Available on Mega-Drive, Master System and Mega-CD.
So Isomniac’s new Spider-Man game is less than a month away, and for me, the hype train has left the station. I’m wearing my Spider-Man hoodie, reading the comics, watching the Raimi trilogy, and most importantly, I’ve pulled out my collection of Spider-Man games from over the years. I intend to review a bunch of them leading up to the new game’s release, and what better starting point than 1991’s Spider-Man, also known as The Amazing Spider-Man VS the Kingpin. While it isn’t the first Spider-Man game released, it was certainly the first one that put the web-slinger on the proverbial video game map, and I’m going to find out why.
Considering it’s an early Mega-Drive title, Spider-Man looks pretty good. It has bright colours, varied level aesthetics, and detailed sprites, with Spidey and his rogue’s gallery looking pretty spot on, although Spidey is missing the black webbing on his suit just like in the 67’ series. The standard thugs you encounter also lack in variety, although given the limited space on Mega-Drive cartridges at the time, this isn’t much of a surprise. Overall, Spider-Man is certainly a looker, and showed what the Mega-Drive could do early on in its life cycle.
The basic story is that The Kingpin has planted a nuke in New York set to detonate in 24 hours, and pinned the blame on Spider-Man, placing a $10,000 bounty on his head for apprehension. It is a decent story that feels like it could have been a mini-arc in the comic series. It also explains why many of Spider-Man’s most famous enemies appear and why the police are also hostile. The game also makes room for twists as well, with a desperate Kingpin kidnapping Mary Jane late in the game. The game is set in the Amazing comic series or Earth-616 if you’re comic savvy. While comic knowledge isn’t required to understand the story, fans coming from the TV shows, movies or the comics after the abysmal One More Day storyline may be surprised by some plot points mentioned, in particular Peter and MJ being married. Overall, it is a very good story for an early comic book video game.
Spider-Man’s gameplay may seem simple at first, but has a surprising amount of depth when you get into it. Given that this was released before the 6-button controller, you have 3 buttons to work with alongside the D-Pad. A fires webs, B punches or kicks, and C jumps and clings to walls. Spidey can do most things that a spider can with these controls, although he lacks the ability to swing on webs. Despite the lack of web swinging, webs are still incredibly useful, as they act as a projectile against long range enemies, and you can also create a Captain America style shield out of webbing. Don’t go too crazy however; as web fluid can run out if you don’t keep track of it. To replenish it, you can find pick-ups in the levels or, most surprisingly, you can use your camera to snap pictures of criminals for the Daily Bugle, and use the money made from said pictures to buy more. It’s a very interesting mechanic that acknowledges and utilises Parker’s daily life without actually featuring him outside of his Spider-Man guise.
Speaking of enemies, there is a decent selection for you to take care of. Your standard thugs can shoot you from a distance, or use a knife to get up close and personal. These thugs are actually one of the worst parts of the game, largely due to their frustrating AI and placement. Early on in the game, there are areas where you have a very tight position to get past a thug, and their AI has them constantly shooting at you with almost no way to dodge. If they hit you, you bounce back, potentially off of a ledge. They aren’t really fun to fight against, and I often had to cheaply jump in and out of cover and shoot them with webbing, which detracted from the overall experience. The bosses on the other hand, are very well done. There’s a large variety of famous Spider-Man villains here, including Doc Ock, the Lizard, Sandman and Hobgoblin. You can also get a surprise attack from Venom before the actual boss-fight in a level. Just like the thugs, the bosses are frustrating to fight, but given that they’re bosses, they’re meant to be somewhat cheap unlike the thugs. The bosses are also incredibly varied and require different strategies to defeat.
My only real complaint with this game is the difficulty. As I mentioned, the thugs and bosses can be quite cheap to fight, so expect plenty of deaths if you’re uninitiated. Those deaths may not feel like a problem at first, as in theory, there are unlimited continues. However, that 24 hour timer is an actual gameplay mechanic, albeit not actually 24 hours long. That means you’re challenged to beat the game before the city is blown to bits. The problem comes from the fact that Spider-Man doesn’t die when he loses his health, he instead gets arrested. When you press continue, you break out of prison and go back to the beginning of the level, although you lose more time from the clock due to being locked up. This makes Spider-Man rather frustrating to play, although it does get easier through repetition and learning of patterns and enemy spawns.
The sound effects in Spider-Man are well done given the Mega-Drive’s sound chip. Hitting enemies has a satisfying crunch to it, and gun shots sound as menacing as they need to be. The music, however, is mediocre. While once again it is decently done, it is nowhere near as memorable as its contemporaries such as Altered Beast or Sonic the Hedgehog, despite being on the same sound chip. It’s serviceable but nothing to rave over.
While cheap enemy design and an annoying time limit make the game more frustrating than it should be, I still enjoyed my time with Spider-Man. The game controls well, enemies are varied, and there’s so much fan service in terms of appearances of famous villains, and a fantastic comic-style plot to boot. The game’s graphics also perfectly showed off the Mega-Drive’s power at the time, and actually look quite charming today, although the music could have been much better. While there are infinitely better Spider-Man games out there nowadays, it’s not hard to see why this game managed to put Spider-Man on the map at the time of its release.