Summer is in full swing and the temperatures keep on rising but Spider-Month still rolls on! Today we take a look at a little known Spidey game. When most people think of classic arcade beat-em-ups they usually think of the Ninja Turtles games, Final Fight, the Simpsons, or even Marvels other classic X-Men. However very few remember that Spider-Man himself had an arcade brawler. This game came out in 1991, a full year before X-Men, and the same year as Captain America and the Avengers. Lets take a look!
I recall this machine being in my local arcade when I was growing up (that’s right, when I was young arcades were still readily available). While other kids toiled away on the cabinets I mentioned above I was always fascinated by the Spidey game. Being my favorite superhero it’s only natural I gravitated towards this machine. I of course would always play as Spider-Man back then so my memories of anything other than it being a Spider-Man brawler are completely hazy and it wasn’t until I replayed the game for this review that I saw how completely out there the game really is.
The game itself is your standard brawler fare, you choose from 4 heroes, Spider-Man of course, as well as Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Namor. That’s right, this game lets you actually beat up dudes as the Sub Mariner himself. Each character controls basically the same with your standard attack combos and jump attacks and each is equipped with a special attack which drains your health meter every time it’s used. Spider-Man shoots his webs, Cat swings a whip around, Hawkeye shoots an arrow, and Namor of course shoots electricity out of his hands… wait what?!
The story of the game is really thin, even more so than most brawlers of this type. Apparently Doctor Doom has found some tablet which can cause crazy stuff to happen and he uses it to make Venom grow 30 stories tall. Why he does this we’ll never know, but he does this all the same. Spidey and his amazing super-friends defeat Venom and find the tablet which is then whisked away to 5 different stages until you finally assault Castle Doom itself. Why the game chose to set Doctor Doom, who is not really a Spider-Man villain, as the main antagonist is a strange choice, especially when it could have just as easily been the Kingpin or Green Goblin doing this. Fortunately all those villains do make appearances as bosses, in fact this game has more boss fights than most of this type. While brawlers usually put a boss at the end of each stage giving roughly five major villains, Spider-Man has bosses all throughout the game, you’ll fight them at the beginning of levels, in the middle and at the end. These bosses include the aforementioned Kingpin and Goblin, but also Scorpion, Doc Ock, Electro, and even the Sandman make an appearance. Unfortunately even with the large number of boss characters in the game, it still re-uses fights for some reason. You’ll face off against the Green Goblin twice in the exact same fight, they could have at least palette swapped him to the Hobgoblin one of those times or something. While the bosses are a fun diversion the main enemies are completely generic and there are far too few of them. The basic enemy type reminds me of the puttys from Power Rangers, just faceless dudes in leotards getting their asses whipped. There is some slight variation in the later stages, the best enemies coming from the Kingpin level where you’ll fight thugs in suits who look like extras from Michael Jacksons Smooth Criminal video.
While the game is an arcade brawler and it will draw its most comparisons to others of its ilk like X-Men, there is one area where the game makes a HUGE departure from the genre. The game switches from brawling to straight up sidescrolling sections in every stage. Usually after defeating a mid level boss the camera will zoom way out giving you a full view of a building or whatever you’re supposed to climb. In these sections you can hang on the ceiling and scroll left or right but are usually meant to climb upwards. Brawling is taken completely out of these sections, your main attack being replaced by a ranged attack. Spidey shoots a web ball, Hawkeye shoots arrows, Cat has a grappling hook she uses to kill people kind of like a sexy Bionic Commando, and Namor once again has mysterious lightning powers. During these sidescrolling sections most enemies are killed in one hit, but there are boss characters in these sections as well. The fights are much simpler than the brawling fights as you simply have to avoid the boss attacks and shoot back, but it is a nice change of pace from the easily dispatched fodder enemies and the simple brawling mechanics of the main game.
One thing that would have really annoyed me in the arcade is everything you do in this game drains your health. This was clearly a quarter grabbing technique but it’s really egregious here. Of course getting hit by enemies will drain your health, but so will using your special attacks. You aren’t limited to how often you can use these attacks as long as you have enough health to give. Finally, similar to Gauntlet, your health simply ticks down slowly on its own. At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on as it looked like every time I attacked an enemy I was losing 1 health. This system turns out to be the games timer as there isn’t a real timer on the stages, you simply lose health for every second of game time, thus if you played too long on a single quarter you would eventually just die of radioactive Spider-Cancer I guess.
While the game has some interesting ideas with its brawling transitioning to 2D sidescrolling, it’s easy to see why this game has fallen to histories wayside when compared to other timeless brawlers. The cast of playable characters is really weak compared to X-Men or the Avengers game, it’s really hard to pair Spidey up with other heroes that makes sense. Since the Spider-Man game was made by Sega and X-Men was made by Konami the rights to Wolverine were likely tied up there, had he been in this game it probably would’ve been much more popular. The game is fun for what it is, a Spider-Man themed beat-em-up, but it’s weak story and cast as well as some goofy animations (seriously, Spider-Man looks like the saddest sack when he’s walking around) made it clear this game wasn’t going to stand up against it’s more popular contemporaries. However, with the never-ending popularity of Spider-Man and Segas continual dire economical straights it is possible we could see a quick cash grab XBLA or PSN re-release of this game sometime down the road.