-Peter Parker (Earth 1610)
“The following is a contributor post by the Z Note Mage.”
Before we can start reviewing this underrated Spider-Man title, let me give you all a little insight into the word “Ultimate” and how important it is when we associate it with our favorite Marvel superheroes, Spider-Man being one of them. So sit straight, get out your Marvel history books, and let’s turn back the dial to the good ol’ 2000s, to the beginning of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe!
The Ultimate Universe was a modern, re-imagined take on the Marvel heroes we’ve come to know throughout the years. Starting publication in the 2000s, it was the possible saving grace for Marvel in gaining new readers and creating a storyline that anyone would be able to pick up and follow easily. This led to the creation of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” the first Marvel comic that would follow the adventures of Spider-Man/Peter Parker in his teenage years. The comic was a success; spawning other comics that retold the stories of other Marvel characters such as: “Ultimate X-Men”, “Ultimate Vision”, “Ultimate Fantastic Four”, and “The Ultimates” (a modern retelling of “The Avengers”). “Ultimate Spider-Man” was probably the biggest hit to come out of the Ultimate Marvel Universe (otherwise as known as “Earth 1610”), and inspired many of the characters we see today.
But before I start getting carried away and turn this into an actual Marvel history class, back to Ultimate Spider-Man the video game! This game definitely screams “COMIC BOOK” once you start playing it. With a storyline that connects to the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comics but which can still be experienced without having read the previous issues, the game boasts an open-world environment that lets you control both Spider-Man and Venom. I for one had never read the comics and could understand the game just fine. It’s the same characters, just with a fresh retelling. Now, don’t click that back button and drown yourself in nostalgia, but unfortunately, I never got to experience the critically acclaimed Spider-Man 2 video game when I was younger, but was instead exposed to this. If I had to do it again, though, I’d still choose Ultimate Spider-Man. After watching through some footage of the game, I can say that Ultimate Spider-Man is definitely an upgrade to its Spider-Man 2 predecessor, while still dialed down in some areas we’ll get into.
Also, is it just me, or does Tobey Maguire sound pretty drowsy in his games?
Anyway, this isn’t a comparison between the two. Ultimate Spider-Man has many alluring factors to it, but I believe we can all agree there was one defining reason all of us wanted this game:
What I really loved about this game as a kid was that it was just like a comic. The whole game’s design and art were aimed at bringing a comic book to life, something you don’t really see every day. To this day it still holds up in my opinion, and I’m not just talking about graphics.
Ultimate Spider-Man plays out like a comic book. The cutscenes have comic book panels very creatively put in, and each segment of the game feels like you’re flipping onward to the next page of a comic issue you’re reading under your covers. The use of cel-shading in the game really brings out its art style even more, making it stand out from its predecessors. Spider-Man’s costume looks like it’s ripped out of a comic book page entirely, while Venom looks like something out of a horror movie. Every character in this game has a very distinct art style to them, especially since the roster of villains in the Ultimate Universe are different from their original designs.
While the characters, art style and design of this game are great, the city sort of looks bleak. I can’t nitpick too much since this game was released back in 2005, and having huge crowds of people in NY is too much to ask, but it’s something that could have really been the cherry in this game to give it that extra “oomph.” Some of the NPCs tend to make the strangest of expressions as well, whenever Spider-Man interacts with them during cutscenes. The design of the scene overall overshadows that, but sometimes it just gets plain creepy. There’s no use comparing this game to other titles, or even its predecessors, because it’s simply a game with a different visual form. It strives to play like a comic book and succeeds with the technology it had at the time. Character interactions and visuals don’t get repetitive and boring because of the style, as well as the variation of comic book panels cleverly used in the game.
Ultimate Spider-Man‘s visuals are definitely one of the key aspects in the game that give you something to remember it by. They’re eye-catching and fun, and help you get immersed in its world and the story it’s telling.
