb.
Naturally, it helps that it builds on the groundwork laid by the 2018 masterpiece but what impressed me most is that it feels sufficiently different to the previous title, and those differences can range from significant to subtle.
As with the previous game, Miles Morales throws you into the action from the beginning but compared with its forebear's relatively stop-start tutorial at Fisk's headquarters, the rush to reach the prison convoy, Rhino's inevitable escape, the frantic chase and intense battles that follow all feel like such a rush. You're instantly drawn into Spider-Man's world again and you very much feel like Miles, desperate to keep up with and prove yourself to the OG Spidey.
The combat feels familiar if you've played the first title, but it's still as accessible as ever if you didn't. The fact that Miles knows most of Peter Parker's moves from the offset (and is taught more less than an hour into the game) means you're essentially picking up where you left off – a refreshing break from sequels that come up with convoluted reasons to rid you of the abilities you're accustomed to.
And then there are Miles' unique abilities: Venom Blast and invisibility. The former makes you feel even more powerful than you ever did with 2018's Spider-Man, encouraging you to take on larger crowds of foes and playing into the superhero fantasy these titles are built around. The ability to disappear, meanwhile, aids with any stealth sections and gives you more options when taking down baddies who have spread out over an area without alerting them. Again, sneakily taking out goons one by one unbeknownst to their peers gives a sense of power that never gets old.
The fact the moment-to-moment gameplay is so familiar, but with enough extras to stop it from feeling samey, means you can appreciate the other changes Insomniac made with Miles Morales.
First, the storyline. While Spider-Man 2018 did a solid job of reinventing classic characters, especially the final villain, anyone with a vague awareness of the webhead's rogues gallery knew what was coming. The bulk of the game's first and second acts feel like they're building to a plot twist we all know is coming, and while it's executed superbly, I was more satisfied by Miles Morales' twists.
More than any other title in this franchise, Miles Morales gives you the feeling of being a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man
The plot feels much more personal for Miles; not only is he going up against someone near and dear to him, the main villain is targeting his home. The stakes may be that all of New York City is in danger, but the focus is very much on Harlem and saving those that Miles has grown up with. The way the story is paced and builds up, the finale was even more gripping for me than Peter's final battle.
The use of Harlem and those that live there is another key difference with Miles Morales. Previous Spider-Man games set you loose in Manhattan, but there's never a connection to any particular area. It's a sandbox for you to play in, a model village (well, city) that serves as a backdrop for your spandex-clad antics. Miles Morales, however, spends more time in Harlem than any other part of the city. You start to recognise landmarks, such as the street with the Spider-Man graffiti from the opening cutscene, or the corner shop where we meet the cat who is also named Spider-Man. It makes it personal when you return during the climax and find Harlem is on fire. This is your home and it needs protecting, not just some collection of buildings where you need to bash more enemies into submission.
This extends to the side quests. Peter Parker's extra missions are generally delivered by complete strangers, but so many of those available to Miles come from people he already knows. We join him on the journey of trying to protect his identity, to improve his reputation as New York's newest Spider-Man, while simultaneously helping those he cares for. More than any other title in this franchise, Miles Morales gives you the feeling of being a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.
It's the little things too. The fact that Miles flails around wildly in mid-air and dangles awkwardly as he swings is a subtle reminder that he's only been a superhero for six months (as opposed to the eight-year veteran Peter of the previous game). The short, sharp length of the main plot (as Chris said last year, we need more shorter AAA games). The heartwarming scavenger hunt to find audio messages from Miles' dad. John Paesano's musical score, which is perfectly in keeping with his 2018 work and yet feels more fitting for Miles (and has become my go-to 'let's get this shit done' working music).
Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales injected even more fuel into my appreciation for the wall-crawler. It's a solid sequel that not only lives up to the original, but betters it in many ways, and while I've drifted away from replaying Spider-Man 2018 (that game is longer than you remember), I can quite easily see myself going back through Miles' adventure multiple times. In fact, since it's set at Christmas, I just might do that next week.
Roll on the arrival of Spider-Man 2 next year.