July is set to be an exciting month for superhero movies, with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ already out in cinemas and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ set for release at the end of the month. As big a Spidey fan as I am, I have no doubts that the Spider-Man film is set to be overshadowed by the epic conclusion to Chris Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. I thought it would be interesting though to use my retro gaming time machine (so wish I had one of those!) to go back 30 years and see how the two superheroes measured up on the video game scene, starting with Spider-Man.
As with the X-Men games I covered last year, Spider-Man as a character has always presented game developers with the exciting (and sometimes challenging) task of recapturing his powers and abilities in a video game. Most games featured the basic elements of being able to web swing, shoot webbing and crawl on walls, but every now and then developers would work in some interesting ideas to broaden the games. While the majority of modern Spider-Man games are virtually the same game with added bells and whistles each time, this article looks at how the old games developed and expanded over a period of 20 years.
Released: 1982 – Platform: Atari 2600
The earliest Spider-Man game that most people will remember is the Parker Brothers game for the Atari 2600. As you would expect for a game of its age, this was a simplistic looking game with very limited controls. The player took control of Spider-Man as he scaled the side of a building trying to reach a super bomb that had been planted by The Green Goblin. Spider-Man could only cling to the building and was unable to freely crawl on it. His only means of moving (and indeed the only controls in the game) was to shoot webbing upwards and then move along it to a higher point. Players could control the length of the webbing by holding down the button for longer, however if the end of the webbing was touching the sky or a window when the button was released then Spider-Man would fall to the ground. If the webbing came into contact with a person, bomb or the Green Goblin then he would also start to fall instantly. Players could save themselves by quickly shooting out a web to cling onto the side of the building again. Rescuing people from the building or defusing any of the smaller bombs would increase the amount of time the player had to reach the Super Bomb.
If players did manage to reach the top of the building then they had to get past the final obstacle of dodging the Green Goblin before swinging into the Super Bomb to defuse it. If the player was successful then the next level would start, with Spider-Man at the bottom of another building. The objective was the same, except some element of the level would have been changed from the previous to increase the difficulty. The game is extremely dated and quite awkward when you play it nowadays, but if you can get into the swing of it (see what I did there) then it can get quite addictive.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Released: 1990 – Platform: Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, C64, DOS
Anyone who thinks they’ve already seen the worst Spider-Man game ever is in for a surprise. This early home computer game is definitely deserving of that title as you will see in the video. For some reason this is a game that I only discovered at the last minute while preparing this article, having never heard of or seen it before. I also thought it was a bit strange that I’d never seen it commented on in any other Spider-Man game round ups, so I decided now was a good time to try it out. It started off promising enough, with some very well drawn comic panel scenes that explain the games story line. Everything soon changed when I started to play the actual game. The first thing I noticed was how Spider-Man frog hopped along the ground like some sort of goblin. It has to be said that this is neither a flattering or a heroic looking movement for everyone’s favourite wall crawler to adopt. After hopping over to a helicopter which takes off when Spider-Man stands on its propeller blades (ouch!), Spider-Man is able to gain access to Mysterio’s film studio. The action in the game takes a less offensive approach to dealing with bad guys, with Spidey having to avoid or stun them rather than take them on in a fight. There are also a lot of puzzle elements in the game, with switches on the walls and ceilings that must be pressed (sometimes in a specific order) to gain access to new areas of the levels.
The game does make good use of Spider-Man’s wall crawling and web swinging abilities (although I couldn’t manage to do it very well in the video) but the biggest problem with the game for me is what I like to refer to as its “dumb physics”. When crawling on a wall or ceiling, it is actually possible to throw yourself off in a straight path without the character sprite making any attempt to land on its feet. You can even make Spider-Man skid along the ground on his face! It seems a bit harsh to pick on a game of its age for something like this, but considering how well the developers nailed the wall crawling controls it would have been nice if they had worked on how Spider-Man handles as he’s moving through the air. Another cause for complaint is the music. The audio didn’t record when I made the video, but it wasn’t hard to recreate as the same single track of music plays in a loop all the way through the game. It’s not the worst game music I’ve heard but it does get irritating after the second or third time of hearing it in a row. While I am glad that I found this game in order to experience its “wonders”, I can confidently say I won’t be rushing back to play it like I would any of the other games in the article.
Game Boy games
Released: Amazing Spider-Man – 1990 | Amazing Spider-Man 2 – 1992 | Invasion of the Spider-Slayers – 1993
There were three Spider-Man games released for the original Game Boy, all published by LJN Ltd., however a change of developer after the first game resulted in the second and third games being considerably different to their predecessor. The first game played like any basic platformer, with the exception that Spider-Man’s web swinging ability meant that pitfalls were wider than those found in most other games. The gameplay changed briefly during Sub stages that saw Spider-Man crawling up the sides of buildings while dodging debris in order to reach the next stage. This was by far the most enjoyable game of the three, with both sequels featuring what were widely considered to be inferior graphics and controls by comparison. The third game did include one feature I found to be quite redeeming, which was the ability to continuously perform a full 360 web swing. This is pretty fun to do (for a short while at least).