Like it says on the cover and on every advertisement of this game, you get to play as both Spider-Man and Venom throughout the story mode. It’s another one of the aspects of this title that make it really unique, allowing the game to not become that repetitive in terms of gameplay and exploring a character we’re being allowed to control for the first time in any Spider-Man title. It’s definitely a huge selling point, and the game does it pretty well. Let it be known that you can’t switch between Venom and Spider-Man willingly. The game does this for you as you progress through its story. You control Spider-Man when he’s saving civilians and battling villains like Rhino and Shocker, and Venom when he’s eating up civilians, wreaking havoc in NY, and battling against foes that come between him and his meal: Spider-Man. Let’s get into Spider-Man’s gameplay first.
Packing the traditional “triangle to kick” and “square to punch”, playing the game now feels like somewhat a refresher to all the games we have right now that have a similar combat style, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited. It can, however, get somewhat repetitive. While there are a variety of flashy moves you can perform, and web-attacks, there’s no opportunity in the game to take it further beyond that. That doesn’t mean the combat isn’t fun, it’s just that it could have been more. The game does provide you with small upgrades to your moveset as you progress through the story, but nothing too major. Although, hanging a thug over a street lamp never gets old.
The usual thugs in the game aren’t really that hard to beat, but some can be pretty difficult if you don’t stay on your toes. What sometimes can be pretty frustrating though is the fact that you don’t have any health consumables that you can use during a fight. The only time you do get one is after a fight, which sort of feels pointless sometimes. But then again, it does give you a reason to be as nimble as an arachnid!
Okay, I’ll stop it with the Parker puns.
But now to address the elephant in the room: the WEB-SWINGING!
The webs actually attach to buildings, yes! Taking notes from Spider-Man 2, the webs actually do attach to buildings and you can feel that as you swing from one building to the next. There’s a certain momentum to it and you can increase your speed by holding down a button, but that’s where my issue starts to arise. The swinging still feels slow, even when you jump down from the tallest building in the game. There’s just something that feels odd about it. To settle my doubts, I looked up footage from Spider-Man 2 (since it’s one of the most critically acclaimed Spider-Man games that came around the same time as this one) and did some homework on the web-swinging mechanics. I don’t want to compare this game to Marvel’s Spider-Man (the 2018 PS4 game), since that would just be unfair. However, in both games, the web-swinging has a certain level of speed to it that increases over time depending on how you swing. That’s what was missing in this game. It had the mechanics down, and even gave you the choice to climb up your web and increase your height as you swing. However, the speed was just something that was missing in this. You can go fast, but not fast enough. Web-Zipping is probably your safest bet if you want to get the fastest time in a race; this brings me to the side content in this game.
To progress through the story, you have to complete City Goals (otherwise known as side missions) which can range from beating up multiple thugs throughout NY, or doing a time race. These are fun, at first, but then feel like a chore. But you go through them anyway because it’s just fun being Spider-Man and webbing guys to street lamps. But in all seriousness, a little more variety in side missions would have been nice, especially since you have to do some of them in order to advance through the story. Venom doesn’t have City Goals, since you can only control him at specific points in the story.
As you traverse through the concrete jungle, you’ll find hidden tokens. Some may give you extra content and comic book covers, while others give you a wardrobe change. But be warned, you’ll need 100 of those if you’re looking to use the black suit (note: all costumes have no effect on gameplay, but it’s better spandex).
When Venom finally gets a turn on the PlayStation 2 though, that’s when you realize again that you’re in the Ultimate Universe. A little Marvel History note once again, reader: this universe is known for its dark and broody characters (Hulk is a cannibal!). While still being a teen game, you still have to think twice that you’re playing a Spider-Man game. Not that I’m complaining; 8-year-old me loved snapping people’s backs!
