It's been quite an eventful year for everyone's friendly neighbourhood arachnid. First was a tearful (temporary) farewell to Tom Holland's Peter Parker in the excellent Avenger's: Infinity War. Then came the highly addictive Spider-Man game on the PlayStation 4 - one of the best games of the year. But before the biggest cinematic surprise of Spidey's cinematic outing (Into the Spider-verse) the world grieved at the deaths of his co-creators - the ever-personable Stan Lee and Steve Ditko earlier in the year. In honour of all that has come to pass, let's have an almost complete look at Spider-Man's amazing gaming past.
We begin our history lesson in the year 1982. The US video game crash was yet to take hold and the Atari 2600 played host to Spidey's first ever game with the renowned board game company Parker Brothers taking the reigns.
Archaic by today's standards, Spider-Man was still one of the better looking and playing games on the system. The aim is to climb to the top of a skyscraper - an approximation of the Empire State Building I presume - where the Green Goblin lies in wait with a big-ass bomb. You do this by zip-lining your way to the top with your webs while avoiding slippery windows and enemies which make you plummet to the New York streets below. If you're skilled enough, you may be able to save yourself by webbing a wall on the way down but like most games of the era, this does prove quite difficult. However, in contrast to a lot of Atari's hard-as-nails catalogue, you don't feel this is by bad game design but human error. This easily elevates Spider-Man to be among the best games for the system.
Believe it or not, this was a looker on Atari's system in 1982.
Cut to a few years later and a Load'N'Go published text adventure graced a number of computers, though I'll only be showcasing the DOS version here. Developed by Adventure International with input from their veteran Interactive Fiction designer, Scott Adams (Pirate Adventure), Spider-Man is the second entry in the short-lived QuestProbe series. It boasts full-colour graphics to accompany the text with a puzzle design aimed at the younger crowd. That being said, for those unfamiliar with this all-but-extinct genre might have some trouble conjuring verbs.
You'll see a fair few recognisable villains rendered in beautiful old-school EGA graphics. Each carries a mysterious gem that acts as the McGuffin of the piece so you'll have to use puzzling wiles to get around each of them using the correct sentence structure. These come in clearly defined sections that could be described as levels in any other genre and perhaps because of this, the game is surprising light on story - and quite short too. Most of the story is restricted to the 22-page comic that takes up most of the manual. Not only does it contain hints on how to play the game, but also a rather out-of-place and blatant product placement for this brand spanking new film called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. "I've heard nothing but good things about that flick!" says the web-slinger. "And it's supposed to have great special effects!"
The manual states that there were to be 12 QuestProbe adventures, but from my research, only three were ever released. Part One starred the Incredible Hulk, while the third entry featured the Human Torch and The Thing (I guess the rest of the Fantastic Four were busy). If Spider-Man's role in the trilogy is anything to go by, they are fun bite-sized adventures with little meat on their bones.
Madame Web will scan items in your inventory for clues (left).
Watch out! The supervillains can kill you if you type the wrong thing (right).
At the end of the 80s, Spidey was unfortunate enough to team up with Captain America in the worst game in this collection. Dr Doom's Revenge stars two very different Marvel heroes battling against the iconic villain most associated with The Fantastic Four. I guess they're still busy. The game is a very bare-bones fighting game that uses the pre-Street Fighter control scheme which very few games get right (only International Karate Plus comes to mind). This is the worst example of a single-button fighter I've ever come across. The only way to hit anyone is to spam one move over and over as your character doesn't react quick enough to be able to change it with any kind of success.
Even so, you're unlikely to see the end screen with only a single non-replenishable health bar to get you there. Especially when so many hits coming your way seem inevitable to cause damage. Even if you do manage it, I doubt you'll want to play it through a second time with the other character. I couldn't get past the robot gorilla stage, and getting that far was purely by chance. It plays so slow that it feels like that scene in Austin Powers where that one guy is screaming as the steam-roller inches closer to him, except here it's not supposed to be a joke. It's supposed to be a game. Both the DOS and Amiga versions featured are both best avoided.
The Amiga version looks better (right) but the DOS version plays better (left).
Better is still relative though.
At the dawn of the next decade, Spider-Man's console and arcade rights were held by SEGA for a brief few years leading to several games of varying quality but each infinitely better than Dr Doom's Revenge. Released a year apart on the Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis and Game Gear respectively - and later the Mega CD/SEGA CD - the many release Spider-Man vs The Kingpin would vary quite a bit with each iteration. Only the Game Gear would host a direct port of the Master System original due to the devices sharing a lot of the same architecture.
These 8-bit versions are average platformers at best with some interesting wall-climbing mechanics that made it stand out at the time. You can jump on the buildings in the background to ascend to the top of the level where there are more enemies to beat or tie up. If you choose the latter, they will eventually come back to life and once again get in your way. The time it takes is so short it makes the move pointless, especially as you cannot punch them when they're all webbed up.
There's also a bit of an issue with signposting, particularly on the Master System. For those unfamiliar with the game, or those without a manual to tell you what to do, you may wonder where the end of the first level is. You have to climb the building behind you, avoiding gunfire from the police below (Kingpin has framed you) as well as what I assume are bored office workers who have nothing better to do than open and close windows. On the top right is an open window which needs to be approached at the right angle to enter. You'll be taken to a warehouse where men with guns need taking out, but at some point, a rogue fork-lift is triggered into the game. Later Dr Octopus appears before I've even taken care of the rogue vehicle. I still haven't found out what causes the progression but it's there.
There's an open window around here somewhere. I'm sure of it! (left)
Fighting Doc Oc who randomly appeared in the warehouse (right).
The Mega-Drive/Genesis version has different levels designs while staying true to the already established Kingpin story arc. The screen is closer to Spidey which does make it difficult to see what's coming despite the more detailed sprite work but the level design accomodates that more often than not. They're more linear and compact as you venture through the entwined obstacle course which is at stark odds with the open, cavernous levels of the Master System version. As such, the confused signposting happens less frequently here.
The cart is filled with neat extras include two endings and a decent if undercooked photography mechanic. At certain points, you can take pictures to sell to the Daily Bugle for web fluid money. It's an entirely optional extra as you can find fluid scattered around the levels but it's a nice inclusion nevertheless. This is objectively the much better game, but for reason I enjoyed the earlier underpowered release just as much despite its flaws.
Cops and robbers alike are after the framed Spider-Man (left).
The wall climbing mechanic is a well-done addition (right).
In 1993, Spider-Man vs Kingpin appeared on the Mega CD/SEGA CD. This is not just a port with added FMV, but an actual remake. All four games follow the same basic storyline with an opening level that has you saving a granny from a mugger, but here you no longer have to find that random window. Instead, a cheesy cut scene plays out when the attacker hits the floor. From here, the mostly brand new levels open up to you in a non-linear fashion being nicely presented on a map of New York.
Spider-Man also moves a lot faster with more fluid controls and an awesome pumping CD-Audio music as his personal soundtrack. There is one change that's not quite so positive, though I doubt most will miss it. Spider-Man can no longer take pictures for the daily bugle is completely absent, but I think the other features it does well more than makes up for it. I would class it as a completely different game - one that well worth a playthrough more so than the previous three, but if you have a Mega Drive with its CD add-on, having both in your collection isn't a bad thing.
The first level will end when you mow down that mugger (left)
Fighting a gorilla in Central Park. As you do (right)
While these home console games were average to good games, it would be SEGA's arcade outing that can be best described as great. It's a traditional beat-em-up where you can play as the titular hero or one of three others; Hawkeye, Black Cat or Sub-Mariner. Each plays pretty well despite only having one button to attack.
At certain points, the level will zoom out and the game will turn into a side-scrolling platformer. While it remains graphically impressive, it's also commendable by not being a hollow gimmick either. These sections are large and interesting with a variety of hazards, enemies and pitfalls to navigate. It changes up what can often be a repetitive genre. The colourful graphics play with the comic-book roots and more than stand up today. With no home-conversion ever to be released, Spider-Man: The Videogame is one of the many highlights in the collection.
The beat-em-up sections (left) will zoom out in real time to turn into a platformer (right).
SEGA wasn't the only company who saw Spider-Man on their systems. Nintendo had a number of games by the consistently unreliable LJN, Ltd. First up is The Amazing Spider-Man on the GameBoy. With his huge bug eyes and bad overall visual design, Spidey looks more like a leather-clad biker or Power Ranger than a superhero. If you're familiar with the company's work, you won't be surprised to find out it's barely playable.
There are three games in this GameBoy trilogy and each is slightly better than the last with the third actually having playable gameplay. That being said, you're not missing much playing these games.
Power Rangers 1, 2 and 3 - Uh! I mean Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3!!!
If there's any single GameBoy game in the compilation that okay enough to play, it's Spider-Man & The X-Men: Arcade's Revenge. At least it would until you realise that it plays much better on it's bigger brothers - the SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis. While it was still released by LJN on Nintendo's console, it was Acclaim's other subsidiary, Flying Edge, that handled the SEGA ports.
All port are commendably similar including the GameBoy (left) and Game Gear (right).
Personally, I favour the smoother controls of the Super Nintendo version.
As you can expect from these companies, the game still feels rushed to market but there is some fun gameplay here. The first level sees you collecting bombs around a maze that require you to get to grips with all of Spider-Man's wall-climbing and web-slinging abilities to get around. After completing this level, you get to play as several different X-Men, so all that learning is for nought. Make sure you create a save state once you complete the first level as there's no save feature. If you want to get to the X-Men stuff you'll have to find those bombs in the same specific order again.
Each X-Man has their own level progression and play style with Storm being the most drastically different. Her levels are the token water levels seen in many platformers but they don't play too badly here, even if the level designs are a little uninspired. Wolverine slashes and punches his way through the most surreal level in the game as he's swarmed by toys and robot circus clowns. He can toggle his claws at any time which helps in different situations but he has no projectile.
Spider-Man, Cyclops and Wolverine feature in some standard platforming levels.
It can be hard to see what is a platform and what isn't, though.
Cyclops has his trademark laser eyes to go along with hand-to-hand combat in hazard-filled levels while Gambit is chased by a rolling boulder. He can attack with his volatile deck of cards along with an impressive special move, but with the stage covered in bright yellow stars to collect, his levels feel more like the traditional platforming of Super Mario than the others. If you choose to continue as Spider-Man, you find more labyrinthine levels with the addition of spider-shaped collectables. The graphic design - while often very good, particularly in the character sprites - show their flaws here. It's often difficult to know what is a platform, what isn't and what will actually harm you. Taken as a whole, it just above average which means in LJN terms, it's a masterpiece. Just stick to the SNES or Genesis versions and not the underpowered GameBoy and Game Gear ports.
Storm plays around in some passable underwater stages (left)
while Gambit is chased by a giant spiked metal ball (right)
Before we get into more LJN offerings, there's one more computer game that is well worth a look. Released on several systems including DOS and Amiga in 1990, Paragon Software's The Amazing Spider-Man is an interesting puzzle-platformer with some well thought out mechanics even if the level design isn't exactly cohesive.
As Spider-Man, you can cling to almost any surface and use your web to reach them. There's also a web attack that stuns enemies for a short while. The aim is to progress through the several single-screens by flicking switches, avoiding hazards and the odd backtracking. Visually, it's very sparse simple graphics and small sprites. The levels themselves often look out of place for not just a Spider-Man game but any game in general. Who has a giant clapper board hovering above a floor of spikes across the hall from a helipad? One minute you're riding an approximation of an elevator while the next your exploring the roof of a gothic cathedral that looks like re-used assets from a long-forgotten Frankenstein game. Apparently this is due to the game being set in a movie studio, but that sounds like an cheap explanation after the fact to me.
It's the gameplay that really grabs the attention, though. The moves are deliberate and necessary with a nice trial-and-error progression. An odd curio that's well worth a look.
A switch on top of the chopper will get you to higher ground (left, DOS version)
With mummies and Spider-skeletons as your health, it all gets very gothic (right, Amiga version)
Ok, I had to get something good out before talking about Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six - don't play it - but if you absolutely, positively have to play the NES version ahead of the Game Gear and Master System. This action platformer controls a lot better here but that doesn't mean much. At least punches will hit in this version. At least something as simple as jumping over an object is a little more intuitive in this version. There are three more LJN games to go so I hope they fare better.
Spider-Man's looking a bit portly in the NES version (left)
Trying to fight Electro (right)
The 90s saw a very successful animated show and with that, a slew of games were developed based on it. First up is Spider-Man: The Animated Series for SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis. As is often the case for the time, both are drastically different games with LJN taking duties on the odd-looking SNES version while Acclaim eschews the Flying Edge moniker to publish the Mega Drive version under their own name.
The SNES game looks atrocious. Somehow LJN seems to always model Spider-Man on a middle-aged fat man in spandex. Here he's stumpy and big-headed (in a literal sense) with over-defined muscles that look like the modelled foam on a Halloween costume. He walks like he's clenching his arse too. The game itself favours non-linear level design that borders on confusing. Every area looks exactly the same - drab and grey. It's a boring and tedious exercise to progress anywhere but at least the combat is not so difficult that it's impossible. Oh, wait...
Spider-Man on the Genesis doesn't showcase as flashy an intro as the Super Nintendo, but it does have a bloody good rendition of the famous Spider-Man theme song. Shame the bleepy in-game music will drive you insane. Gameplay wise, it suffers a lot of the same issues as the SNES version. The levels are extremely confusing, but not in an drab way rather an overly cluttered way. To begin with, you may wonder why it's so dark until you realise there's a light switch hidden in the mess of pixels that make up the background. Spider-Man moves a lot faster and the enemies are a lot easier too, except here they respawn quickly and will gang up and overpower you. While this is the better game of the two, neither are what I would call particularly good.
The stubby SNES art (left) vs the SEGA Genesis (right).
Their next two games, however, changed mildly for the better. Instead of action platformers that are bordering on broken, Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety are both beat-em-ups.
Based on the Maximum Carnage comic book, you can play as either Spider-Man or Venom in a number of bland and over-long levels with a very limited number of enemy types. They mostly look like street version of Jay and Silent Bob with basketball get ups and bling. Considering the first game came out the same year as Clerks, it wouldn't surprise me there is some link there.
Maximum Carngae on Genesis. Is tha Jay in a Silent Bob costume (left)
and Silent Bob in a Jay costume (right)?
Separation Anxiety looks and plays like a slightly improved remake of Maximum Carnage, with smoother graphics and better sound. The gameplay is exactly the same, with levels and enemy design looking like they were ripped straight out of the original. Both beat-em-ups are disappointing after the high watermark that was SEGA's arcade offering.
Separation Anxiety on SNES. The graphics are nicer but not much else has changed.
Before the 90s came to an end, the two major 16-bit console competitors each got one last hurrah in the Spider-verse. Both are comparitively little known and each are hidden gems in their own right.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes is a Japanese-only title for the Super Famicom and it blows LJN's efforts out of the water. Developed by Epoch, it stays remarkably true to the look and feel of the Spider-Man comics. The English translation patch is also expertly done, even it the text can spill out of the speech bubbles on the rare occasion. There's a lot of story here and considering the fanmade nature of the text, it's very well done.
In some respects, Lethal Foes bears a lot of similarities with SEGA's console offerings. You can climb on walls like the original Genesis game, you can punch, kick and web-swing but the level design here is far superior. Some of the jumping nuances can get some getting used to, such as jumping from the side of a building to the top and separate shoulder buttons mapped to swinginf left and right. Once you master these quirks, controlling Spidey is incredibly fun. The best he's felt so far.
Sadly, Lethal Foes contains the one feature that can ruin even the best of games - a level timer. A lot of the levels are large and maze-like with a design that's inviting enough to encourage exploration. You cannot do that in the stingy 70 seconds given by the game. It forces you to replay each level to discover the correct path instead of finding it in your own time. It's the only major negative in an otherwise great game.
The fanmade English translation by Gorgygrip, Filler is excellently done (left).
Spider versus Beetle. There's a PETA-baiting YouTube clip of this somewhere (right).
Like Lethal Foes, Web of Fire for SEGA's Genesis add-on, the 32X, features the same type of platforming that has come before. While not quite as satisfying as Epoch's effort, it does sport slicker controls and higher production values than other Spidey games in the Genesis family. For 1996, the graphics have an extraordinary neon-bathed look. They are all pre-rendered and digitised into the game giving it a similar pseudo-3D aesthetic as something like Donkey Kong Country. The animations are smooth and move at break-neck speed. Hand-to-hand combat is particularly satisfying even if the the web-swinging isn't coming off the back of Lethal Foes.
That being said, there's still a 16-bit mentality behind these striking visuals. There are some cheap shots in the level designs and enemy placement that can kill your momentum if not yourself. Some enemies take far too many hits to dispatch, even in the early levels, which makes running past them your best option. The platforming no-no of a blind jump is somewhat lessened here with the web-swinging mechanic but it does suffer from an alarming number of them. Still, this Blue Sky developed game is miles ahead from anything LJN or Flying Edge got their hands on and pips most of SEGA's efforts too.
The game's first boss has you fighting more than just gargoyles (left).
Get your own game, Daredevil! You're a special attack? Ok, you can stay (right).
This is just the beginning Spidey fans. Head on over to Part Two for more exciting adventures...
|part one||part two|
Spider-Man (the character) is © Marvel
Spider-Man (Atari 2600) is © Parker Brothers
Questprobe #2: Spider-Man is © Load'N'Go Software
Spider-Man & Captain America in Dr Doom's Revegne is © Paragon Software
Spider-Man (SEGA Consoles, Handhelds & Arcade) is © SEGA of America
The Amazing Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3 (GameBoy) are © LJN, Ltd
The Amazing Spider-Man (Computer Systems) is © Paragon Software
Spider-Man & The X-Men is © LJN, Ltd & Flying Edge
Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six is © LJN, Ltd & Flying Edge
Spider-Man vs The Kingpin is © SEGA of America
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is © LJN, Ltd & Acclaim Entertainment
Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage is © LJN, Ltd & Acclaim Entertainment
Spider-Man & Venom: Separation Anxiety is © Acclaim Entertainment
The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes is © Epoch
The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire is © SEGA of America
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me