With the recent release of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, I thought it appropriate to do something a little different and write a brief commentary about the Spider-Man franchise in video games that I’ve played before releasing a Late Bird Review, as well as my opinion on the new game.
At the time of writing this, I have not finished Shattered Dimensions, but experienced enough to formulate an idea on how the game will progress. It made me think about the Spider-Man games of the past and how they had consistently stayed mediocre over the years despite drastic changes to the gameplay. The sidescrolling adventure games of the NES, SNES, and Genesis were all boring drab explorations into Spider-Man as a playable character. You could jump, swing, punch, and kick, but there was little else to make the games stand out. Often the games suffered from bad controls or simply being too damn hard, which was common during that age in video games.
The first Spider-Man game I remember truly enjoying was Maximum Carnage for the Sega Genesis. The game was still very difficult and I never beat it without the help of cheat codes. But for a sidescrolling beat-em-up it was a truly satisfying experience because of the abilities at your disposal. There was web-swinging, web-shooting, wall crawling, and the simple punches and kicks had different techniques involved. Plus there was a summoning system that allowed you to call on allies to help clear the screen. With all these abilities at your disposal, how could the gameplay be better? By being able to play as Venom, of course. And the differences between Spider-Man and Venom were significant enough on the surface to satisfy a fan like myself. Venom was slower, but could defeat the grunts much quicker. He could lift up cars and trash bins with just one arm unlike Spidy. And his web attacks used the symbiote to slam his enemies or form a protective shield. The game was far from perfect, but the best up to that point. A few games were released post Maximum Carnage that tried to replicate it’s success, but little effort was put into improving the gameplay or using the epic story of any of the comics, which resulted only in mediocrity.
I skipped all the other Spider-Man games after Maximum Carnage till the 3-D game came out on the Playstation. Though in hindsight the game was nothing special, it was the first time I had played a Spider-Man game like it. It introduced new special web attack moves that allowed you to incapacitate foes easily by tugging them toward you or off the tops of buildings. There were even new moves like the web dome, which deflected attacks and could throw enemies within close proximity into the air with an explosive blast. And it was the first time you felt like you could swing from building to building despite the numerous pit-falls. The story progressed in levels with missions taking place in various stages on rooftops or within specific buildings. This would be the main formula for 3-D Spider-Man games to come till the drastic change of the game that was released alongside the second Spider-Man movie.
The first movie game was just as mediocre as the movie, in my opinion. It followed the traditional formula and did not expand far beyond the movie’s storyline. It still had some satisfying moments, but was a forgettable experience overall. The second movie’s game remedied it by doing what we Spider-Man fans had been waiting for since the web-slinger became a playable video game character. The city of Manhattan became the hero’s sandbox and players could zip, swing, and float through the city at will. Web-swinging had never been so fun in any previous Spider-Man game. With an upgrade system that allowed for players to go even faster through the air, or run along building at high speed, or improve their fighting skills to see the hero pull off some amazing combos the game was a huge step up from previous models. Of course, it was far from perfect. There were countless moves and upgrades you would never use simply because there were too many combinations available or because situations rarely called for them. And various missions as the hero, ranging from rescuing people falling from buildings or gang banging to grabbing a child’s balloon became tedious quickly; it was appropriate for the character, but hardly satisfying.
This became the new formula for Spider-Man games to follow. Unfortunately it was a steady decline in quality. Ultimate Spider-Man had some merit for following the comics so closely that it was actually writing the story for what happened between Venom and Spidy after what had transpired between the two in the issues that had been released by that point. Capturing us Venom fans’ attention by being able to play as the dark behemoth in the game was enough to warrant a purchase for me, though the end result was not extremely satisfying. Playing as Spider-Man was dull as many of the more complicated abilities that were present in Spider-Man 2 had been removed. The developers claimed it was because since Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe was just a teenager, he hadn’t developed all his fighting skills yet. I say they were just too lazy to program it all in. Venom lacked a great deal of fighting skills himself. He was fun to use by flying through the city, but having played Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Venom’s abilities were slim by comparison. The game was held together by its story, but the rest of it was mediocre.
After Ultimate there was the release of the third movie’s game, which is regarded as one of the worst releases ever. In my opinion it wasn’t as bad as the movie, but it was certainly worse than what had come before it. Ultimate had a decent story and a visual style that complimented the game while 3 had very little about it that made it stand out. It brought back the leveling system of 2 with all his abilities and introduced the rage of the “dark suit,” but the experience was far from satisfying. There were some major game-breaking glitches to get through and by the end, I was glad to be done with it.
There was a crappy beat-em-up that followed called Friend or Foe; a forgettable experience not even worth talking about. Then there was Web of Shadows, subject of the next Late Bird Review. I have a love/hate relationship with that game. It certainly wasn’t the worst Spider-Man game I played, but after playing it, the sandbox formula was definitely wearing thin.
Enter Shattered Dimensions. It’s the first game since Spider-Man 2 that has gone back to the mission/level format. Using the different aesthetics of 4 universes, the game is banking on whether the change in style will be enough to give the franchise the much needed revitalizing shock. However, mediocrity can still be swimming in the game, stay tuned for my full review of SD and whether it has enough merit to warrant the full price tag, or if the sandbox format is still the preferred method for the web-slinging hero.
If you have any fond or angry memories of the Spider-Man games I’ve mentioned or failed to mention please feel free to leave some comments and tell me what you think. Agree or disagree.