Spider-Man, Spider-Man, play as Venom, now you can.
Much like the comic book series it's based upon, Ultimate Spider-Man puts a twist on the classic Spider-Man story and formula. The most immediate difference between Ultimate Spider-Man and prior Spider-Man games is the look. The game sports a cel-shaded (or whatever you want to call it) style that more accurately re-creates the style of the comic book. The story also follows the story of the Ultimate Spidey comic, written by Brian Michael Bendis.
Speaking of the comic book, the game does a fantastic job of recreating the comic’s style. The cel-shaded style looks like a comic book, and as Spidey or Venom attacks on one screen, comic frames appear on the other that represent these attacks. It’s a small detail, but the effect is very cool and really helps the comic feel of the game. Writer Bendis has infused the game with lots of style. It’s fully voiced and fairly well at that. Spider-Man is constantly spitting out snappy one-liners.
Ultimate Spidey follows the stories of both Spider-Man and Venom, whose paths cross at multiple points in the story. The game plays as a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. As Spider-Man, the game is very reminiscent of classic beat ‘em up games. As Venom, everything is different. While Spider-Man’s actions are controlled with the face buttons (jump, web, kick, punch), Venom controls with the touch screen (though there is an alternate face-button setup). Tapping close to Venom commands a swipe while tapping away from him causes him to attack slightly further away with a tendril. It’s also possible to reach any specific spot on the screen by drawing a line with the stylus from Venom to the target. Finally, touching a character on screen and dragging them towards Venom will cause him to feed on them, something you’ll need to do often as Venom’s health constantly drops.
While Venom is on the war-path, destroying everything and everyone in sight, Spider-Man is out to save people. While running through his levels, in addition to stopping various thugs, Spidey will have to save the citizens of New York City. Super villains leave a lot of damage in their wakes, and somebody’s got to clean up after them. Levels are littered with citizens in distress. Hanging from buildings, being trapped under cars, and being held hostage are just some of the perils New Yorkers face every day. Spidey will have to act quickly to save them. If he can’t save them within a certain amount of time, it’s game over.
Overall, Ultimate Spider-Man is a fun game, but a number of issues hold it back from being excellent. The most major issue is the boss design, particular on Venom’s path. Many of the game’s bosses suffer from very cheap design, dealing out tons of damage and making it overly difficult to attack them. Beating them is a matter of getting lucky or being as cheap as they are. The controls are also a slight annoyance, especially considering there is no way to customize them. The control set defined for the game deviates from the set used in most beat ‘em ups (where Y typically attacks), and as such there is some adjustment required to get used to the controls. On the Venom side of things, the touch screen controls take some getting used to, as they are a paradigm shift in beat ‘em up controls. However, they eventually become very efficient.
Beat ‘em up games only really exist on handheld systems nowadays, and it’s nice to see the genre taking advantage of the DS’s unique features. The game is also a fantastic representation of the comic book. The story is compelling, if short, and the gameplay is fun for the most part. Spidey fans are going to enjoy the game for sure, and those looking for a fun beat ‘em up to take on the road wouldn’t do wrong picking up Ultimate Spider-Man.