The team at Vicarious Visions has done an admirable job bringing Ultimate Spider-Man to the least powerful handheld available. The GBA USM features a scaled down version of the events that take place in the console version of the game. This news might disappoint gamers who were hoping all of the cameos and characters whom appear in the console version would be found in the GBA title, but alas you can't have everything.

Feeling more like a successor to Mysterio's Menace than last years Spider-Man 2 for the GBA, Vicarious Visions have tightened the gameplay, creating a more linear based experience this time around which will delight fans who found the exploration of SM2 tedious and at times needlessly frustrating. USM for example provides a large arrow that will point you in the direction of the hostages or enemies you need to locate and it does so without a timer. This translates into a game that you can breeze through fairly quickly but doesn't elongate the experience with useless busy work. The action therefore rarely slows down.

You'll start the game as Spider-Man, beating on generic thugs in Queens as you make your way to the city. Spidey can webswing, wallcrawl and webzip (up, down, diagonally), kick, punch (and a few other variations such as dive kick, uppercut etc) and he can temporarily web his foes. Most of the thugs won't be too difficult to vanquish and in many cases you can avoid them altogether while you hunt for health, web cartridges and attack upgrades. At the end of a chapter which is spread apart through various levels, you will get to play as Venom. Like in the console versions, Venom cannot webswing, but has been given a higher jump in conjunction with a tendril-zip to compensate . Venom's attacks are based around his tendrils that can shoot out and hit enemies. Since the Venom suit is constantly draining Eddie Brock's health, Venom must feed almost constantly to replenish his energy. This is done by dazing enemies and then pressing the R button to feed on them.

Controlling both Spidey and Venom using the D-pad works surprisingly well and traversing the usual walls, ceilings and other pitfalls becomes second nature almost instantly even if you haven't played a handheld Spider-Man game over the last couple of years. The level design is pure 16 bit and I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart because of it. It's just so classic. You know, the building designs that are actually mazes that no one other than Spider-Man could get around or the houses with 5 staircases or holes in the floor where people just drop down. I mean, that's just pure classic videogame design.

Spidey and Venom are well animated sprites but you won't be dazzled by any cell-shading or 3D inking technology that you've seen in other versions. The thugs in the game are as generic as you get but there is quite a bit of detail and background scrolling going on to give the game some depth. The comic book panel presentation which would generate comic panels during events in the console version are gone so you'll l have to settle for handsomely drawn static cutscenes, but hey, it's all part of the 16 bit charm. Musically the game is quite good. Each level has it's own distinct theme and what is present definitely suits the game. There isn't any voice acting to speak of as the ingame conversation is supplied by text.

Certainly the GBA version pales in comparison to the freedom of the console versions and the graphic chutzpah of USM on the DS, but it's still an enjoyable title that will pass the time. The 7 chapters are over fairly quickly and once the game has been completed there isn't much reason to return - although you will be able to replay your favorite level. If at all possible a rental would more than suffice for this one as you won't get a decent return of investment on it.

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System: GBA
Dev: Vicarious Visions
Pub: Activision
Release: Sept 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn