Nintendo has owned the portable gaming market for the better part of two decades, but a number of interesting challengers have flooded the market in recent years. With the announcement of the Sony PlayStation Portable Nintendo’s crown seemed to be in jeopardy, but few have taken the time to realize that the Tapwave Zodiac and the Nokia N-Gage were also viable contenders to the throne. To respond to the recent influx, Nintendo has decided to answer the call by releasing the DS, a dual-screened portable system with the power to produce 3D graphics. We’re not sure yet, but we’re confident that Nintendo will be keeping its throne, especially when it has heavy hitters like Activision’s Spider-Man 2 in its lineup.
Spider-Man 2 more or less follows the daily life of Spider-Man as he tows the line between super hero and everyday geek. Like the comic, he often is faced with consequential circumstances that will often affect his life. His own selflessness is the very device which damns him to a life of loneliness and darkness; to the point where he consistently puts the good of the city ahead of his own personal needs. I’m not saying that video game elaborates upon all of these themes, but it does a decent job of conveying them to the gamer. The storyline unfolds via a mix of still images, pre-rendered videos and in-game dialogue. From the start the game takes advantage of the dual screen support by placing all of the dialogue in the bottom screen while keeping the action to the top screen.
You’ll be taken through a journey across fourteen chapters as you do battle with the lowlifes that fill the streets of New York, including Doc Ock. Most of the chapters are of the side-scrolling variety where you will need to roam the levels in search of a goal. In an early level you’ll need to enter a burning building and save the tenants from the flames. The following level will require you to take out a group of bank robbers before they can flee the scene of the crime. Most of the levels are of this variety and some will add in a time limit just to make your life a little more difficult. For instance, later on you’ll need to defeat Mysterio’s minions within 10 minutes so that you can meet up with Aunt Mae later on.
As if the minions weren’t hard enough, you’ll have that countdown timer breathing down the back of your neck. And trust us, this game is hard. Not Contra hard, but hard enough to cause you to sprout a few grey hairs. You never really get mad at the game though because the difficulty is derived on how well you play platformers on a small handheld. I wasn’t accustomed to all that was going on and I paid for by getting my ass handed to me over and over on a consistent basis. My girlfriend fared a lot better but she ran into a stumbling block on the Mysterio battle. In all it should really provide a good challenge to you, no matter what skill level you are. I can’t say for certain how long the game is, but I spent the better part of two hours completing four levels from different parts of the game. If I’d have to make an estimate I’d say that it’s at least in the six-to-eight hour range. If you’re looking to accomplish the full scope of the game and gain a 100% completion rate it’ll take about 10 hours. That’s extremely long for a handheld platformer, considering that you can beat most of them within two hours.
This isn’t to say that the game is perfect; the mission structure is flawed and can become problematic at times. Each level allows you to roam freely instead of sticking you to a confined path; this would be nice had the game not require you to hunt each and every single individual enemy in order to advance. I had a point-by-point reviewer’s guide that told me the location of each enemy and I still ran into trouble on occasion. It’s kind of like going on an Easter Egg hunt, except the eggs fight back and are more than capable of scrambling your brains. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t derail the game but it definitely is the source of the game’s problems. What this does is it forces you to replay each level over and over until you can memorize it from front to back. I wish that the game would have allowed me to progress on the basis of my own aptitude as opposed to my ability to memorize the levels.Most people will argue that the best part of the console games were the swinging elements. With the game, the developers were able to give players a realistic sense of what it would really feel like to swing around the skyscrapers of New York City. It felt like a natural extension of your body and quickly became one of the best elements to ever appear in a console game. Since the DS game takes place in a quasi-2D world it was impossible to recreate the free-flowing atmosphere of the console games. So it seems that the designers conceded to this fact and decided to focus more on the combat system itself. There are two primary attack buttons, the A button which controls the punches and the Y button that handles the kicks. To add some depth to the game, players can utilize different combinations of the two attacks to lead to some devastating combos. Furthermore, players can execute one of eight special moves by hitting the R button. To select your special move you physically touch the one you’d like on the DS’s touchscreen. It’s a very unique system that makes it simple to use and execute on the fly. Just simply touch the manuever you’d like to use and you now have it mapped out to the R button. Additionally, the X button allows you to use the web zip while L activates a bullet time-like feature that slows things down, increasing your reaction time.
