Spider-Man: A Menace!
We all know that with great power comes great responsibility, but that doesn't just apply to old webhead. Nintendo's new DS device is a powerful little handheld, and in turn, we expect that developers will act responsibly when creating new content for it.
Instead, we get Spider-Man 2, a difficult, boring and broken platformer. Spidey's in such bad form here, we wouldn't be surprised if the Kingpin were lead producer.
The DS version of Spider-Man 2 loosely follows the movie's plot, just like its console counterparts. The similarities between this version and its excellent cousins end there, however, as Spider-Man 2 for the DS is nothing but a poorly designed side-scroller.
Since Spider-Man 2 is a DS launch title and the DS is such a funky piece of hardware, it's only natural to wonder what effects the stylus and touch-screen have had on our favorite super-hero's latest adventure. Sadly, Activision has done nothing more with Nintendo's wonderful wave of innovation than convert it into a Special Move selection screen. Throughout the game, you can unlock more Special Moves and map them to the R-button by simply tapping the corresponding icon on the touch-screen. Ironically, pausing to access a move select menu would have worked just as well.
The touch-screen is also called upon for simple touch-and-drag mini-games. None of these are innovative or complicated and many are strangely laggy.
It's incredible that Spider-Man 2's developers wasted the second screen on such inconsequential crap considering how badly the game needs a map system. The levels themselves are huge, sprawling affairs that are impossible to reliably navigate. If the levels were better detailed or contained unique landmarks, the situation wouldn't be so dire, but instead you get large, monotonous mazes filled to the rim with traps and tough enemies. The fact that some of the levels are timed makes matters worse, since the timer will cut your exploration short and force you to start things over from the beginning.
This is a shame, because the levels are well-suited to a 2D Spider-Man game. As tall as they are long, most levels give Spidey some room to climb and swing. You'll have to save X number of people while killing X number of villains, all within a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, this can be applied to just about every level in the game. The objectives are never diverse, and there aren't enough scripted events to spice things up.
To complete his tasks, Spider-Man must leap through all manner of hoops and bash a lot of generic bad guys. Spider-Man can jump, web-swing by repeatedly jumping, and zip-line by jumping and tapping the X button plus the desired direction on the D-pad. He can also cling to walls and crawl about. All of this feels extremely fluid and responsive thanks to the game's solid engine.
But to our disappointment, Spider-Man 2's mobile talents are not integrated with his combat abilities. In only one case is a mobile maneuver paired with an attack: Spider-Man can zip-line through enemies. This attack is extremely weak and almost never useful.
The bigger problem with the combat is that the fighting engine is simply broken. Punching and kicking has all the efficiency of Rock'em Sock'em Robots, and his special moves barely cause more damage than his standard kicks and punches.
The inaccurate button-mashing leads to plenty of cheap hits; expect to play stages over and over just to memorize the inane patterns and minimize damage from these two-bit thugs.
The Spider-Sense system is where Spider-Man 2 gets tangled in its own web. When Spider-Man is about to come under attack, his head will flash, during which time you're supposed to press the L button for a slow-mo effect. This works half the time. The other half of the time, the enemy just creams you. If Spider-Sense is successfully activated,
the background turns orange and slightly warps as
time slows down just enough for you to get a really good look at yourself getting whacked, since Spidey can't dodge or block at all.
You'll still take damage and you can't juggle opponents in the air at all.
It's the normal broken fighting painted a lovely shade of orange. Awful.
As lame as that sounds, Spider-Man 2 looks pretty good. The web-slinger himself moves at a brisk pace, his animations are exceptional and the environments are nice and crisp, although they lack any sort of ambience or fine detail. The developers implement a little visual trick to make Spider-Man appear to run around corners and therefore seem to move in 3D space.
Unfortunately, when you run or swing by these corners, the backgrounds move too quickly to make it register properly. It's not really anything more than a gimmick, since all the action happens on a 2D plane, anyway.
Money spent on the faux 3D trick could have been spent on a better soundtrack. Spider-Man 2's music is nerve-wracking, repetitive and grating. The sound effects are comprised of standard jumping, landing, and striking noises which are immediately and forever eclipsed by the horrible, tweaky score. Spidey's voice is even done badly, squeaking like a mouse rather than booming like a super-hero.
Spider-Man 2 for the Nintendo DS is a frustrating platformer with broken combat, repetitive missions and a totally misused second screen. The good news is that it runs on a great engine, so at least there's a foundation in place for a decent game.
Spider-Man might be able to do whatever a spider can, but this DS offering can't spin up much fun.