The gaming community has been blessed for the last few years with decent Marvel game titles like the Spider-Man and X-Men Legends series. While the Spider-Man series has largely been based on the movies, Ultimate Spider-Man breaks away from the movie franchise and focuses on the new line of comics. The end result amounts to an immersive experience that makes you feel as if you're actually in a comic book. While some may knock it for overly 'cartoony' graphics, Ultimate Spider-Man is definitely an enjoyable ride and is suitable for kids and grown-ups alike.
The plot in Ultimate Spider-Man is a complete departure from the movie. For instance, Peter Parker is a spry 15-years-old and Mary Jane already knows he's Spider-Man. As a matter of fact, she even mends his costume from time to time. Another twist in Ultimate Spider-Man is Venom's origin. In the game, the Venom suit is the culmination of research by Peter and Brock's parents to cure cancer. Peter and Brock are good friends in the beginning, but gradually grow apart as Peter realizes the evil potential of the suit. Needless to say, the story that ensues is very satisfying and one of the better parts of the game.
Ultimate Spider-Man actually offers two paths for you to follow in the single player mode. While most games give you a choice between a good or evil character, the two sides are fused in this title as you control Spider-Man in some stages and Venom in others. Thankfully, gamers get to play as Spider-Man most of the time since he's the more fun of the two characters. The tactics and mobility of the two characters differ somewhat as well. While Spidey relies on his web to get through the city and fight bad guys, Venom prefers giant leaps and brute strength for fighting and movement. As well, Spider-Man has access to the entire city from the get-go; Venom, on the other hand, follows story-driven missions with specific goals.
The graphics in Ultimate Spider-Man are likely the one factor that will decide whether you love or hate the title. The game is all cell-shaded and the developers have done an excellent job of bringing the fun and colorful world of comics to life. Even the cut-scenes are masterfully presented in a comic book fashion that, having read at least one Ultimate Spider-Man installment, remain true to the spirit of the comic. However, the faithfulness to the comic genre is really a two sided coin and could potentially be a turn-off for some gamers.
In the sound department, Ultimate Spider-Man delivers top-notch voice talent for most characters. As for the soundtrack, the background music consists of a single tune when you're swinging around and looking for missions, but will change to upbeat music when you encounter a boss or get a new assignment. Sound effects like web throws and web swinging sound pretty much like you expect them to. Still, the focus is definitely on the voice acting and that part of the game doesn't fail to impress.
Activities available to the player range from saving suicidal people on rooftops, stopping robbers, and winning races. While these may seem frivolous at first, helping people will unlock a few extras from the game. Spidey starts out with a few basic combos and acquires more as the game progresses. These come in real handy when fighting bad guys on the street and saving people. A handful of combos are just plain fun to perform, like suspending your enemy from a light pole with a wad of web. Some of them, though, are more challenging and will require a fair bit of practice to master.
A real highlight of the game is the story missions, with boss battles being an especially satisfying experience. Instead of just pitting you against a boss in a death-match, Ultimate Spider-Man goes the extra mile by giving you extra challenges before a battle. For example, you will first need to rescue numerous people from the carnage of the boss's rampage around the city before you are allowed to face him. It's this extra layer of complexity that makes Ultimate Spider-Man's boss battles both enjoyable and challenging at the same time. The controls at the core of all this action are intuitive and easy to pick up as well.
If there's one gripe that I have with this game, it's that Venom doesn't have free roam of the city in extra missions. The game advertisements make it seem as if both characters have full functionality, when in reality players are restricted to playing as Venom only in certain missions. As such, Ultimate Spider-Man is really a Spider-Man game with some Venom missions thrown in to mix it up. In spite of this, the Venom missions are still enjoyable and you do get to see a fair amount of him throughout the story.
On the whole, Ultimate Spider-Man remains one of the best superhero games out there, joining the likes of The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and X-Men Legends. The interesting plot and addictive gameplay will keep you coming back for more even after you play through the entire story mode. And extras such as new artwork and costumes definitely add some spice to this well-rounded title. Although Ultimate Spider-Man is a fun title that will likely be dismissed by many because of its cell shaded graphics, I personally recommend picking this one up if you're a fan of Spider-Man and are open to a storyline with plenty of twists and turns.