The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin
Released: 1990-1993 – Platform: Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Mega CD/Sega CD
Spidey’s first outing on the Sega platforms starts with The Kingpin framing Spider-Man for stealing a Nuclear Bomb, which he plans to detonate in 24 Hours (around 41/2 hours real time). Under the control of the player, Spider-Man sets out to defeat various super villains in order to obtain keys that will defuse the bomb. The Mega Drive and Mega CD versions also added a second objective with Mary Jane being kidnapped half way through the game. Upon reaching The Kingpin at the final boss fight, the player must defeat him within a certain amount of time to save Mary Jane from being lowered into a vat of acid. The game was successful on all platforms, but it was the success of the Mega Drive/Genesis version that was most important as it helped strengthen sales of the recently released console.
The 16-bit game was released a year after its 8-bit counterpart and featured many improvements, the most noticable of which were the superior graphics, enhanced wall crawling abilities and more varied stage designs. Both versions required players to take photographs of enemies (particularly the bosses) so they could sell them to get money for more webbing, and both versions allowed the player to take a rest at Peter Parker’s home to recover some health. Another nice feature that was often missed out of other Spider-Man games was the inclusion of Spider-Sense, which would go off whenever a boss approached. With the release of the Mega CD add-on for the Mega Drive came the opportunity to update the game once more. The Mega CD game added animated videos to replace the static story screens of the other versions, added aditional stages and sub stages (including a pinball mini game) and included a CD audio soundtrack. Sprite animations were also more detailed and the controls were tweaked once again to allow for even better wall crawling. It proved to be one of the more long term playable games for the ill fated add-on.
Spider-Man: The Video Game
Released: 1991 – Platform: Arcade
While Spider-Man vs The Kingpin was doing the rounds on the home consoles, Sega also released Spider-Man: The Video Game in the arcades. This was a traditional side scrolling beat ‘em up that featured some very detailed character sprites and digitized voice recordings. The gameplay was like any beat ‘em up of the day, except that at one point during each stage the camera would zoom out and the game would turn into an arcade platformer (reminiscant of Capcom’s Strider). The game allowed up to four people to play at once, however the choice of supporting characters was very questionable. First there was Black Cat, who was a sensible option considering she was taken from the Spider-Man comics themselves, but then there was also Hawkeye and Namor the Sub-Mariner, two characters who couldn’t have been more out of place in the game. Poor hero choices aside, the game did host a strong cast of Super Villains to thwart, with many of them making several appearances during the game. This game is definately worth checking out if you are a fan of side scrolling beat ‘em ups, particularly the Konami arcade games like TMNT, The Simpsons and X-Men.
Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six
Released: 1992 – Platform: Game Gear, Master System, NES
Despite the popularity of the NES console, there was only ever one Spider-Man game released for it. Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six was developed by the same company that produced the second and third Game Boy titles. Thankfully the NES game wasn’t quite as bad as those games, but it was still far from brilliant. The biggest problem that the game had was that the controls were very unpredictable at times. There was a flying kick move that Spider-Man would almost always perform instead of the desired move. With a bit of perseverance though it was possible to get Spidey to do what you wanted to most of the time. On a separate note, I can’t help playing the game these days without noticing similarities between the Spider-Man sprite used in the game (a darker red suit, almost purple in colour) and the suit used in the new Spider-Man film. I’m not wanting to start any theories that the film makers drew inspiration from the game, but just compare the two yourself and see if you agree with me. The game was also ported to the Master System and the Game Gear, which had even worse controls than the NES version!
Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge
Released: 1992 – Platform: Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive/Genesis, SNES
This is a game that I already covered in my X-Men Special, but it is worth mentioning again due to the extent of Spider-Man’s involvement in it. As anyone who read my previous write up or anyone already familiar with the game will know, it starts off with Spider-Man trying to infiltrate Arcade’s hideout so he can rescue the recently abducted Cyclops, Gambit, Storm and Wolverine. After the introduction stage, the player was given the option to play as the five characters in any order they liked. The player had to complete two stages with each character before the game would move on to the final stage where all five characters were used in turn. The stage settings were unique to each character, with Spider-Mans stages taking place on a building site filled with various types of hostile robots. Shocker, Carnage and Rhino made appearances as the bosses for these stage. Spider-Man was also the last character to be controlled in the game during the final showdown with Arcade himself. The graphics were far from the best seen on a 16-bit console for the time, and while the controls were prone for being a bit stiff at times, they were nevertheless quite intuitive during the Spider-Man sections.