Venom’s combat is brutal and very fun. The game makes use of the mechanics it’s given itself but, again, an upgrade system would’ve allowed more room for improvement. Venom can claw at his enemies that try to get too close to him and send them flying; for enemies that appear too far away, tentacles are your go-to. Instead of webbing up enemies, though, you can grab them and end them as you see fit: either by snapping their back like a twig or launching them in the air like a ragdoll. You feel powerful and like a monster but, like every power that comes out of a chemical facility, there’re drawbacks. In Venom’s case, it’s the constantly depleting life force that requires you to “FEED” in order to survive. In short, you suck in people and spit out their corpse.
Pretty cool, right?
What’s more, is that during Venom’s tutorial, the game TELLS YOU to FEED ON A KID WITH A SPIDER-MAN BALLOON! Talk about symbolic.
This is one mechanic with which I have a sort of love-hate relationship. While the feeding aspect is great and adds to the gruesome side of the game, the constant health depletion does get a tad annoying, especially during boss battles. It definitely enhances the challenge part of it, but there are times where you might die of depletion just because you can’t find the closest human to devour and feast on their insides, AND AFTERWARDS SPITTING THEM OUT LIKE A TOOTHPICK AND STILL WANTING MORE ORGANS TO CONSUME BECAUSE YOU CAN’T CONTAIN YOUR EVERLASTING HUNGER THAT MOANS FOR A 24/7 PARKER BUFFET!..
Got carried away there.
Feeding on bosses might seem like the cool thing to do, but don’t. You’ll end up spitting them back out because they’re just too powerful for your purple body to handle. Traversal with Venom is a treat, and I have to say, slightly more enjoyable than the web-swinging in this game. You press down a button to leap into the air and travel huge distances. The longer you hold down the button, the farther you go. You’re kind of like the Hulk, but blend easier into the night.
Boss battles in this game are fun with both Spider-Man and Venom, and each of them have a stage unique to their own character. I remember them being a lot more frustrating when I was a kid, but having recently played through the game again, it’s doable. The problem here, though, is the approach. Most of these boss battles begin with chasing them down. I do love a good chase, but to see the same format used again and again gets a little bit old and repetitive. Fighting against bosses like Electro and Venom at some points is fun though, but there could’ve been a lot more explored with the constant “chasing the villain before fighting them” format.
“I thought this was a chase, not a freaking walk in the park.” (A sentence that would drive 8-year-old me to the point of insanity)
The gameplay in this game is fun and does have its high points, but leaves a lot of room for untapped potential that could’ve been explored to make this the perfect comic book game. Still: webbing guys to street lamps and feeding on humans makes a good rebuttal against this.
The soundtracks in this game are so damn memorable. To this day, I still have the menu theme of the game running through my head whenever I think about picking up an “Ultimate Spider-Man” issue to read. Kevin Manthei manages to capture what kind of music would fit in the story of Ultimate Spider-Man as well as for each character in the game. As you’re swinging through the streets of NY and being heroic, you’ll have a music track that plays in the background that really encaptures the mood and vibe of what the life of a teenage Spider-Man is like. It’s strange when I describe it, but it really fits. Plus it has that mid 2000s feel to it that just fits the setting perfectly. There’s a lot of variation in the open world soundtracks, but this one has to be my favorite out of the bunch and really puts me in the mood of being your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Each music track is well done and really reminds me how music is so important to a video game. It’s part of its identity and makes the game stand out. And if the content is great, then hey, you’ve got yourself an Ultimate Spider-Man. Here are a couple of my favorite tracks:
Apart from the well-done music tracks, let’s get into the voice acting of the characters. While some may find the voice of Peter Parker in this game annoying, I think Sean Marquette perfectly voices what a teenage Spider-Man would sound like and react to the bizarre situations happening around him. In fact, whenever I read an issue of “USM”, I read Peter Parker’s lines with his voice! (I’m not the only one, right?) The writing is well done and makes sure to separate the Peter Parker in this universe to the original one. Parker’s lines are full of quips that are cheesy and full of… well, moxie? It fits the character and Marquette’s voice manages to enhance that without making it seem forced. This Spider-Man is more aggressive with his lines and may seem like a whiner at times, but the voice acting is top-notch. Especially during scenes like this:
“I am so scared I can’t even finish my lame joke.” – Spider-Man, 2005
Frankly, the rest of the voice cast doesn’t really stand out to me that much. Venom’s roars and shrieks do still make my hairs stand, but other than that, everyone else is pretty much just there. The punches and kicks are pretty generic and fit the tone, but my main problem lies with the sound of the webs. Not so much while swinging around, but when webbing up enemies. It sort of sounds like a stream of water: pretty odd.
