January 28th, 2005, 20:51
Imagine if everyone totally ignored the full possibilities of a new technological innovation. Imagine if Henry Ford had decided that horses could pull the automobile to save on petrol. Imagine if John Logie Baird had decided that TV was fine without the moving pictures. And imagine if the best thing anyone could come up with for the DS's touchscreen was a menu.[br]Which brings us to Spider-Man 2. Activision and Vicarious Vision's DS version of last year's impressive film tie-in is web-shooting our way for the European launch of the handheld (March 11, if you've been scratching your arse for the last couple of days).[br][br]Spidey 2 on DS replaces the free-roaming 3D gameplay of the home console version for a side-scrolling 2D platformer with some nifty - if totally superficial - 3D background effects as you turn corners. The top screen displays the action while the bottom screen is completely swamped with a huge touchscreen menu that lets you select which of the eight special Spidey skills you can use in combat.[br][br]Let's just say it's not pushing the features of the DS to the maximum. You touch the screen to choose, say, a sliding tackle or a web blast, and then activate said power with a touch of the right shoulder button. You only start the game with three skills unlocked, with the others becoming available as you progress.[br][br]As you can see from our screens, it's a fairly wasteful use of the capabilities of the touchscreen. Not only does it spoil 50% of your potential playing area with a huge menu, from our hands-on playtest we also found it impractical. Taking your fingers off the attack buttons to choose another skill in the middle of a punch up is a totally unnatural way of playing a game, and more often than not results in you getting a beating.[br][br]There are some moments when the screen is used in a much more fun way: when you face off with certain boss characters the touchscreen becomes a first-person viewpoint, with you blocking and attacking your opponent with the stylus. This kind of touchscreen action is fun. Choosing things off a menu is not.[br][br]Not that DS games need to use the touchscreen in new and innovative ways to succeed. Look at Mr Driller: Drill Spirits, which is far better played with the D-Pad and buttons. [br][br]Similarly, as a pure platform game played with D-pad and buttons Spider-Man 2 is unambitious but well put together. The controls are tight, the web-slinging mechanic feels ace, and the button-bashing combat is satisfyingly simple. If the gameplay can manage to stay fresh and exciting as the levels progress then it won't matter a jot what the touchscreen's doing.[br][br]It's just disappointing that Spider-Man 2 seems to use the touchscreen just because it's there. If Vicarious Visions had just dropped the touch controls and used the display space to concentrate on the platforming action the effect could be been far more beneficial.[br][br]Of course, we'll have to wait for the final UK release of the game to pass definitive verdict on whether Spider-Man 2's use of the DS's features cut the mustard. It'll scuttle out from under the floorboards on March 11.