Spider-Man. He’s the golden boy of the pop culture superhero scene, stealing the spotlight from longstanding fixtures like Batman or Superman. We as the consumers have lapped it up, captivated by the blockbuster films and appreciating what we’ve been missing out on. The success of the movie franchise, coupled with a resurgence in comic book sales and a decent variety of video games, has ensured that Spider-Man’s constant struggle for normalcy will live on in our hearts for years to come. Of course, there’s always bound to be a snag here or there, a dark spot on an otherwise pristine carpet of success. Spider-Man 2 DS was such a blemish, the kind of unforgivable catastrophe of a game that plagued the handheld’s initial release. Yet another year has passed, and Ultimate Spider-Man has fallen into the greedy hands of gamers everywhere, symbolizing the hope of reviving the series’ appeal.
It’s been a while since Peter Parker was bitten by the radioactive (or genetically enhanced, if you prefer) spider that led him to his true calling as a superhero. He’s taken down terrible villains, saved countless lives, and still managed to get himself through another year of school. He’s confessed his love and dark secret to his beloved Mary Jane Watson, a huge step towards some semblance of a normal life. However, not all is well with this webslinger. He discovered a strange black organic suit that not only augmented his already super strength, but nearly consumed his body and mind as well. Though he managed to get rid of this menace, it was recovered by Eddie Brock, one of Peter’s best friends. Driven mad by the suit’s influence, Eddie became the villain “Venom” and used his newfound powers to go on a rampage. In an epic confrontation, the two beings clashed, Venom was defeated, and Peter left Eddie for dead…or so he thought.
Skip forward a few months, and everything’s back to normal. At least, as normal as Spider-Man’s life can be. In between classes, he’s off swinging around town, saving people from utter doom and ensuring the safety and sanctity of the city he loves. Accordingly, his levels will place him in various neighborhoods around town filled to the brim with danger. He’ll have to save people from fires, rescue them from falling off of high ledges, lift up cars, defeat bank robbers and a slew of goofy bosses, and all the rest of the common practices of any upstanding superhero. When there’s a problem, a tiny meter will appear on the screen, pointing you in the direction of the situation. You must reach your intended target and save them quickly. It’ll usually involve tapping or brushing the Touch Screen, thus completing the objective in a timely fashion. If not, the meter will run out, leaving you staring at the Game Over screen in utter confusion and aggravation. The problem with this meter system is that there is no room for mistakes, forcing you to be at the top of your game, lest you get there too late and have to start the level over again. The fact that the controls are less than stellar doesn’t help much, either. You can be literally a hair’s width away from completing an objective and get shafted. It’s this kind of gameplay system that makes Ultimate Spider-Man so tedious to play.
However, there is still hope for this game. While Spider-Man is off saving everyone’s sorry hides, Venom is alive and well, lurking the dark alleys and slums of the city. This black and white monstrosity has incredible strength and power, allowing him to rampage through town at his evil heart’s content. However, that doesn’t mean he’s safe. All sorts of outside organizations are after Venom’s unique powers, and they’re unloading some fierce firepower to take him down. He will have to smash his way through SUV barricades, toss inept gunmen asunder, take down missile-toting helicopters, and face down plenty of other surprises. However, those folks aren’t his prime concern. The qualities of Venom’s suit actually siphons his health by the second, forcing him to constantly hunt down so innocent prey. Thankfully, there are plenty of foes and innocent bystanders practically begging to be eaten alive. Using the stylus and Touch Screen, you can control Venom’s tentacles, allowing him to grab victims and drag them into his gaping mouth, nab objects, and attack foes from a distance. Not only that, but you can toss cars around, stick to buildings and even use foes as bullet shields. Who said that being evil wasn’t fun?
You’ll progress through both storylines, alternating between hero and villain’s individual quests. While both can be both a little daunting and tedious to complete, their awesome presentations nearly make up for it. Unlike the seemingly realistic portrayal of Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man digs deep into its comic book roots, treating gamers to a wonderfully cell-shaded depiction of good and evil in action. Both screens will include the classic “Thwack!” and “Crash!” and plenty of other written sound effects from the comics. While the levels are wonderfully colored and rendered in side-scrolling 3D, the bland designs and linear setup make them seem a little boring. The characters are done decently enough, complete with Venom’s massive bulk and Spider-Man’s sleek physique. While the in-game characters are pixilated and blurry, the cutscenes in between each level is presented in full comic art detail, from Spider-Man’s fancy moves to Venom’s terrifying powers. The audio has also been revamped, complete with voice-over cutscenes and a simple fast-paced soundtrack. Too bad the game is too short to really enjoy it.
Is Ultimate Spider-Man a bad game? Not necessarily. It’s a huge improvement over its DS predecessor, treating gamers to a new and darker storyline. Not only does it have the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man doing what he does best, but it also lets you step into the claws of one of the hero’s most amazing and deadly enemies. The fact that it’s presented in cell-shaded comic style also draws tons of appeal. However, the horribly tedious mission objectives for both characters make this game slip a few notches in quality. But if you’re a fan of the series or need a superhero gaming fix, this Ultimate Spider-Man might be something to consider. Not for it’s full price, though. In the end, it’s a game with some excellent ideas, yet executed with less-than excellent results. In the meantime, Spider-Man still has the day to save.