The music really makes you “FEEL” like Spider-Man and Venom.
There, do I sound like a reviewer now?
The story of Ultimate Spider-Man is interesting. Derived from the “USM” comics, it expands on the Venom Saga and picks up immediately as Spidey and Venom are confronting each other. The game doesn’t waste time getting you up to speed with what’s happened before, and does it really well through a good sequences of comic book panels and Peter narrating about all the nonsense he’s gotten into after being bitten by the spider. Since this story isn’t canon to the main storyline in the “USM” comics, I won’t talk about the inconsistencies the story has. It’s compelling and will have you drifting from story mission to story mission to find out more about the relationship between Peter and Eddie Brock.
As addressed before, you shift from Spider-Man to controlling Venom and discover how both their stories overlap. It’s one of the main things that keep you going and keep the game from getting repetitive all the time.
There are some parts of the story where Venom and Spider-Man eventually do cross paths, such as when you’re chasing Electro as Venom to Times Square. Spider-Man is close by and notices the fight, but gets knocked out by Electro and falls to the ground, unconscious. It’s up to you as Venom to defend your meal from Electro, while at the same time keeping yourself fed as you take down the knockoff Silver Surfer.
Interactions like this keep the story interesting and leaves you wanting more. That’s where some of the problem lies in the narrative: it’s pretty short. If you play this game nonstop it’ll take you only around three hours to beat the main story, which is the only main highlight of this game. City Goals and Combat Tours don’t add much to replayability, but we’ll get into that later. My point is, the story is good, but there’s a lot left that can still be explored since this game isn’t canon to the comics and can follow its own path.
Another problem I have with this game is that it shows too little of its great character roster. The Ultimate Spider-Man Universe has so many great characters to choose from, and the characters that should be in this game are pretty much absent. Peter even visits the Bugle but we don’t get a glimpse of J. Jonah Jameson or any other adult except the ones who wear nice suits, have an eye-patch, or are contract killers. There’s potential, but it isn’t tapped. Since this game is a living, breathing comic book come to life, I would’ve liked to see Peter’s classmates as well; they’re well developed in the comics and should appear in this story. Unfortunately, with the lack of characters, it’s like Peter and Mary Jane are the only two in Queens who go to Midtown High.
However, this game does boast some pretty surprising character appearances. Characters like Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four and Wolverine don’t play a heavy role in the story, but it’s nice to see a Spider-Man game in 2005 acknowledge the other heroes in their universe for once. The small interaction Peter has with Johnny is pretty fun and organic. It leaves you wanting more, which the game constantly does but sadly never manages to fulfill. Which is fine, since the comics do flesh that out entirely, but it would’ve been interesting to see that in a video game since the experience would’ve been something different and unique. Unless, well, there’s a super secret Ultimate Spider-Man 2 that’s been in development for next-gen consoles for the past 14 YEARS!
Wishful thinking, guys. Wishful thinking.
Other than that, the game manages to tell an interesting story that’ll entertain you. One thing I highly praise the developers of this game though is actually getting Brian Michael Bendis to write the story and Mark Bagley for the art. Since they’re both the original creators of the “USM” comics, you can tell this is their work: it feels just like a comic book, and it’s good. The game does a good job with telling its story, and its use of comic book techniques and direction are one of the main highlights of the story that keep you hooked and waiting for more.