I haven’t seen much of what the DS offers in terms of graphics, but Spider-Man 2 is the best looking portable game I’ve seen to-date. It’s difficult to deduce from the screenshots, it’s truly one of those games that has to be seen to be experienced. This is no fluke either considering that Vicarious Visions also revolutionized the portable industry when it developed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the GameBoy Advance. If you thought that was amazing you’re in for a real treat. Spidey looks great and animates with the kind of fluidity reserved for Saturday morning cartoons. It’s nice to see that the quality extends to the rest of the visuals as well; the levels look great and the special effects are top notch for a portable system. Spider-Man 2 is really a 3D game masquerading as a 2D side-scroller. At first the game looks like a 2D brawler but as you progress you’ll realize that the entire world is rendered in full 3D, including the buildings that make up the background. As you go around corners you’ll see the camera pan around, giving you a better view on the action. This doesn’t sound interesting on paper but it’s really amazing to see it unfold all before your eyes. It’s not that garbled quasi-3D you get on the N-Gage either, it’s smooth, clean and crisp, almost like what you would expect from today’s console games.
When we first heard that the DS would be a dual-screen product we were a bit skeptical. At the time Nintendo was touting the features; explaining that a soccer product might have show the pitch in one screen while the other tracks a key player on the field. It had “gimmick” written all over it, until the developers showcased the technology with Metroid Prime: Hunters at E3. Apparently Activision was inspired too because it utilizes the dual screens in a way that’s practical and not altogether flashy. The top screen showcases the main action while the second screen offers up information to the player. All of the dialogue in the game is relegated to the bottom screen which frees up the top screen and rids it all of all the unnecessary clutter. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the dual screen support is that it allows the entire screen to be used to showcase the action; leading to a better visual experience. The only things you see on the main screen are information sliders that are pertinent to the action; things like your energy bar and special meter.Additionally, the game employs the touch screen for a number of puzzles that are relative to the action. In a boss fight with Doc Ock you’ll have to run around the room and hit six switches in order to disable his shield mechanism. Normal games would invite you to run around the room and hit them, asserting that the true challenge is to dodge the boss’s attacks as you hit the switches. Spidey changes this up and requires you to solve a small puzzle in order to shut off the switches. Upon reaching the switches, you’ll need to use the touch screen to drag a switch from the on point to the off point. It’s not that easy though, you’ll have a time limit to deal with and hitting an electrical current will send a jolt through Spider Man. Oh, and did we mention that you have to finish the whole sequence in less than a minute? Calling it intense would be a gross understatement; it’s an amazing rush of exhilaration that you’re not used to getting from portable games.
I’m not familiar with the audio capabilities with the DS but it doesn’t seem to be that far of a step up from the GBA. All of the audio samples in Spider-Man 2 are clean but the music still retains that grainy quality that we’ve been hearing for the past three years. On occasion you’ll hear some digitized speech but it’s nothing to really be amazed by. The only real discernable difference is the fact that you can get stereo sound from the unit as opposed to mono output. What you find here is pretty much by-the-numbers when it comes to portable gaming audio. You won’t want to crank it up but you won’t necessarily be embarrassed by it either.
I won’t mince words here; I’m really impressed by the Nintendo DS. It sounded like a cheap gimmick at first and I had been burned by one of Nintendo’s gimmicks in the past. Trust me though, this is no Virtual Boy, this is a gaming thoroughbred that will demand you feed it over the holiday season. If your first priority this week is the DS, make your second one a copy of Spider-Man 2. It’s the game that will show your friends what the hardware truly can do.
Activision's web slinging adventure is an excellent way to kick start things on Nintendo's new platform. Usually the movie-to-video game adaptations are awful, especially on the handhelds, but this is the rare exception. Just make sure that you have a lot of patience because the insane difficulty will test it to the limit.
Rating: 8.7 Very Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile