IGN Review of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows marks the sixth game featuring the wallcrawler on the dual-screen Nintendo handheld, but after last year's atrocious Spider-Man: Friend or Foe it's going to take something pretty darn impressive to bring us back into the Spidey camp. Thankfully, Activision delivers on this one, and once again DS owners get a great and satisfying handheld experience while console owners get the short end of the web.
After A2M botched the last Spider-Man game on the Nintendo DS, Activision handed the duties for the next title to Amaze Entertainment, or rather the return of Griptonite Games. The studio brings the Marvel superhero back to the two-dimensional design where he seems most comfortable, and while three other Spider-Man games were 2D affairs this one feels entirely unique, borrowing nothing from Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Ultimate Spider-Man, or Battle for New York.
True, the game still features a whole lot of wall-crawling and web-swinging, but it's the adventure's structure where we traverse new territory. It's obvious that the designers looked at the Castlevania and Metroid style and put it to use in Spider-Man: a large expansive environment that only gets bigger with every special ability you unlock. If there's an unclimbable goo-covered surface or red wall preventing your progress, you can rest assured that you'll eventually earn a move that will get you past those blockades.
Ultimately, this design direction was a great decision since it gives Web of Shadows a unique take on a familiar franchise. There are some downsides to Griptonite's own take, mostly in the way you're required to constantly backtrack through already explored areas -- it's a cheap way to extend the time it takes to finish the game. Heck, even Castlevania doesn't make players do the tedious tromp back and forth; that's what those teleporter spots are for. And with Nightcrawler as a hidden character (not a spoiler -- he's mentioned on the box, smart guys), the developers could have snuck in the ability to instantaneously leap around at key spots while keeping the continuity flowing.
Still, even with the slight repetitiveness, the rest of the game is really fun. It's a well-developed action experience with tight, energetic combat and a cool focus on a combo system that encourages mixing up the moves. At the start Spider-Man doesn't really have much to do so players will end up button-mashing, but as the adventure continues the orbs you collect out of fallen foes can be turned into moves for either the red or black suit. Some are moves that cover both of the styles. And as you open up the Spider-Man flair there are more opportunities for spectacular attack combinations which come into play as you get to the harder, deeper areas of the city.
The game also has a surprising amount of polish. Since the DS game is a unique SKU that's not based on the console designs, it has its own storyline and voice acting specific to the handheld experience. The designers tell a pretty good story, using some impressive scripted events triggered when Spider-Man enters specific areas. There are a couple of awkward points as you get further into the game, almost as if a chunk of the story or dialogue was pulled out at the last minute. The visuals are really tight with great 3D characters and environments that move at a smooth clip. But it has to be said: due to the dark areas of the game and the deep blue colors of most of the enemies, the game is incredibly difficult to play on the old-school Nintendo DS. Make sure you experience this on a DS Lite or the upcoming DSi and you'll do your eyes a huge favor.
Web of Shadows is decent length for an action game, fitting in around the same time it takes to complete the games it pulls inspiration from: if it takes you five to seven in-game hours to plow through a Castlevania or Metroid game, expect the same out of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows on the DS.
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