Spider-Man makes his return on the Nintendo DS after the somewhat disappointing Spider-Man 2 that arrived for the DS launch last year. This time around, however, Vicarious Visions attempts to right the wrongs caused by the previous game by adding more support for the DS touch screen, slightly improving the level design, and improving the overall gameplay. Letís not forget the added addition of Venom to the mix, thus making Ultimate Spider-Man a little more buy-worthy title than its predecessor.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a suave looking side scrolling game with fully rendered 3D characters and backgrounds, a la Viewtiful Joe. All of the action takes place on different screens, depending on which character youíre currently playing as, while goals and special moves appear on the unused screen. The game takes you through a series of linear side scrolling chapters as you guide both Peter Parker as Spider-Man and Eddie Brock as Venom through committing a series of good and dastardly deeds. While some levels will focus on each of the characters, others will actually cross paths between the two heroes where youíll cause some chaos with Venom, then have to clean up after him with Spider-Man which is really better than it sounds. As you progress through levels, youíll occasionally get an instance where the story branches allowing you to choose between a couple of different missions, but eventually youíll end up playing them both.
By default youíll play Spider-Man levels on the top screen while Venom is played on the touch screen, but you always have the option to change them up if youíd like. The Spider-Man chapters are your standard side-scrolling action game fare where youíll have to navigate around levels while taking out thugs with punches and kicks and rescuing hostages or trapped citizens. Of course Spidey is equipped with ample amounts of webbing that you can shoot by hitting the Y button at an enemy to tie them up or shoot it at a ceiling to retract upwards. You can also hold the button to swing. Some tasks such as lifting heavy objects or activating control panels will have you stroking the stylus on the touch screen or playing a sort mini-game where you have to tap a number of green targets to succeed. While these additions are pretty cool and integrate the touch screen well, itís a little awkward since youíll be using the face buttons and directional pad one moment, then pause the game and scramble for your stylus so you can do what you need to get done. The same goes for Spideyís special moves which youíll have to select on the touch screen as well. Venomís gameplay is a little more interesting since you can control him with the directional pad and face buttons or control his aggressive tendrils with the stylus and punch by tapping the screen. You can use Venomís tendrils to capture an enemy or citizen and (from what I assume, I donít read the comics) eat them to gain health, which I might add is constantly depleting. Thereís actually an amusing bug where you can get unlimited health by getting hit while consuming a person that will make them disappear and cause your health bar to fill all the way. Venom is also able to throw enemies into walls and each other as well as hurl objects for super happy number one fun time.
One improvement over the last game is the addition of nav points that help to guide you to your next objective. Rescuing hostages and victims is a time sensitive process and each of their icons will have bars that will tick down and let you know which citizen is in the most peril. If youíre unable to save any one bystander in time, itís game over and youíre back to restarting the level. While constant restarting can get frustrating at times, levels arenít too large or expansive and each stage is divided into 3-4 sections so if you die, youíll just have to restart the section. Unfortunately, the game will only save before a boss battle or at the beginning of the next level, so if youíre stuck on a section and youíve invested a good amount of time into any previous sections, youíre stuck with putting your DS into sleep mode so you donít lose your spot.
Bosses consist of classic baddies in addition to some not-so-well known characters. Youíll find yourself up against such characters as Shocker, Beetle, Electro, Silver Sable, and RHINO to name a few without spoiling much. The boss battles are pretty easy once you put a few tries into it and really depend on some pattern memorization to get the job done.
Thereís some questionable level design afoot here where expansive spaces that allow you to swing have been jettisoned in favor of some pretty cramped hallways and streets. There will still be a few instances where you wonít be able to see a vent opening or an elevator door. You will get to use your powers once in †a while, but donít expect too much. Youíll get to use your spider sense to perform dodges with the L button. Your webbing or tendrils will mainly be used to tie up enemies and get you to ceilings so that you can crawl along them. You will be doing a decent amount of wall crawling of thatís any consolation at all. The controls are a tad awkward at times, especially when jumping or going for a swing. Youíll find that your character will either over shoot a jump, or barely jump at all at times.
The gameís art style definitely reflects the comic books more than the movies. This is pretty evident in the games cutscenes which play out in some nicely drawn comic book panels. While youíre fighting, the unused screen will also show some neat action panels that reflect your attacks which is a pretty nice touch. Characters, while a tad small, all have nice a cel-shaded look and move fluidly. Things do tend to get ugly when they zoom up close, but itís really not that often. Levels all look great and the 2.5D look and feel are pretty impressive for a handheld. There are some parts that suffer from awkward camera angles but itíll usually adjust itself without causing much harm to you. There are some anomalies such as clipping issues and a couple of instances of enemies being able to shoot through doors, but aside from that, the visuals are pretty solid.
The gameís soundtrack is definitely the high point of the sound and features a lot of suspenseful music that goes well with causing carnage or dealing with strict time limits. Thereís a lot of spoken dialog in the game which is acted out decently and is reminiscent of the old Spider-Man cartoon that was on ten years ago. Youíll also get some one liners from the characters as they rescue people or going to town on a boss. A few of these are pretty humorous and help give some life to the game.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a definite improvement over its previous installment on the DS. While switching from d-pads and face buttons to the stylus can sometimes be awkward, youíll eventually come to like it after some time and realize that it was nice of Vicarious Visions to give some of the better features of the DS a little more action this time around. While the game is pretty short and could be completed in just a few days if youíre dedicated, any Spider-Man fan will appreciate this offering a lot more than the last.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media