Spidey's fourth time around on DS is a worthwhile platformer with very unusual controls.
That the DS version of Spider-Man 3 has all combat moves mapped to the touch screen is not all that shocking. After all, the Wii version has most of its attacks assigned to the motion control in the remote. What's really crazy about the DS game is that all of Spider-Man's movement is controlled with only the D-pad. To continue the Wii comparison, imagine running, walking, jumping, wall-crawling, and web-swinging with only the nunchuk's joystick. It sounds impossible, but the mad scientists at Vicarious Visions have made it work on the DS, and in fact it works extremely well.
Part of the reason Spidey can have so much mobility with just the D-pad is that this game takes place entirely on a 2D plane, although the game is presented with smooth and detailed 3D characters and backgrounds. The camera often rotates so that you're swinging around corners just by moving forward, and this illusion provides a neat little twist (literally) to the level design. Actually, the levels are interesting throughout, which is a huge improvement from the last Spidey game I played on DS, Spider-Man 2 back in 2004. These environments, which include several well known neighborhoods in Manhattan as well as a few large interior spaces, allow plenty of room for high speed web-swinging and yet also include some areas where you need to use careful wall-crawling and web-zipping to get around dangerous obstacles.
The combat centers on your use of the touch screen to swipe in different directions for punches and kicks, tap towards enemies to web them up, and draw circles for special moves. All of these moves work surprisingly well despite the fact that you are actually looking at the game play out on the top screen; the touch controls are simple and forgiving enough that you don't have to look at what you're doing with the stylus. There are a few different types of enemies, like guys with fists, guys with giant hammers, and guys with laser guns. Certain movies work better on certain enemies, but juggling them into the air seems to work universally. Fighting in this game is reasonably fun for a while, but it gets old when the game throws fifteen or twenty gang members in a row at you. On some missions, that's pretty much all you do… just beat up peons until the game decides you've had enough. I could have done without that stuff, honestly. It gets to be pretty brainless after a while, and there are enough health pickups that you don't need to worry about dodging, which is good because the animation isn't quite good enough to predict when an attack is coming. The missions where you rescue victims from a burning building or infiltrate a factory to retrieve evidence are a lot more fun and varied, and they have just the right amount of fighting mixed in with everything else.
You don't expect a handheld game to properly translate a movie's plot, and this one doesn't, but it could have done a better job if it were based on the movie and not on the console game's bizarre version of the script. Combine that with the DS game's bland, minimally animated cut-scenes, and it's basically impossible to tell what's going on in the story. Again I ask, if you can't do better than this, why bother having a plot at all? The voice samples are also taken from the console versions, and they're still repetitive and lazy here.
Partially wasted license aside, Spider-Man 3 is a fluid, fun, refined handheld game that clearly benefits from being the developer's fourth Spidey game on the system in less than three years. If you skipped the last couple of them, as I did, this game is worth checking out for its great platforming gameplay and crazy controls.