Spider-Man is a hugely popular character, enduring for many decades across comics, cartoons, and now films, so it’s only natural that he has had a large presence in video games. As far back as the Atari 2600, Spider-Man has been slinging his pixilated (or polygonal) webs in the privacy of our own homes – and both kids and adults across the country and all over the world have been eating it up. There have been some great ones, and some … er, not-so-great ones.
When I was near the end of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, I emailed this site’s Great and Powerful Oz (who goes by the name “Brad Douglas” for tax purposes) to ask for permission to review the game for the front page. He emailed back with a green light, and curiously added that we don’t technically have a video game reviewer, so I could review any of the older games if I wanted. Damn you, “Brad,” you devious bastard. You know all the tricks!
That weekend, I decided to do some much-needed rearranging of my video game collection. I started to organize my old Sega Genesis games into a nice new box when I stopped and began to reminisce about many of them. There are some great ones (like Sonic & Knuckles) and some absolutely abysmal ones (like Sonic Spinball), but what really stopped my work cold was the sight of four Spider-Man games.
This doesn’t represent the totality of Spidey games on the Genesis (I never owned the game based on the 90s animated series), but it represents a huge chunk of my childhood memories of the webslinger. I can’t remember the timeline perfectly, but I first played Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin around the same time that I began reading comic books, in that magical year of 1993. I opened the manual for the game and was greeted by a short comic story introducing it, written by Steve Englehart and inked by John Romita (the penciler, however, is actually unknown). Sadly, I do not have the manual anymore, so I can’t show you the mini-comic, though here are a couple of pages courtesy of Steve Englehart’s website:
The game, released in 1990 on the Sega Master System (the 8-bit counterpart to the original Nintendo Entertainment System), was ported to the Sega Genesis and Sega Game Gear in 1991 and the Sega CD in 1993. Chances are, you’ve seen the notoriously cheesy animated cutscenes from the Sega CD version on YouTube. In my opinion, the Sega Genesis version of the game remains the greatest Spider-Man game ever made – for reasons that you will learn soon.
Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge was the next Spider-Man game I played, though the bulk of the game featured the X-Men. It was released on the Sega Genesis in 1994, but the game actually debuted two years earlier on the Super Nintendo and Sega Game Gear. Of course, expecting a game as great as Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, I was hugely excited on the ride home as I stared at the box and flipped through the manual with my sister in the backseat. Boy, was my excitement misplaced! This is actually one of the most difficult games that I have ever played, but I possessed a demonic drive to finish this one. To this day, I am the only person I know that has actually played and beaten this game (without using cheats!), which is one of the proudest moments of my gaming life.
The next two Spider-Man games on the Genesis were based on stories from the comics. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage was based on, you guessed it, “Maximum Carnage.” Released in 1994 on both the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, the game is actually not nearly as bad as the comic books on which it is based. This is the first game in which Venom was a playable character, and the game utilized pixilated versions of pages and panels from the comic (though several of them contain odd moments of bowdlerization) in order to tell the story. This was probably the easiest of the Spider-Man games I played as a kid, which is a statement that will surely make Donovan Grant fall out of his chair. The follow-up game, Spider-Man and Venom: Separation Anxiety, oddly has nothing to do with the Venom: Separation Anxiety miniseries with which it shares a name – it is actually based on the miniseries Venom: Lethal Protector by David Michelinie, Mark Bagley, and Ron Lim. (That also goes to show you how hot Venom was in the early 90s: Mark Bagley actually took a sabbatical from The Amazing Spider-Man to draw it. Wow.) This game cannot be done justice in a short introduction like this, and I don’t mean that in a good way!
There is also one that got away, but it will require a little story. You see, in the mid 90s, the Sega Genesis was on its last legs. 16-bit gaming was on the verge of ending as the release of the new wave of 3D consoles began – one from a newcomer, the Sony Playstation, and two from the big 16-bit competitors, the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn – but both Nintendo and Sega decided to try to fill the gap with other products. Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a successor to its immensely popular Game Boy handheld, while Sega released the Genesis 32X as an add-on to its Sega Genesis console. They are both infamous for the abysmal failure and short life spans, dropping in price quickly as the release of the 3D consoles approached. During this period, we picked up a 32X for dirt cheap.
Unfortunately, there were barely any games for the add-on, since only 34 games were released over its life, and only 30 of them in the United States. We owned three: Kolibri, a strange side-scrolling shooter in which you played as a superpowered hummingbird (I swear, I’m not making this up); Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000, a sequel to the classic arcade flight shooter Super Zaxxon; and Mortal Kombat II, a graphically-enhanced version of the Sega Genesis version, making it a port of a port of an arcade game.
One fateful day, my sisters and I came across a copy of Spider-Man: Web of Fire for the 32X in an electronics store, buried in a small corner near the Genesis games. My oldest sister would pay for one game for us, and I wanted to pick up the game with my favorite wall-crawler in it. She objected, however, noting that we had plenty of Spider-Man games. She suggested that we get Zoop, a bizarre puzzle/shooting hybrid best described as … well, I can’t describe it. Anyway, since she was the one with the money, she won the argument, and we got Zoop. Goddamn Zoop.
The reason that this story continues to bother me to this day is not that Spider-Man: Web of Fire was a good game (because it wasn’t), but that it has gone on to become one of the most sought-after video games in existence, due to its rarity and status as the final 32X game released in the United States. The last time I saw this game on sale at eBay, about a year ago, it was going for $250 and rising. I could have had that game for less than ten bucks.
All this reminiscing has made me want to go back and play these games again. (For the record, I have actually played the first two of the four Genesis titles I mentioned already this year, though I did it on an emulator – it was good and legal, kids, because I own the cartridges –while waiting for Spideydude to show up to the recording of his own podcast about three hours late. Sorry Zach, I’m going to ding you for that one forever.) Thinking back on the email from “Brad,” I realize that I may have been subconsciously hooked by his devious words, his nefarious scheme implanted in my mind and eating away at it like some kind of weed run amok.
He’s going to get his wish. For the next few weeks, I’m going to go back and play these old Spidey games and write brand-spanking-new reviews of them. It will be a mix of new observations, old memories (because really, there’s no way in hell I’ll ever be able to beat Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge again), and hopefully some interesting tidbits about the games that you may or may not remember.