Spider-man titles, as run by Activision, have always been a mixed bag. In
the ridiculously awesome Spider-Man 2 on the home consoles, powered by a
Grand Theft Auto-style engine, they were uniformly mediocre and stiff to
play. Gameboy titles have suffered similarly, choosing to focus not so much
on gameplay, but rather on flashy graphics and side-scrolling beat-em-up
With the advent of the Nintendo DS and its amazing capabilities, I
was prepared for more. Finally, a system that could render in 3D, show off
what a Spider-Man 2 handheld game could be, especially after seeing the last
two Spider-Man titles on the GBA. I expected 3-D movement, some real action,
perhaps even expansive levels.
What I got, unfortunately, was more of the same.
I accept that it's hard to do Spider-Man 2 justice on the handheld, given
the expansiveness of the console versions. And it's not like Vicarious
Visions didn't try - it's obvious that they did. It's more that they fell
back on the same tired routines that have plagued Spider-Man titles in the
past. Parker's repertoire is once again limited, and there's no feeling of
freedom when stuck in a 2-D plane with 3-D backgrounds. In addition, instead
of having open-ended missions and exploration, the game focuses on time
limits, multiple objectives, and level memorization; a sure recipe for poor
The good: Don't get me wrong - it's not that the game doesn't have
improvements. The designers put in multiple attack buttons (using the four
buttons now available), Spider-Sense slowdown mode with the L button, and
mappable "special" maneuvers that are triggered with the R button and
selected by touching the square for the move on the lower screen. It's an
interesting idea, and definitely makes the most of the bottom screen since
they don't need maps (2D game) and would be foolhardy to try to cross action
over the screens.
In addition, visually, the game's brilliant. Every bit of graphical beauty
that could be put in, was; vibrant textures, highly detailed character
models, and a greatly detailed world. The fact that the game looks that good
will probably draw in a few gamers who shouldn't buy the title based on the
gameplay, and that's unfortunate.
The bad: Unfortunately, everything else. While the audio is well defined
and a definite step up from the GBA games, the music is still cut into short
clips, and the digitized speech of boss enemies still leaves something to be
desired. It's almost easier to play if you turn the volume off (or at least
the music) and just stick the movie soundtrack CD into a nearby player.
Levels, despite being beautifully rendered and making lots of twists and
turns, are inherently 2-D in design, with only the ability to move left,
right, up, or down. It's painful to deal with, especially after having
enjoyed real freedom of movement in other versions of the game. Adding to
the frustration level is the "exploration" effect, based on giving levels
"extra" objectives of a ridiculously short completion time and possibly
extra, hard-to-find objectives to complete within that time. If you don't
have tremendous patience, this game is NOT for you.
Finally, there's the combat engine, or problems thereof. Spidey doesn't
really attack in a fluid fashion, and "combo" attacks aren't defined well;
if you don't end knocking down an enemy, or walk too close as they get up,
expect to get hit. While every enemy drops some health on defeat, the fact
that they do this indicates that even the designers intended for the player
to not happily incapacitate enemies with well-timed attacks, but to simply
go through combat after combat of trading punches.