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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

For: DS   Also on: PSP

Our good game-sense is tingling

Product: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows | Developer: Griptonite Games | Publisher: Activision Blizzard | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
 
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows DS, thumbnail 1

As a kid there was something about Spider-Man that grabbed my imagination well beyond the other 'big three' super-heroes. Batman, well, he looked the coolest, was absolutely loaded and had lots of brilliant toys to play with. But let's face it - he was just an ordinary guy.

Superman was at the other end of the spectrum. Sure he could fly and lift jumbo jets, but you just couldn't relate to that level of power. What's more, he never once used his X-Ray vision to peek at ladies' undies. All totally incomprehensible to my juvenile mind.

But Spidey had the balance just right. Always ready with cheeky one-liners, enough cool powers to make you want to be him, yet still very much a mortal who was susceptible to pain and simple human error.

Funnily enough, it's for these very reasons that the web-slinger is arguably the superhero most suited to the video-game treatment. But strangely, Spidey's digital outings have been a bit of a mixed bag. The DS alone has seen the good (Spider-Man 3) the bad (Battle for New York) and the average (Friend or Foe) since this website came into being.

All of which brings us to Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, which absolutely nails what it should feel like to be Spider-Man and builds a solid 2D action-adventure experience around him. Developer Amaze Entertainment has clearly put a lot of thought into what makes Marvel's number one son so unique.

This starts with the way Spidey moves. This is no generic action character with a blue and red skin laid over him. This Spidey is a bespoke blur of speed and agility, capable of jumping twenty feet with the press of a button and seamlessly moving from web slinging to wall-walking without such annoyances as a power bar or a complicated control scheme.

Also designed with the character firmly in mind is the world you move about in. Cavernous rooms beg you to swing and soar to the top to see what's there, which may be a claustrophobic vent to crawl through or simply a surface to cling upside-down from. Again, all of these actions are fluid in motion and totally effortless to pull off.

Unfortunately, the sprawling levels can be a little too intricate and web-like for their own good at times, occasionally suffering for a lack of navigation-aiding landmarks. The map, too, is a little poor, vaguely showing you the room you're in but not indicating your position within it.

And navigation skills are a must in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, because you're constantly required to criss-cross the sprawling levels, picking up new abilities to help you reach previously inaccessible areas. Our previewer mentioned a similarity to Castlevania, and it's a well-founded comparison, but we must concede that the balance between exploration and the necessary evil of back-tracking hasn't been realised with quite as much assurance as in Konami's masterpiece.

Of course, the Spider-Man purists among you will balk at the mention of ability upgrades, but it's a minor concession to the medium and it shouldn't spoil your enjoyment too much. While we're on the subject, there's another game-friendly conceit here whereby a press of 'L' instantly decks Spidey out in his strength-enhancing black suit, with a slightly different roster of combat moves. In truth it wouldn't have affected the game too much if this feature had been omitted, but it's good fun all the same.

Speaking of combat, there's a heck of a lot of it, so it's fortunate that the same level of thought and consideration has been applied to it. Initially you'll have a limited move-set at your disposal and will only encounter a couple of low-level enemies at a time. Button mashing will see you through most of these early skirmishes, and doubts may start to arise.

But as you progress you'll find half a dozen or more assorted villains thrown at you simultaneously, all with unique attributes. As mentioned at the outset, Spidey is no Superman, so you won't last long in a straight scrap. After a few pummellings we started experimenting a little, webbing a hulking colossus before unleashing a flurry of punches at an imminent threat, then swinging into the sky to engage a winged beast while simultaneously avoiding a tossed grenade.

As with the general movement, combat is fluid and instinctive, and it positively encourages you to think and act like the wall-crawler himself. The dozens of unlockable additional moves on offer are again a necessary and welcome concession, as without such a gradual introduction you'd doubtless forget whole reams of attacking possibilities, which would be a great shame.

The main drawback to the combat has been mentioned already – there's an awful lot of it, and it doesn't help the backtracking issue when a room you've previously cleared of bad guys is completely repopulated when you return. We understand that the game would feel awfully empty without a constant enemy threat, but such levels of respawning do neither the combat nor the exploration any favours.

What remains is a splendidly realised story and some stellar presentation. The tale of a mysterious outbreak of symbiotes (like the slimy black creature that made our hero into an annoying emo brat in the last film) running amok is nothing particularly outstanding, but the brilliant artwork and top class voice acting really drive it onwards. It's a good incentive to persist with the game in the face of a few sharp difficulty spikes.

These tough spots, arising from some tricky enemy encounters, are also offset somewhat by a post-death mini-game that sees you pulling health orbs onto our fallen hero with the stylus. It's a nice idea, but in truth it breaks the flow of the game and becomes something of an annoyance well before the end.

But minor annoyances, although numerous enough to hold us back from unabashed praise, are all Spider-Man: Web of Shadows has to worry about. Fundamentally it is a slick, confident and expertly realised action-adventure title. It's also probably the best DS interpretation of the much loved Marvel character yet.

 
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 6 November 2008
From negotiating the labyrinthine levels to cracking heads, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows brilliantly captures the essence of Spidey
 
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