I had mixed expectations going into Spider-Man 2 for the DS. Spider-Man 2 has been heralded not only as a great movie but also the progenitor of the best movie-based videogames to come along in a long time (save for the PC version). Having seen the Xbox version all the way through, I can even go so far as to confirm the idea. However, I was also wary of this particular version, for a couple of reason. The first was that Vicarious Visions, the developer, has been behind almost nothing but licensed videogames since approximately the beginning of time. That is never a good sign. The second was that the DS launch in general wasn't very good in terms of games, and I didn't want to place all my hopes on something that might not turn out to be worth playing.
One thing is noticeable as soon as you boot the game up: it looks absolutely gorgeous, and this is good. Character models look better than they did in Spider-Man for the N64, animation is fluid and pleasing to the eye, and in general everything is exactly as it should be. The stills that tell the story between levels are a lot of fun to look at and highly detailed, and the one or two FMVs that are in the game are absolutely stunning: understand I've never seen an FMV on a handheld before, so maybe it's just me, but seeing Doc Ock tear apart the supports for his second nuclear reactor on that tiny screen was very impressive. If you ever wanted a game to show off the graphical capabilities of the DS it'd be this one.
The sound, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The music is bland, boring, and generic - after having finished the game only two hours ago, I can't recall a single tune from the entire thing. I know that Spider-Man isn't known for its music, but I would have liked something nicer. There are voice clips, and where they are they sound very nice, but on the whole they aren't very impressive either because they're subdued in terms of volume and generally very scarce. The sound effects are better than the music, but again they're a mixed bag: while the quality of each sound is good and it sounds like it should, there aren't very many of them, and you won't find yourself impressed by the number of different sounds that went into the game. On a whole the game isn't a bad aural experience, it's just under whelming.
The game is built around the assumption that you are already familiar with Spider-Man; in fact, I'd go so far as to say it assumes you've already seen the second movie. Almost none of the story is told, there is no character development, you don't find out that Doc Ock's tentacles are making him crazy until the last five seconds of the game, and if you haven't seen the movies or read the comics you will be left asking "Who in the world is Harry Osbourne?" Where the story is told it's either with a brilliant visual flair (FMV) or truncated to the point that the entire plot could be reduced to a blurb. Of course, you don't play a Spider-Man game for the plot. You play it to be the spider, and do all they can. Et cetera.
Like so many games I want to love but can't, Spider-Man 2 for the DS falls flat on its face in the one part of the game that is actually important. When it comes to being Spider-Man, the game performs well enough; I mean, I'm not going to say that you cannot swing across gaps with the greatest of ease, or stick to walls, or even use a slow-down-type Spider Sense to dodge blows more easily or add more heft to your punch. In terms of being Spider-Man, the game is fine. He can't do all that many different things in combat, and nothing he does is new or impressive, but it's Spider-Man. Not great, but worthy of an at least lukewarm reaction.
Where the game starts to fail is when you actually begin playing it. Let me sketch out the basic and recurring theme of nearly every single level for you: you go through an unmarked level with no map searching out a group of items that are scattered randomly and maddeningly, so sparsely that the only reliable way to find them is to get to one extreme side of a level and methodically work your way in the other direction, exploring every nook and cranny of these often insurmountably mundane mazes. Searching out the hostages, or the computers, or the convicts, or whatever they want to throw at you, is all an exercise in the same thing: find crap that, by all rights, you should not have to spend this much time finding (or have to try this hard to find). Most of the "main" levels are like that, you see, you wander around aimlessly until you find everything you need to find. It is enough to drive lesser men insane. There is no describing how much the simple addition of a map would have helped this game.
Of course, the fact that the game is monotonous cannot be ignored. Every single chief level comes down to the same terrible Easter egg hunt, with enemies thrown into the mix just for fun. I say "just for fun" because the enemies themselves, whether they just be obstacles or the actually objectives you are after, are all the same. See, there are three sets of enemies: escaped convicts, Mysterio's robots, and Doc Ock's robots. One the same note, there are three types of enemies: the sword/crowbar-swinging guys (Mysterio's robots and the convicts), the full-on shoulder rush guys (Doc Ock's robots and the convicts) and the flying robot guys (Ock and Mysterio's). They all serve the same purpose, and the three types are all defeated in the same way. Combat is monotonous, though the game isn't long enough to let it become boring.
Right, while I'm touching on that, I might as well address the combat system. I will say that you only actually need to use your Spider-Sense in combination with a standing punch, your uppercut, and your jumping punch to win any fight in the game. Despite all of his physical prowess, Spider-Man is completely unable to stop a burly convict who is charging like a bull unless he uses his webbing or another of his special moves, and that is just not right. Of course, this lack of sense and the monotony that permeates the fighting carries on to the boss battles, too: the boss fights all consist basically of the same thing, with three of them being exactly alike. You dodge the boss' movement attack, sometimes you dodge a projectile attack, and you hit them when it's safe until you're pulled into a miniature minigame where you tap the lower screen to destroy debris or clones or missiles that are being hurled at you. You do this over and over until the game is complete.
Initially I thought the game was satisfactorily difficult, until I realized that I only got this impression because I had almost none of the game's power-ups. See, in the game you can pick up a number of special moves, upgrades to your special meter, and additions to your health bar. I got one upgrade to my special meter, three special moves (out of something like ten and one of which I used), and no upgrades to my health. I guess the game is hard enough to be satisfying if you're like me and so intent on getting past those stupid hide-and-go-seek insanity fests that you'll skip past exploring any optional areas in favor of just getting to the end.
All things considered, the game isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great: it's merely a slightly above average game, and even that is only in comparison to other DS games. I'm not unhappy that I played it, but I can't help feeling disappointed in it: this was supposed to be the DS's killer-app, the one title that could singly justify the purchase of the entire system...and it wasn't.
Excellent graphics and impressive FMVs
Offers good replayability for collection aficionados
Uses the touch screen a lot
Gameplay is monotonous and frustratingly non-linear
Enemies and bosses play out almost exactly the same in every fight
None of the power-ups are necessary to beat the game
For some reason Spider-Man can't body slam some thug who thinks he's in the NFL
Adequate but ultimately disappointing. Combat depth is negligible, the levels drive me insane, the enemies are all copies of each other, and there is just no good reason for the level of monotony in this game. I almost artificially upped the difficulty, even though I didn't mean to, so I can't even say whether or not the game is hard enough (though, at ten hours when you include retries, it's adequately long). It's not the DS killer-app I wanted, and it's not up to par with the other versions of Spider-Man 2. It's recommended, but only if you're a bit of a Marvel fan. Otherwise...there are a lot of better side-scrollers out there.