Release Date: September 27, 2005
Everybody’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is certainly making the rounds these days, appearing on everything from the silver screen to the tiny screen of a cell phone. It’s a sort of golden age for comic book heroes, and Spidey has really reemerged as a favorite for the new generation of hero worshippers. Thankfully, Spider-Man has been fortunate enough to appear in some really excellent games and movies, showcasing what is one of Marvel’s star attractions and really allowing him to show his appeal to an adoring crowd. Ultimate Spider-Man is the latest of these showpieces, and Spidey has no reason to fear a loss of popularity as a result of this game.
Ultimate Spider-Man on the Nintendo DS features some of the best presentation that this system has seen to date. Utilizing a style that strongly resembles a comic book, the fantastic storyline plays out on both screens with a lot of flash and excitement. The drawings are extremely well done, really evoking the feeling that you get when you’re reading a comic book, except for the fact that it’s being drawn on the screen in front of you. The panels make use of both screens, sometimes moving from top to bottom, sometimes taking up both screens, but always helping to weave the story.
And what a story it is. Moving slightly away from the Spider-Man story that we’re most familiar with, Peter Parker is a high school student who is also of course Spider-Man. One of the main differences in the story is the fact that Mary Jane is completely aware that Pete is also the masked webslinger. Apart from Spider-Man, the story also follows the unwillingly villainous Venom, and eventually their two stories intertwine. Combined with the comic book style, the story does a lot to draw you in and really make you want to find out what’s going to happen next.
Playing the game is really a simple affair, but there are a few quirks that prevent it from being a totally flawless experience. Spider-Man is controlled using the d-pad, with the action taking place on the top screen. He can swing across the screen, shoot his web at the enemy, punch and kick enemies, and also use a special move that can be unleashed when a meter on the touch screen builds up to a certain level. The touch screen comes into play at times, mostly to take care of some hapless citizen stuck underneath a car, but it’s also used to choose Spider-Mans special move. When playing as Venom, the action takes place on the bottom screen, and touch screen controls are used to shoot out pieces of the symbiotic organism that forms Venom. With both characters, comic book panels appear during fights with the various “Bam” and “Pow” on whichever screen is not showing the action.
While controlling Spider-Man is fairly straight forward and easy most of the time, when you’re forced to interrupt yourself and use the touch screen to lift cars to save pedestrians, it seems a bit contrived, and it’s certainly annoying. When playing Venom, the problem is amplified, as his abilites rely much more heavily on the touch screen. The worst part of the touch screen control is that it can be inaccurate at times, causing problems at the most inopportune times. Venom can be controlled using the d-pad as well, but to make the most of his special abilities, the touch screen is necessary. Overall the control scheme works well, but there are times when you’re sure to find yourself frustrated as you have to switch your grip on the DS.
There are also some moments when you’ll find yourself having to run back and forth before you’re able to proceed, killing enemies that suddenly appear behind you or from some unknown off screen location. There are also those moments that the screen is too small to really give you a good idea of where you’re supposed to head next. It’s confusing sometimes, but rarely a big problem; unfortunately the screen does have the frequent problem of being too zoomed in to get a good picture of what’s happening around you at all times.
Graphically, Ultimate Spider-Man is a visual treat. The cel-shading style that is used in the game really makes it come alive and looks really sharp. It’s really something when you see Spidey swing across the screen, and the buildings in the background scrolling by. The same can be said when Venom grabs some hapless person and slams him against a hot dog cart in the park. The 3D engine used in the game is really quite a sight to behold. The characters are well modeled and have some great animations also. Of course, tying it all together are the well-drawn comic book panels and brightly colored action scenes that splash on the screens during combat. To top it all off, the frame rate maintains a consistently high clip.
Another high point of Ultimate Spider-Man is the sound. There are some great voice-overs throughout the entire game, which really does a lot to bring the story to life. The voice acting can be a bit cheesy at times, but for the most part it really helps to propel the game forward. Sound effects during the game are just as good. The combat sounds like you’d imagine a comic book would if you could listen to it. There are also voices during the actual game that bring the characters to life. The musical soundtrack is also a high point, providing an auditory indication of how things are progressing on the screen. You’ll definitely want to turn up the speakers on your DS for Ultimate Spider-Man.
Unfortunately, the graphical and aural splendor only goes so far. The game really doesn’t last all that long, and once you’ve beaten it once, there’s not much else to see. The missions are linear, and although they can certainly be difficult, there are only so many of them. What’s there is definitely worth experiencing though, and there are several missions that will take you a while to complete. Ultimate Spider-Man is certainly a worthwhile experience that is enjoyable while it lasts. There is also a multiplayer battle mode, where two players can compete against each other, but it’s pretty limited and doesn’t do a whole lot to add to the overall experience.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a worthwhile addition to the DS library. The action-packed gameplay is extremely well done, and the overall polish of the whole experience might be found in the console version of the game. While not without its flaws, Ultimate Spider-Man has enough to offer to overcome anything that might serve to bring it down. Great comic book styling, fantastic voice acting, a compelling storyline and fun game mechanics all come together to form an experience that Spidey himself would be proud of.
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