Spidey goes the way of Metroid (and all the people rejoiced).
What happens when you combine the exploration-based game design of Metroid with Spider-Man's agility and a great combat system? You get the DS version of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, an excellent portable action game that does justice to its source material but is fun even if you've never heard of Peter Parker.
The premise is that an alien symbiote (presumably from Spidey's nemesis, Venom) has taken over New York City, covering buildings in black "ichor" goo and turning innocent civilians into mind-controlled monsters. Spider-Man sets out to find Venom and restore the city, and for some untold reason, our hero has his own symbiotic black suit that can be activated at any time. I haven't read the comics in years, but I don't understand how both Spidey and Venom can have the black suit.
Anyway, the dual-suit mechanic serves the game well. The red suit is best for travel, as it has a useful zip-line. In combat, the red suit is quick and agile. The black suit is more powerful and knocks away enemies, and it can eventually charge up attacks for even more damage. However, its web-based moves are more limited. You can switch suits at will, and there is no penalty for using one or the other. The differences seem minor at first, but they become more pronounced as you unlock more abilities by spending bonus points.
There is a lot of combat in the game, and it works extremely well thanks to perfect controls, fantastic animation, and challenging enemies. There are many different enemy types, and as the game throws them at you in various combinations, you have little choice but to try new tactics and use abilities (especially the dodge) that you may have ignored before. There's enough variety to keep battles interesting for a long time, but sometimes the fighting does go on for too long. The game frequently shuts off the exits to a room until you defeat enough enemies, and the quota seems excessive sometimes. I can enjoy beating up a dozen symbiotes, but three dozen? That starts to get tiresome.
Thankfully, the game isn't all about combat. Web of Shadows takes place in a continuous, non-linear world full of alternate paths and hidden secrets. Many routes are blocked off at first, and you can only access them after gaining a new ability, like stronger webbing or the power to crawl on ichor walls. Back-tracking is optional, as the game always tells you where to go for the next main objective. Most of the game takes place indoors, but the environments range from cramped to very large, with tons of opportunities for Spidey to use his unique abilities. Web-swinging is simple and joyous, yet also more cerebral than in past games. Your web line has to attach to a surface, and it will even wrap around an overhang as you swing underneath. Wall-crawling is easy to use, and you can use any web-based move from a wall or ceiling. You can even hang down from the ceiling like a real spider, and start swinging from there to gain momentum. All of these abilities are easy to control; the trick is learning how best to use them. Sometimes they are even useful within combat scenarios.
With such a great combination of smooth combat and engaging exploration, this is easily one of the best DS games of the year. Unfortunately, it's over too soon – I finished with 96% completion in less than five hours. There are a few reasons to play again (branching paths, different ability tiers), but the game is indisputably short. You could say the same of the 2D Metroid titles, but those all have tons of secret items that take much longer to discover. The hidden upgrades in Spider-Man are relatively easy to find, even on your first play-through.
Web of Shadows is the sixth Spider-Man game for DS. Did we really need another one? Apparently yes, as this is by far the best one yet and is probably the best Spider-Man game, period, of the last few years. Even though it's a short-lived experience, it is a must-play for any fan of Spider-Man, Metroid, or the modern Castlevanias. I look forward to seeing more games like this, and hopefully the console Spider-Man developers will take this approach at some point.