Spider-Man: Battle for New York is a beat-'em-up where you control Spider-Man for roughly half of the game's approximately 20 levels and control his nemesis, the Green Goblin, for the other half. Generally speaking, you'll go through a level as the Goblin, which typically involves trashing some area of the city; then, for the next level, you'll go through the same area as Spidey and have to fix whatever calamities the green monster caused, rescuing any civilians in distress. Along the way, you'll also have to deliver beatdowns to the various gang members and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that get in your way, as well as a number of powerful villains taken from Marvel's The Ultimates universe. The actual nuts and bolts of gameplay are mostly typical for the brawler genre. But there's just enough variety here, combined with the slick 3D graphics and comic panel cutaways, to suggest that most Spidey fans will come away satisfied after having devoted an afternoon or evening to playing through the game.
A good portion of each level involves the usual beat-'em-up flavor. Spider-Man and Green Goblin can jump and climb over hazards, punch and kick the enemies they encounter, and use their powers to shoot webbing or fireballs at any enemies that are especially tough. Each character also has four different super attacks that can be unleashed to take out one or more enemies in a single blow. Boss fights that occur at the end of each level provide a change of pace from beating up weak enemies, particularly when Spidey and Goblin cross paths. Nevertheless, despite the fact that it's sweet to be able to control Spider-Man and Green Goblin, beating up on cookie-cutter enemies becomes boring pretty much within the first five minutes. They all have the same limited attack patterns, which means you'll resort to taking them out the same way every time.
Thankfully, most levels are designed so that you'll have to put the two characters' unique abilities to use doing something other than bashing armed thugs. As Spider-Man, you can webswing, scale buildings, and use your webbing to repair objects in the environment. Thus, you'll frequently find yourself swinging over hazards, lifting cars off of people, and carrying people to safety. As the Green Goblin, you have super strength, can conjure fireballs, and can also climb buildings. His levels typically involve smashing and setting fire to key areas in the environment, as well as climbing out of maximum-security prisons. Also, while you're going about your business as Spidey or Goblin, a brief minigame will occasionally appear on the touch screen. They're just simple tasks that require you to use the stylus or your finger to lift up cars, draw giant webs, or disarm certain enemies. The nice thing about these minigames is that they add more variety to the game without distracting you too much from the normal button-based controls.
It also helps that the presentation is slick and serves up numerous "whoa" moments. The levels are side-scrolling, but instead of being rendered as 2D sprites and backdrops, all of the characters and environments are rendered in 3D. Spider-Man, Goblin, and the other characters have a healthy repertoire of moves and are gracefully animated, and thanks to a modest implementation of cel-shading, they look like they were ripped right out of an Ultimates comic book. Meanwhile, the environments are full of depth and show that the DS can produce 3D graphics that aren't rough and jagged. Everything here is crisp and full of detail. The gameworld also absolutely jumps out of the screen, thanks to liberal use of rotation and scaling effects. Audio consists of the usual sort of mood music and superhero sound effects, but there's also a good smattering of voice comments and environmental atmosphere. The quality of these digitized samples is superb. For example, a fire sounds like a raging inferno coming out of the system's speakers. Comic fans are also likely to be impressed by the cutaways that appear between levels. These scenes are put together with hand-drawn comic book panels that feature nicely animated details and slick transitions between the two screens. These also include line after line of recorded dialogue that was read by people who were clearly making an effort to turn in believable, natural performances. It's as if the pages of an Ultimate Spider-Man comic book have come to life on the Nintendo DS.
The game's biggest shortcoming is that the end comes too soon. You'll probably need to make two or three attempts to complete some levels, but even with that extra effort taken into account, most people will finish the game in about four hours. There aren't any substantial bonuses to speak of in the game. There also isn't any sort of multiplayer or co-op mode, which is a shame when you consider that beat-'em-ups are much more fun to replay when a friend is able to join you.
Chances are that if you even remotely like the Spider-Man character, you'll find a great deal to smile about during the brief span that it takes to finish the game. While Spider-Man: Battle for New York for the Nintendo DS isn't particularly original or lengthy, it does deliver enough variety and panache to make the experience worthwhile.