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Released: 1994 – Platform: Mega Drive/Genesis, SNES
As the names suggests, this was a game starring both Spider-Man and Venom, who was a playable character for the time. Unlike the majority of retro Spider-Man games that created their own storylines, Maximum Carnage took its plot directly from the comic book of the same name. Some of the comic book cells were also reproduced in the games cutscenes. It was a side scrolling beat ‘em up for single player only. While this genre of beat ‘em ups was notorious for featuring repetitive gameplay, Maximum Carnage was exceptionally bad for it, even making players back track over ground already covered to fight more enemies. The game featured an extensive cast of super villains and support hero characters who could be called upon to assist the player if needed. Many of these villains and heroes had never featured in a video game before (or since for that matter). The main antagonist is Carnage, and the game includes a hoax ending with scrolling credits that appears briefly before the real final boss battle.
A sequel was released the following year called Seperation Anxiety, however it was strangely almost inferior in every way. The graphics were smaller and much less detailed, which might have been done to allow the game to support a two player mode. It was a bit of a cop out considering the graphics quality of other two player beat ‘em ups released at the same time. The animated cutscenes of Maximum Carnage were replaced with static screens filled with far too much dialog to care about reading. The developers were even lazy enough to reuse much of the predecessor’s first level and enemies for the first level of the sequel. Suffice to say the game was not well received by critics or gamers.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series
Released: 1995 – Platform: Mega Drive/Genesis, SNES
The Spider-Man animated series could quite easily be considered the best cartoon of the ’90s. There was little that could be faltered about it. The video game based on the series was on the other hand a bit of a different story. After a reasonable recreation of the cartoon’s awesome theme song, players were met with a different gaming experience depending on which version they were playing. The SNES game featured more detailed level graphics and character sprites, however the sprites were smaller than those found on the Mega Drive. It also featured more animation during the intro and cutscenes, and the music and sound effects were vastly better. The pace of the SNES version seemed slower at the start of the game due to Spider-Man’s initial movement being to walk, with the option to make him run by holding down a button on the controller.
The Mega Drive version by comparison was faster because Spider-Man ran all the time and had bigger sprites, but the quality of the visuals and sound were quite dated due to the limitations of the hardware. Despite these differences in the delivery of the games, they shared many of the same elements, such as level locations, enemies and choice of power ups. This included one power up that equipped Spidey with the Armored Spider suit for a limited time. Another interesting feature found in both versions was the ability to unlock members of the Fantastic Four to help when the player needed them later in the game. The main let down to both versions was that they had quite a steep difficulty curve, with the first level being unreasonably hard for new comers to complete. It is also worth mentioning that Spider-Man: The Animated Series featured the largest amount of Super Villain bosses to appear in a Spider-Man game to that date, with Wikipedia stating there as being over twenty!
Released: 2000 – Platform: Dreamcast, PC, Playstation, N64
The simply titled Spider-Man was the first 3D Spidey game to be released. It was also the game that layed down the ground work for every 3D Spider-Man game since. Drawing inspiration from the cartoons of ’90s, the game managed to appeal brillianty to the very audience who had grown up watching them. Many of Spider-Man’s enemies and allies showed up at various stages throughout the game, with even more appearing during the unlockable ‘What If?’ mode. The game also introduced the feature of being able to unlock extra costumes that Spider-Man could wear. A sequel called Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro was released a year later for the Playstation only. This played pretty much the same as the first game, except this time around there were stages included that allowed Spider-Man to explore the top of buildings and street level at the same time.
And the rest…
I’ll finish off this issue by covering some games that I didn’t have enough to say about them individually for one reason or another, so here is a summary of them instead. The first is ‘The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes’, a game released only in Japan on the Super Famicom (SNES). This was quite possibly the best Spider-Man game to appear on the console, which is why it is so disappointing that it was never released in the Western regions. Next we have another region exclusive title. ’Spider-Man: Web of Fire’ was the last game to be released for Sega’s 32X add-on for the Mega Drive. The poor reception and sales of the 32X add-on meant that this game only saw the light of day in the States. The game appeared to feature computer rendered graphics to enhance their realism (which became a common method used later for Game Boy Advance titles). Players had the ability to call on Daredevil to help Spider-Man if he was in trouble.
Two games were released for Game Boy Color, the first being a tie-in with the 2000 3D Spider-Man game (and shared the same title) and the other its sequel ‘Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six’. Despite the hardware limitations of the console, these games were very good. The graphics and sprite animation were considerably detailed and the large stages with multiple routes created a free roaming feel to the gameplay. The same company who developed the first Game Boy Color game also produced a Spider-Man title for the Game Boy Advance. ’Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace’ featured similar controls and gameplay, although it featured computer rendered graphics that I mentioned previously. It also saw a re-appearance of the Armored Spider Suit power up.
That’s all for now.