As a superhero imbued with arachnidlike powers, Spider-Man has seen his share of ups and downs, and the same can be said of his video games. His last few outings on the DS have all toyed with the 3D side-scroller formula, to moderate success. Web of Shadows returns to this formula but adds a few twists that take Spidey in a fun, albeit short, direction.
Symbiotes have taken over New York, and Spider-Man, along with a couple of his allies and enemies, is out to find the one responsible. The story of Web of Shadows plays out like a sampler of its bigger console counterpart. Instead of following a long and epic struggle for the city, the DS version focuses on one night. There's not a lot of context or setup--you're never told why Spider-Man is back in the black suit--but the presentation of what little narrative there is is great.
Web of Shadows plays like a brawler crossed with an action adventure game like Castlevania or Metroid. The gameworld includes four sections, most of which are accessible from the beginning. As you progress, you'll unlock more abilities that will gain you access to previously inaccessible areas. The level design compliments Spider-Man’s powers with plenty of crawl spaces and a good sense of verticality. The four sections that make up the tiny piece of New York you get to explore offer a nice variety, there’s just not enough of it. You’ll see every section multiple times within the four hours it takes to finish the game.
The constantly respawning enemies in Web of Shadows aren't exactly tough, but they do tend to swarm. Most areas give you plenty of room to zip around and pick off enemies, but some locales are a real pain to fight in. Expect to die a few unfair deaths at the hands of a symbiote swarm in a claustrophobic corridor or crawl space. With the tap of a button, you can switch between the red and black suits, which are each equipped with their own combos and abilities. Defeating enemies earns you experience orbs that you can use to purchase new moves at the numerous save points. Because there’s a never-ending supply of enemies, leveling up is extremely easy. Initially, the combat is a little boring as you pound on one button over and over, but it picks up as some of the more acrobatic moves are unlocked. By the end of the game you’ll be dodging, webbing, and kicking like only Spider-Man can.
The controls in Web of Shadows are tight and responsive. You'll use the face buttons to execute attacks and special moves, while the touch screen is used to bring in supporting characters during boss fights, and to play the death minigame. When you die, instead of booting you back to the last save point, you'll get a chance to revive Spider-Man by dragging red orbs to him while avoiding poisonous black orbs. If you work fast enough, you can return to the fight with a full life bar. It's a fun mechanic that gets you back into the action quickly and makes death less penalizing.
Spider-Man has never looked better on the DS. His exaggerated, almost gangly features are recreated with surprising detail. Spidey's animation is fantastic, fluidly capturing his over-the-top acrobatic moves. The red and black suits feature their own unique animations as well, making them more than just a color swap. Since the game takes place in one night, most of the environments have a dark and dreary look to them. Each background is full of neat details, though, like broken office furniture and dripping black goo.
The music is your typical dramatically paced superhero fanfare. Though it's not particularly memorable, it kicks in during tough boss battles and lends an air of urgency to the proceedings. The story is conveyed through a good amount of spoken dialogue from Spider-Man and his friends. The actor playing Spider-Man appears to be tapping a bit of Michelangelo of Ninja Turtles fame, and his delivery of Spidey's numerous quips is excellent.
Spider-Man Web of Shadows is a slickly produced game that's a lot of fun while it lasts. The mix of beat-'em-up action and Metroidlike exploration works well with the source material. The length of the game is so short that it feels like reading a comic that's a part of a larger story, making this a good companion to the console game but a tough sell on its own.