Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions (DS) review
Spiderman has had more luck in the video game market than many other superhero. Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions is his latest title, and the Nintendo DS version is a fantastic take on side-scrolling “Metroid-vania” gameplay. Although the handheld version loses one special version of Spiderman (there are only three in this game), these is a fine balance of combat and exploration that I have not seen since last summer’s hit XBLA game, Shadow Complex.
The storytelling in Shattered Dimensions is by far its weakest point, nonetheless it fits right at home with Stan Lee's work. Mysterio has stolen a magical slab called the Tablet of Order and Chaos, broken it into pieces, and scattered it across several different Spiderman universes. Spiderman must utilize the unique powers of his “Amazing”, “Noir”, and “2099” forms, travel through portals that connect the various dimensions, and collect the pieces of the slab to save the day. There are plenty of iconic boss characters standing in his way, including Electro, Calypso, and Vulture, but they are fewer in number than on the console versions..
It is a lot of fun to move through each of the three dimensions. The gameplay is balanced perfectly between moments of exploring, platforming, and solving simple puzzles, with frequent bouts of combat in between. Although some of the gameplay elements from the console versions are missing (Noir Spiderman's stealth missions, for example), each different version of Spiderman feels somewhat unique. The simple punch/kick fighting system is not robust by any means, but you absolutely feel like you are capable of kicking ass at all times. Spiderman’s numerous abilities in this game are so simple and intuitive to use that it’s easy to obliterate just about everything in your way, flowing from combo to combo very fluidly. Spiderman can use his handy webbing to maneuver quickly throughout the environment, to trap his enemies in place, or to quickly pick up objects to heave at his foes. He gains more actions as you collect the tablet and defeat the boss characters, just like any good Metroid-vania game, and cannot access certain areas until specific powers are acquired. For example, Noir Spiderman cannot climb up walls until he finds a tablet offering the ability.
Shattered Dimensions shows more promise in its presentation. The music and sound effects are pretty standard, but the voice acting and visuals are above par in many ways. The different art styles in the various Spiderman comics are recreated fairly well with the panel-style cut-scenes and the "2.5D" visuals. Combat animations are actually pretty great, and the pace of the action is rarely held back by frame rate issues. The only flaws are the occasionally drab environments and heavily repeated enemy designs.
Playing on a harder difficulty setting is highly encouraged for experienced gamers; it is pretty easy to beat this game in a sitting or two if you are used to playing Metroid or Castlevania games. The exploration factor is open for those who like to hunt down power-ups, but Shattered Dimensions makes the task too easy by highlighting all of the item locations on the map screen. Experienced “Metroid-vania” players will casually coast to 100 percent, but it is nonetheless entertaining to mindlessly collect everything, extending the length of the game in the process. In this case, backtracking to use new abilities in previous areas is strangely worthwhile rather than being a chore. This game is much harder to put down than you would think, and completing it all is actually a shame because it means there is nothing more to see.
Other than the length, my biggest complaint was the act of traveling from dimension to dimension. It involves a touch-screen mini-game that was absolutely dreadful. To move to a new area, you spin one of the magic slab fragments in circles as it flies through a warp zone. Meanwhile, with the stylus, you tap crazy hand monsters and jellyfish-like creatures to kill them off before they reach the slab. Disregarding how hallucinogen-influenced that appears in writing, the portal sequences were terrible. They broke up the pace of the game and felt like a punishment for reaching the end of an area.
Shattered Dimensions is not the greatest Spiderman game of all time, but it absolutely ranks among the best on a handheld unit. The “Metroid-vania” gameplay is such a perfect fit for Spiderman that I hope to see more of it in future titles, handheld or console. You may find more content and bigger thrills in some of the DS’s actual Castlevania titles, but you really can’t go wrong with this one if you're a "Web-head" on-the-go.