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'Spider-Man 3' video game a blockbuster

With the video game version of "Spider-Man 3" and its theatrical counterpart hitting the United States on Friday, we're not just seeing the continuation of a hugely successful movie franchise.

We're seeing the continuation of a video game franchise that's hugely successful in its own right.

"As popular as 'Spider-Man' is in the movie world, he's as popular in the video game world," says Bryan Intihar, Previews Editor for the video game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly.

Activision's video game versions of the last two "Spider-Man" movies have grossed a staggering $462 million in the United States, according to market research firm NPD.

That's almost $100 million more than what the "Spider-Man 2" movie took in at the box office.

Usually, Intihar points out, you only see video game legends like "Grand Theft Auto" or "Halo" pulling those kinds of numbers.

The "Spider-Man" games have won commercial and critical kudos for their mostly faithful re-creations of the movies, and for a unique "open environment" that allows players to fight bad guys and swing through a dizzyingly accurate virtual recreation of Manhattan.

Activision's Neven Dravinski also credits the cooperation his "Spider-Man 3" team received from the movie's director, studio and stars (most of the film's cast, including, Tobey McGuire, do voice work for the game).

Dravinski says early in the film's production the gamemakers were able to see storyboards and initial special effects shots from some of the "Spider-Man 3" film's more memorable action sequences, including Peter Parker's nighttime aerial battle with the Green Goblin and Spider-Man's subway confrontation with Sandman.

Both sequences are featured in the game.

"Thankfully," Dravinski says, "we were able to see a lot of these sequences early and get a sense of what [the filmmakers] were doing."

The new "Spider-Man 3" game includes enhanced powers and new combat moves for Spidey; a bigger and more lifelike rendering of Manhattan; and storylines that diverge from the movie, including Spidey's battles against three elaborate street gangs that threaten to take over parts of New York (think "Spider-Man" meets "The Warriors").

Sure, the "Spider-Man" games can never match the popular action shooters for edge-of-your seat, pulse-pounding thrills (Spidey's gaming appeal has always been more "Wee!" than "Wow!").

But their re-creations of some well-loved movies, and of one well-loved character, may be what set them apart.

Still bleary-eyed after having unveiled the game at "Spider-Man 3" movie premieres in London, England, and Japan, Activision's Dravinski brightens at the memory of the reception the game got from fans. "At every premiere, I was the most popular guy because every kid, and every 40-year-old kid, would be like: 'Oh, my God -- Spider-Man!' "

It's that kind of international enthusiasm that makes for successful video game franchises.

By Sid Lipsey, CNN
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