Ultimate Spider-Man

Review

posted 10/21/2005 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
Platforms: DS

All three major consoles have seen the release of Ultimate Spider-Man, the latest comic-to-game adaptation from Treyarch.  Not wanting to leave the GameCube’s portable little brother out, Treyarch has also cooked up a version for the feisty little double-screen machine, and they’ve put its unique abilities to good use.  Spider-Man 2 launched with the DS last year, and while it was a competent tech demo for the system it lacked a certain tightness and polish, and the DS functionality felt a bit forced.

Ultimate Spider-Man for the DS fixes a lot of the earlier bugs and deepens the gameplay experience with the addition of another playable character.  Just like the console versions, Ultimate Spider-Man DS follows the story crafted by Mark Bagley and Brian Michael Bendis, who are the writers of the monthly comic.  Thus, the plot is highly professional and is recreated almost word for word from the bigger console releases.  An incredible amount of quality spoken dialogue and stylized comic panels lays out the narrative, making the DS version all the more faithful. 

Aside from the story, though, there aren’t a whole lot of similarities.  The actual gameplay is presented in a 2 and1/2 dimension perspective; 3D environments and characters, but played in a side-scrolling fashion.  It’s almost exactly the same as the play mechanic used in Viewtiful Joe, and it works just as well here.  The graphics strive to recreate the pen and ink look of the console versions, but they falls just short of really accomplishing it.  Still, the artists came pretty close by making everything bright and loud, and the comic-panel cutscenses make up the difference.

Then again, you probably won’t have a chance to stop and look at the scenery with all of the hectic action going on.  Ultimate Spider-Man is split between Spider Man and Venom, with plenty of variety sprinkled throughout. The Spidey missions focus heavily on rescuing civilians in need, and timing who to save first can be tricky.  Between beating up thugs, disarming bombs and hefting cars off of pinned innocents, it’s always a juggling act with your friendly neighborhood arachnid.

The webhead’s controls are focused primarily on the D-pad, face buttons and shoulder triggers.  Occasionally you’ll have to stroke the touch screen to push or lift an object, which keeps you thinking in the thick of things, but Spider Man’s levels are pretty traditional platformer. 

Venom’s stages are where things start to change.  He still moves with the digital pad, but everything else save for jumping is controlled with the touch screen.  Tapping items will make Venom’s tentacles lash out and grab them, and you can also perform a wall-zip by stroking to a nearby surface.   Just like in the console ports, the only way to replenish health is by dragging hapless enemies into the symbiote and leeching them dry of life, which is also a point and drag affair. 

This control setup is very innovative, but a little too ambitious for its own good.  The touch attacks are only as fast as your hand reflexes, so when you’re surrounded by thugs the situation can quickly become a meat grinder.  Boss battles are especially frustrating with Venom; I found myself switching over to conventional controls and button mashing my way through most of the fights.  The whole concept of attacking anything with the tentacles just by touching it is certainly creative, but it could’ve used more than a bit of tightening.

If you can get past some of the irritating play mechanics, Ultimate Spider-Man is an entertaining experience with a competent story.  Like its big brothers on the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube, it’s all too short and gives you that hanging feeling once you’ve finished it.  The multiplayer versus mode is only a passing distraction, as it takes two cartridges to play and it isn’t very balanced anyway.  I’d give this one a rent, and hope for a sequel with a tad more substance.  Who knows?  In true comic book fashion, the story leaves plenty of openings for next time.

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