Spider-Man has a history on the Nintendo DS handheld going back as far to the systems launch in 2004 with Spider-Man 2. Since the inception of the machine, hardly a year has gone by where the web-slinging wonder hasn’t made an appearance and a lot of the titles featuring the character are great games, including the beautiful Ultimate Spider-Man and the 2.5-D open-world side-scroller, Spider-Man 3. In 2008 the franchise was taken over by developer Griptonite Games who developed the tie-in game to that year’s Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Bucking the trend of other games on the device, the company sought to mimic the experience after popular exploration games like Metroid and the more recent Castlevania handheld entries but didn’t quite match their level of quality. Griptonite was given a second chance at the license with the release of 2010’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, and I’ll go on record as stating it’s one of the more underrated and overlooked games on the system.
Shattered Dimensions is a completely different experience from what you’ll find elsewhere, however it does share the same story set-up as on consoles. Mysterio has stolen an ancient relic known as the tablet of order and chaos that has shattered the very fabric of reality. Madame Web calls upon Spider-Men from across the time and space to recover the tablet and stop Mysterio before he destroys all of reality.
On the home consoles, Dimensions featured four playable Spider-Men for the price of one, but on the DS it’s reduced to three: The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir. There’s also a shuffling of the voice cast; Gone is Neil Patrick Harris as The Amazing Spider-Man and replacing him is Josh Keaton, who voiced the Ultimate universe Spider-Man elsewhere. While it’s a tad disappointing that those who play on the DS are missing a Spider-Man, some comfort can be taken in knowing that the story here is unique to the DS. This works out even better if you were a fan of Shattered Dimensions on a console and are playing this game as a companion piece. If you’re also like me, you’ll like the fact as well that Josh Keaton, who voiced the character in the fantastic Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, takes center stage.
The Beenox developed game on the PS3/Xbox 360 and Wii was a level-by-level affair with the player jumping between the roles of the various Spider-Men, but the DS is structured as an exploration game that borrows heavily, but successfully, from Nintendo’s Metroid, down to the easy to follow map on the bottom screen and obligatory timed escape sequence in the conclusion. You start out as The Amazing Spider-Man and can do everything a spider can: run, jump, wall crawl and swing on webs. Very quickly you’ll discover that even with all these abilities, you’re still cut off from pathways and secrets until you’ve gained the correct power-up from throughout the three universes.
A minor complaint against the game is that in order to accomplish the games structure, some of the characters are inexplicably robbed of their powers with no explanation whatsoever. Spider-Man 2099 for example, cannot web-sling until you access a special room in his dimension that allows him to access the powers of The Amazing Spider-Man. The developer could have thrown in an explanation that maybe the anomaly caused their powers to fluctuate, but given the type of game Griptonite was making, it’s not something you’ll dwell on, as even in Metroid the reasons why Samus always lost her weapons started to become a bit contrived.
Some of the extra powers you’ll gain throughout the adventure are enhanced webbing to yank enforced walls, an enhanced Spider-Sense to locate hidden switches and secrets, as well as a super run ability that is not unlike the ability you got in Super Metroid. The additions you gain to your move set are not limited to getting around though. Scattered around every dimension are icons to increase your health, damage output, and new combat moves to expand your arsenal beyond basic punches. By the end you’ll be able to knock a foe in the air, unleash a flurry of punches, or yank their weapon from them to throw back at them. The secrets are easy to come by and show up on the map, but should you wish to challenge yourself, you can turn off items showing up on the map to increase the difficulty, as well as increase or decrease enemies attacking power. Finishing the game with higher settings unlocks extra challenge rooms and adds some replay to the game. Should you wish, you can also complete additional tasks in-game like defeating or disarming a certain number of enemies.
The game takes place across three dimensions: the present day New York Streets of the Amazing Universe, the future sky scrapers of 2099 and the black and white past world of Spider-Man Noir. Although the Spider-Man exist across their own unique times, the three worlds are connected on one map located on the bottom screen that is incredibly easy to follow, making sure you’ll never get lost. To swap between a hero, it’s a simple matter of getting to a portal room and playing a short mini-game where you have to spin a tablet on the touch screen and keep it safe from enemies that you have to tap on to kill. It’s not that hard to do, but it is annoying to have to keep doing this every time you switch a dimension, and it feels like it was thrown in for the sake of having use of the touch screen in a time in the systems like cycle when such a thing wasn’t expected anymore.
The voice talent in Shattered Dimensions played musical chairs from the console game, as too does the roster of villains. Certain bad guys, like Electro, show up in their Amazing incarnation where he showed up in the Ultimate version before, while the Vulture appears in the 2099 universe as opposed to Noir. Unique to this game are Boomerang and Calypso Noir, and Silermane 2099, who’s actually the same character survived from the present day Amazing universe. Some of the bosses have a tactic you have to exploit, like catching Boomerang’s…uumm,…boomerang and throwing it back at him, but most you just beat on until their life is depleted to zero. Mysterio, perhaps the only carry over boss who book ends the game, is the stand out fight, throwing fireballs and teleporting around the screen like Dracula in Castlevania.
Those who lament the lack of a 2-D Metroid game on the DS and mastered the entries in the similarly themed Castlevania games on the system would be doing themselves a favor by picking up a copy of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It hits all the right marks for a game of this type: the hidden secrets, the upgrades that allow you to get around easier and the grid based map layout. Fans of the game on consoles who also own a DS have a great companion game in this title, and DS exclusive fans have a version that they can be proud of. Spider-Man fans and non-Spider-Man fans alike should give check out this game for some great Metroid-Vania action.