C’mon. You were expecting this, right?
Ultimate Spider-Man is so unique because of its approach, its look and how it tells its story. This is probably the tenth time I’m saying this, but each scene in this game is straight from a comic book! I haven’t seen any other game attempt this to date, and that’s good enough for me to say that this game is very unique and deserves a playthrough. The only reason I’m deducting two points is because of how there’s untapped potential left in the game, like a leveling system or more variation in side missions. If this could’ve been explored more (and it should’ve!), I believe this game would have been the defining Spider-Man game of our generation. Maybe that’s saying too much, but you get my point.
And..this is where the game falls flat. You’ve saved the city, beaten up the people-eating monster and gotten the girl. Now what?
Token collecting, races, token collecting, fighting bad guys and keeping the streets safe whenever there’s a red blip on your map and, oh, MORE TOKEN COLLECTING.
It’s pretty disappointing to see the lack of side content in this game despite its attractive features. The story’s pretty much the only reason you’ll be playing this game till the end. The web-swinging won’t have you coming back to swing for hours since it isn’t as good as Spider-Man 2 (Spider-Man for PS4 is an unfair comparison, again) and doing the combat tours will eventually get stale. If you’re a completionist though, there’s a ton of tokens scattered across the city (100 of them) that’ll unlock the black suit if you get them all. 100 tokens doesn’t seem that alluring to me since it’s just for a suit that’s purely cosmetic. If there had been a certain aspect to the token collecting that was interesting I would’ve definitely done it, but no, it’s just walking towards them and tucking them in your spandex. Other tokens consist of unlocking: comic book covers, character designs and other goodies.
However, you do get to switch to Venom freely after beating the game. Then again, eating up people at the dead of night and flinging cars around is bound to get boring at some point.
Replaying the story is always fun, but it isn’t something you probably won’t do anytime soon after beating the game.
As a kid, I found the Electro boss to be so frustratingly difficult that I left it for months before coming back to it, and beating the blue man with my health just at the edge of death. After replaying the game around 11 years later, I beat him on my first try, and it felt good.
This game is certainly challenging; you just have to be alert and keep your eye on the health bar when you’re playing as Venom. With Spider-Man, it isn’t too difficult so long as you keep an eye on your spider-sense and dodge at the right time. However, some boss fights definitely do pack a punch such as with Rhino or The Green Goblin. You’re gonna have to develop a strategy while approaching some of them, or you’re just going to get a fireball to the face.
Yeah…that isn’t going to work.
HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT HOT!!!
As I mentioned before, Venom is definitely the most challenging to use as well as the strongest out of the two. Think of him as a double-edged sword. He’s fun to play as, but you will start tearing your hair apart if you can’t find someone to devour and replenish your life-force. Feeding on enemies only increases the health bar slightly, whereas regular civilians fill up the belly quite more nicely in comparison.
Apart from combat, the races in this game aren’t that hard most of the time. Just remember to web-zip if you want that golden nugget…
My Personal Grade: 8/10
Ultimate Spider-Man is a game I hold close at heart. I’m lucky I still have my PlayStation 2 working so that I can still play it from time to time. The game features an art style that differs it from the rest of the Spider-Man games we’ve gotten, and its direction is just on point when it comes to making cutscenes feel like something out of a comic book. The writing is great since Treyarch got the original author, and this possibly might be my favorite version of Spider-Man altogether. Is that biased? (I think it’s biased.)
Overall, while this game does have its flaws, it achieves its sole purpose of bringing the comic to life. It’s one of the reasons why I love this game so much, other being that you can control Venom. The third?
Well, webbing thugs to street lamps of course.
Aggregated Score: 7.3
The Z Note Mage is an aspiring screenwriter who longs to write his own animated series and video game. You’d find him either cooped up on his laptop sweating drops of blood on a draft he’s stuck on or immersed in the worlds of entertainment. He also loves apples, pears and running long distances.
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Categories: Game Review