Spider-Man is in many ways one of the most recognizable superheroes ever produced. This is interesting when you consider that most of us find little enjoyment in watching/reading about a pasty nerd from Queens as he deals with life, girls and bullies. Even more repulsive is the thought of this whiny dork confronting life’s woes through a thin veil of bright red spandex. However, mix in some tasty spidery powers and a healthy dose of wise-cracking/face-punting and we will gladly overlook all levels of bitchery and bulging nerd crotch.
We love Spider-Man. If you claim to not love Spider-Man, you are probably doing so just for attention. If you are friends with someone who claims to not love Spider-Man, take it as a cry for help and set up a time to hold an intervention to discover the root of their issues and what is causing them to act-out lately. Because ultimately any argument about this character comes down to one main conclusion: EVERYONE LOVES SPIDER-MAN. There are simply varying degrees of love, but there is no hate or “do not love.” This is mainly because, like Batman (who is also immune to your hatorade), Spider-Man is one of the easiest superheroes in town for us to relate to. When we watch or read about Pete flying around, kicking reptiles in the teeth or porking red-heads, we see ourselves. Spider-Man represents basic social and coming-of-age issues that we have all experienced. Even all his baddies (which are all so freaking insane) can all be seen as metaphors for common life concerns, such as duality or paranoia. It’s what would happen if Neil Gaiman just got crazy high one day and started rewriting excerpts of a middle-schooler’s MySpace page. We love Spider-Man because he is still primarily founded in the real world. The real world plays a indispensable role in almost all of his plots and is even, one could say, his arch-nemesis. He isn’t like Superman or Captain America, who have mixed the real world with their criminal-dick-punching lifestyle. He works to find balance and stresses over scheduling issues. He misses classes and fails tests. He has to set up dates around his busy work schedule, all while finding the time to judo flip some fat dimwit who’s running around in rhino pajamas.
This love of Spidey has led to endless stories and reincarnations in comics, toys, movies, cartoons and, of course, video games. Over the years, Spidey’s appearance in video games has achieved a bit of infamy, due to the sheer amount of all the games. Many of these games can come out feeling cheesy or rushed. Many take on a zany feel, looking like someone took a completely unrelated game and slapped Spider-Man on it straight Doki Doki Panic style in order to cash in on the Spider-Market. However, the Web Head has been the focal point of many a good game, and I intend on bringing what I feel are the best to light.
Now, I honestly cannot find a way to rank these, as they are all so different. Thus, I am going to list them in chronological order instead. Just keep that in mind.
Spider-Man: The Video Game
Starting this bitch out old-school. For the kiddies in the room, video games once came in giant boxes found in places known as “arcades.” This wonderful arena for the virginal were where we would have to go in order to get some of the more intense gameplay and better graphics in video games at the time. When I myself was a wee lad, I enjoyed the crap out of this particular game when I would visit my local arcade. Granted, the machine I played it on was already probably about 2 years old, being that I didn’t evolve into my gaming motor skills until around 1993. This console premiered in 1991 and was produced by an obscure company named SEGA. It was also fantastically well received and is often mentioned as one of the better arcade adventure games of all time.
The game was a side-scrolling beat-em-up with all the finesse of a Jean Claude Van Damme movie. The point was simple: walk to the right, occasionally jumping on or over stuff in order to reach the end of the level and uppercut the boss square in his nefarious nuts. As you progressed, you would be barraged by a plethora of multi-colored thugs, each color signifying that the baddy will have a different ability/pain tolerance. Occasionally, the screen pulls out and you are left jumping on tiny platforms and avoiding falling debris before you land safely on a larger platform surrounded by colorful whooping ninjas.
Similar to Streets of Rage or, my personal favorite, The Simpsons Arcade game, you have the choice of selecting one of four separate characters. One of my favorite aspects of this game is the character choice. Obviously, you can choose Spider-Man, as well as his feline-themed lust-mongering friend, Black Cat. I always thought the other two choices were interesting. Instead of throwing down the boring card and utilizing one or two X-Men or even Captain America, this game adds Hawkeye and Submariner into the roster. True, Submariner was much more popular back in the 90’s than he is today and both characters had a tendency to work with Spidey now and then, as did quite a few characters in the Marvel Universe. I just think it’s interesting that they selected either of these characters to introduce here during a time when Spider-Man and the X-Men were the big ticket items. Seems like putting them together could make for a game that is both absurd and obviously trying to suckle at the “Kids will buy what looks cool” teat…*
The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
Uh-OH! The Kingpin has placed a bomb in New York City! He’s also gone on TV, all dressed like some sort of juiced up casino mogul, and framed Spider-Man for placing the bomb in New York City! Furthermore, even though he prefaces this framing by basically saying “I am a mysterious fat guy and will not reveal my name and you have no reason to believe anything I am about to tell you unless I am about to read you my Yelp review of my local Denny’s,” the entire city believes him and now Spidey must head out to clear his name! Y’know… Typical bad boy stuff.
This game premiered around 1991-ish for an unpopular console called the Genesis by some underground developer named Sega. This game was considered by many to be the first perfect representation of Spidey-Face, and possibly any superperson, in any video game to date. It truly showed off the new world of gaming with it’s smooth visuals, stylized gameplay, and solid level design.
