NINTENDO DS REVIEW: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN

Fans of everything Spider-Man get their chance to tackle the foes of the Ultimate universe on the consoles and the DS, much like last years Spider-Man 2. The handheld version of USM was developed by the talented folks at Vicarious Visions who also had the unenviable task of taking last years free roaming game and turning it into something far more linear. Ultimate Spider-Man for the DS keeps the 2D side-scrolling (side-swinging?) nature of previous handheld Spidey titles but jams it into a pseudo 3D space while ramping up the presentation to an all time high. Keeping the general motif of the console version, USM for the DS allows players to play as both the wallcrawler and his arch-enemy Venom.

Written by Brain Michael Bendis who has currently penned the entire run of USM for Marvel and complimented by the artistic style of Bendis' partner in crime, Mark Bagley, Ultimate Spider-Man is a comic fans dream come true. Filled with characters (and a lot of little cameos) from the Ultimate universe and retaining a very stylistic cel-shaded comic flair on the ingame models as well as comic panel presentation, gamers will instantly know USM is taking place in an entirely different setting than the game based on Spider-Man 2 the movie.

Gamers who loved the free roaming aspect of both Spider-Man 2 and USM for the consoles should realize that the DS version isn't capable of such ambitious design. The game is in fact, far more linear than even the handheld version of SM2, but that actually works to the players advantage allowing for a snappier gameplay experience that isn't marred by hunting out hostages and items for hours at a time. Of course there are areas of the game too explore, just don't expect complete freedom.

Controlling Spider-Man on the upper screen requires a control configuration gamers will be used to, while Venom's levels take place on the touch screen which calls the DS' various innovations into play (if you so decide, if not you can use buttons). As Venom players will be able to control his tendrils to attack police and other citydwellers using the stylus. With this control method players can grab, throw and drain various characters with Eddie Brock's alter ego. Using the stylus is surprisingly tactile and really makes you feel as though you have control over the suit for the most part. At times though when things get hectic, sometimes the game doesn't behave and controlling Venom's tendril attacks can be a little askew. To mix things up a tad, at times Venom will require the use of the regular controls while Spidey will have to open doors and whatnot using the touchscreen. Featuring two completely different control schemes for the characters provides USM with a freshness that doesn't get old or feel repetitive throughout the entire game and that impressed me.

Visually the game looks excellent and I think Vicarious Visions even managed to sneak a few extra characters and effects on screen this time out. As mentioned, the level designs are all pseudo 3D so that each area provides the essence of a larger environment but the players are kept on invisible rails. The only element of the graphics I wasn't crazy about were the extremely large "POW" stars that appear when Spider-Man is fighting someone. They seemed entirely too big and were totally bogarting the screen. I wondered when I'd ever find a use for the term "bogart" in a game review. The comic book panel presentation which is used to embellish events happening onscreen as well as advance the story, is a brilliant way to tie both mediums together.

For the first time ever we're given the opportunity to play a Spider-Man game with a friend, due to the addition of a Versus mode. Players will both need a DS and a copy of the game to play these battles, but it's really nothing to get all that pumped about. Certain characters are far more powerful than others (I won't spoil it for you) and I found the fighting rather boring. Unlockable characters can only be used in this mode which will disappoint fans who were hoping to play the game again with another costume. Other than the unlockable multiplayer characters and some other extras, the game offers no other replay value to go through it again.

USM on the DS remains true to the heart and soul of the console versions and since it plays entirely different could be considered a worthwhile endeavor even if you already own a version for the current gen systems. It's not a long game and the mutliplayer aspects won't elongate your enjoyment of the title by any stretch. At the end of the day it's just more Spider-Man and maybe that's enough for you.

Preview by Vaughn

Ultimate Spider-Man will be taking over the gaming world when it's released this September, across multiple platforms, including all current gen systems, the DS, GBA and Xbox 360. No word as yet on a PSP edition, but we highly suspect that one will appear.

Just as Spider-Man 2 (the game) featured many different games based around the same general content, the same can be said for USM. While the console versions will feature the free roam aspects that debuted in the second movie game, the handheld versions won't be quite as ambitious. The DS version will feature two playable characters - Spidey and Venom - and will retain the comic book style presentation, but there will be obvious corners cut in terms of overall scope.

Currently we know nothing in regards to the control scheme of the DS touch screen and how that might affect gameplay, but we do have screens that nobody else has! Well, almost nobody. That homeless guy in your neighborhood with the shopping cart who mutters about communism...he doesn't have 'em!

Story:

Play as Spider-Man AND a super-villain in an original storyline. For the first time in a Spider-Man game, gamers get to play both sides as they triumph over evil as Spider-Man AND assume the role of the super villain Venom, rampaging through Manhattan as they destroy everything in their path.

Features:

  • The two distinct combat systems allow players to defeat enemies differently, using Spider-Man’s fluid, acrobatic moves or the super villain’s brute force.
  • Experience a living comic book with the innovative 3D comic inking technology TM Unique animated comic book panels move the story along.
  • More Spider-Man universe characters than ever before.
  • The most authentic Spider-Man experience to date.
  • Story and illustration by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, the force behind the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series.
  • All-new Spider-Man story is revealed as the game picks up where the comic book left off.
System: DS
Dev: Vicarious Visions
Pub: Activision
Released: Sept 2005
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.5
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
2.5