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Platform

DS

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

Vicarious Visions

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

September 19, 2005

 

- Excellent graphics
- Great voicework and music
- Smooth gameplay

 

 

- Time-based objectives are aggravating
- Annoying controls
- Touch screen elements are terribly implemented

 

 

Review: Spider-Man 2 (DS)

Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)

Review: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (DS)

 

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Ultimate Spider-Man

Score: 6.4 / 10

 

Ultimate Spider-Man for the DS is one of those games that, despite having a very sturdy foundation, ends up falling a bit flat. The scenario and level designers seem to have trouble figuring out how to create situations that aren't extremely aggravating - - many times, the game actually seems to go out of its way to be an annoyance.

 

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There's certainly nothing wrong with the presentation. While the DS launch title Spider Man 2 was patterned after the movie, Ultimate Spider- Man takes its cue from the recent CGI rendered cartoon of the same name. While this makes for some minor plot disparities, the more important difference is the art style. All of the story scenes are told in comic book style panels that occasionally animate. In motion, the CGI characters look oddly entrancing. In still pictures, as portrayed in the game, they look a bit awkward. All the dialogue is professionally voiced, and coupled with the exciting score, makes for an engrossing experience, even though the actual plot is nothing particularly interesting.

 

This high quality polish manages to make its way into the actual gameplay segments too. Once again utilizing a 2.5D perspective, the backgrounds are cell-shaded polygons, and look magnificent. The sprites are all extraordinarily well animated, and the camera gracefully zooms in and out of the action as necessary. Despite some occasional hiccups, the action runs very smoothly, and you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking example of 3D graphics on the DS.

 

The free-roaming segments of the console versions have been ditched, making for a standard level-by-level progressions. Both Spider Man and Venom are playable throughout the game, and the viewpoint often alternates between the two. One particularly cool stage has the two characters racing through different parts of a museum, as the actions switches back and forth as various checkpoints are reached. Unfortunately, both Spidey and Venom possess some annoyances that weigh down the game.

 

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Spider Man is, of course, a superhero, and thus needs to rescue anyone in danger. Unfortunately, you'll be spending a vast majority of your time doing this. At several points in the game, groups of exclamation points will appear on the screen, each representing

someone in trouble, and each having a timer. If one of those timers runs out, you lose. Needless to say, the time limits are not particularly generous, so you'll often repeat the same segments over 

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and over until you're able to beat the clock. The frustration is compounded by a number of questionable design decisions. It's not simply enough to pick up a civilian - you need to carry them to a safe spot. During this time, their clock is still ticking. Even though you've saved that guy from the burning building and he's slung over your shoulders, and you're just feet from the little green spot you have to deliver him to - if you're just a second short, you still lose. Timer based missions just end up being frustrating, as it just pressures you to play the game faster, rather than better. There are also issues with the jumping controls, as you need a running start to get any distance. The web slinging controls still don't feel quite right. And finally, there's the clumsy implementation of the screen. There are plenty of instances where you'll need to stroke the screen in order to pick up objects, or open locks with a whack-a-mole style game. Unless you're up for using your thumb (not recommended), this means you'll either need to grab the stylus from the back of the DS, or play the entire segment with it in your hand. 

 

The Venom segments are, thankfully, far less annoying. Since Venom is something of a villain, you don't need to worry about rescuing people. His levels are still timed, since you health meter is constantly dropping, but you can refill it by snacking on any human you run across. This is rather amusing, until you realize that you're defenseless when you're chowing down. Therefore, it's never wise to eat people when there's multiple enemies, as you'll usually lose more health than you gain.

 

Like Spider- Man's levels, the touch screen is clumsily implemented. In theory, you can use the stylus to pick up objects or people with Venom's tendrils, and toss them around a bit. You can also use it to latch on to grapple and ceilings. Unfortunately, the controls are rather sensitive, and it rarely works the way you want it to. It's an innovative way to control the character, but since it doesn't really work all that well, it's much easier to just use the regular d-pad. There are also other strange quirks with this mode - enemies will often wander into environmental obstacles and get themselves killed, but you can toss hummers at bad guys and it'll pass right through them, leaving them  unharmed. Both characters are also faced with plenty of  boss battles, but due to the iffy collision detection and controls, these fights also end up as more annoying sticking points.

 

It's pretty evident why the game is so happy to place you at the "Game Over" screen - Ultimate Spider- Man is fairly short, and it really shouldn't take more than a few hours to beat. The increased difficulty is almost necessary to stretch the game a bit. There are a few branching scenarios, but their impact is minimal, and  does little to embellish the replay value. There is a  multiplayer battle mode, with additional characters that  can be unlocked by conquering the single player mode, but  it requires multi-cart play.

 

Ultimate Spider- Man is a solid game that gets bogged down far too often to be considered great. It's definitely worthwhile for comic book fans or side-scroller aficionados, although a strong sense of patience is definitely required to get much enjoyment out of it.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(November 18, 2005)

 

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