The game feels incredibly natural when you play it. Spiderman acts as you would expect him to be acting: ducking bullets, kicking rats in the face and sticking to surfaces in order to advance. In addition, this was also one of the more multi-layered games of the time, springing a boss or mid-bosses on you at random times, utilizing items/tools such as a web-shield, and even giving you the ability to take pictures of baddies to sell to the Daily Bugle in order to get more sticky-goo (web-fluid for those who want to be all sciencey).
As stated earlier, this game was also hailed as being one of the best representations of the comic and its world in video games at the time. All the characters acted and performed as if they had been ripped directly from the page, and even the dialogue during cut-scenes was extremely well put together. Spidey’s famous Spider-sense also makes an appearance, though not in a gimmicky or impractical way, as it is sometimes used. It also featured a very true-to-the-comic plot, and even included a random Mary Jane kidnapping by that licky, black bastard, Venom.
This game set the bar for superhero video games for a long time, a bar that Nintendo failed to cross for quite a few years, starting with two 1992 releases. The first being Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, a rushed jumble of jumping and punching anonymous bad guys who, in turn, explode into pieces (only redeeming factor). The second terrible masterpiece was…
Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge
Holy Shit! Look at the box-art for this thing! Crazy action, fool! We got, like, Wolverine about to get into a vicious and moderately sensual wrestling match with Carnage! Cyclops is going straight up Colgate Blast on… um… Master Mold? Stryfe? Nimrod? Some Silver guy with a bad case of Rosacea. Gambit’s all over there like “Is this your card?” And Juggernauts all “ohmigod that is my card! You are amazing, you know that. Like seriously, you got talent, kid.” And then Shocker’s all trying to lay the get-back-in-the-kitchen smackdown on Storm, who is exercising her right to be a strong, independent Black woman who don’t need no man! Then of course, Spidey is webbing straight at us as if to yank us straight into the game and, in doing so, yank himself into our hearts.
Let’s get this straight right now: NONE of any of the cool shit on the box actually happens in the freaking game. Carnage is a boss in one of the Spidey levels, not the Wolverine level. Storm doesn’t really do crap, Juggernaut chases Wolverine, and Cyclops fights Master Mold (who actually looks kinda like Master Mold in the game) and an ass-load of sentinels. The only levels that feel somewhat normal are Spidey’s, wherein he swings, picks things up, and fights two villains per level. The box-art and idea for the game were cooler than the game itself, primarily since the game was just a way to grab up a bunch of Benjies for the developers. Remember how I talked earlier about people cramming these two Marvel titles together in order to ensnare the minds of children and the wallets of parents? Bingo.
Though I categorized this game as one of two 1992 games that failed to live up to the bar that the previous entry had set in terms of overall quality and true-to-comic quality, it still makes my list. Let me start by covering just what made this game a Spider-Bust. First, the game itself is just plain absurd. You essentially play as five different characters (Spider-Man, Gambit, Storm, Wolverine and Cyclops), each of whom have their very own levels and bosses and abilities and what not. However, as I said earlier, Spidey’s levels are the only ones that really stay true to form, followed shortly by Wolverine and Cyclops. The Storm and Gambit levels miss the mark completely. First, Storm has one level. It’s an underwater level. You know, for Storm. Who has a tendency to fly. Could have been an awesome play on the top down shooter with Storm flying through, blasting lightning at all who oppose her Ebony wonder. But no. You swim awkwardly around blasting fish and robots and stuff. With Lightning. Underwater. Gambits levels are equally as pointless, featuring the Ragin’ Cajun booking ass from some sort of giant spiked orb of death only to face one of two bosses, a Giant Black Queen or, get ready for this, a giant playing card…
A Freakin’ Playing Card.
That would be like the final boss in Super Mario being a greasy pair of blue overalls.
The other thing keeping this game down is the gameplay itself. This game, at points, is VERY difficult. Some of the controls or ways to fight bosses are very counter intuitive. In addition, playing as Spider-Man is less about swinging and punching and more about standing back and repeatedly thwipping baddies with sticky-goo. Sometimes it feels a bit like some sort of cheap Spider-Man port of a classic Mega Man game. The other characters don’t offer much else in terms of gameplay, with Wolverine being the only character to feature some solid melee gameplay (at the same time, it would have been cool if he just shot claws at enemies).
However, as I stated, this game is not a complete failure. There are ultimately three things saving this game from ranking as total dookie. The first is its soundtrack, produced by brothers Tim and Geoff Folin, who were veterans and masterminds in video game music making for years.
In addition, the game also featured a very interesting comic cut-scene dynamic, which (and I could be very wrong) was one of the most self-referential uses of comic book artwork/imagery in video games at the time, literally designing the cutscenes to look like pages of a comic. The final aspect, as slight as it may seem, is that this game featured the first well-developed and dynamic use of web-swinging seen in games. The physics, though basic, were still better than those found in earlier games, such as Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. Web-swinging was also a crucial part of the Spidey levels, with certain areas being inaccessible by other means. This is very important to the future of the character in gaming, as web-swinging takes on a very focal point. In addition, it’s just not Spidey without some good old-fashioned swinging.
That’s all for now. Part 2 coming soon!