I may be a bit biased here, but I think that Spider-Man is the most enduring pop culture icon of the last hundred years. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962 for the Amazing Fantasy series of comic books, the old web-head has spawned a media empire spanning years of comic books, TV series, action figures, movies, and, yes, video games. While most of the media properties associated with the wall-crawler have been largely successful, Spider-Man’s video games have had a chequered past. He’s been appearing on our television screens since 1978, but what Spider-Man games have swung to glorious heights, and which ones have gone splat on the sidewalk?
Although we’re all too young to remember it, the very first Spider-Man video game appeared in 1978 and it was a first person text adventure, of all things. Though it’s probably too archaic at this point, it did start Spider-Man’s legacy of video games. The next Spider-Man game, and the first one that actually had anything to do with his powers, was a 1982 Atari 2600 game that primarily involved climbing a skyscraper and defusing bombs left by the Green Goblin. Spider-Man himself was a tiny red stick-man, and the game was notorious for being way too hard.
The 1990s were really the salad days for Spider-Man video games, and I’m sure that these are the ones we remember most fondly. The very first Spider-Man game I ever played was Maximum Carnage for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Adapted from the comic book plot of the same name, the title revolved around Spider-Man and Venom’s attempt to thwart the nefarious Carnage’s attempted take-over of New York City. The other Spider-Man game from this era that has really stuck with me is Separation Anxiety, another comic adaptation. This game introduced cooperative gameplay, and that was a major leap over every other game I had played at that point. I sunk hours in those games and, well I’m sure that they won’t hold up well at all now, these were the titles that cemented my enduring passion for both gaming and Spider-Man.
By this point, the critically acclaimed animated series was on the air, and it needed a video game version to go with it. Capitalizing on the success of the TV show, the game was a side-scrolling action platformer that featured a swath of villains along with guest appearances from the Fantastic Four. Released in 1995, this was to be the last notable Spider-Man game of the ’90s, as Marvel Entertainment was about to undergo serious financial trouble.
At the start of the new millennium, however, things were looking up for Marvel. With several movies on the horizon, the company began looking at new ways to get back into gaming and they approached Activision to make new Spider-Man titles. The year 2000 saw what is still arguably the best Spider-Man game to date. Released on the PlayStation, DreamCast and the Nintendo 64 it was the first Spider-Man game that really allowed the player to use the full range of Spider-Man’s powers: wall-crawling, web-slinging, they were all there and it featured the most impressive collection of alternate costumes in a game to boot. Seriously, I don’t think that any game featuring Spider-Man since has had such a large selection of of the web-head’s looks.
Now that Spider-Man was back in full force, anticipation was high for the upcoming movie release. To coincide with the film, Activision released a tie-in game for the then-new X-Box, PlayStation 2 and the GameCube. While it did add current generation graphics to the formula set by the previous Spider-Man game, the first real advancement came with the Spider-Man 2 movie game, the first title that allowed players to swing around a scaled New York City in real-time.
Featuring several in-game miles of swing-able skyline, this was the new standard-setter for Spider-Man and every game after that has been trying to match its success. While the game was by no means perfect, it did encapsulate the most essential part of Spider-Man and allowed players to preform it flawlessly.
While the three games that have followed have tried to recapture the proverbial lighting, they have all fallen short of obtaining the level of success afforded to Spider-Man 2. Whether they were further comic book adaptations (Ultimate Spider-Man), another movie tie-in (Spider-Man 3) or an original story-line (Web of Shadows), these games have ranged from decent to mediocre to downright terrible. Part of the problem with these follow-ups is that they have tried to play on the feeling created in Spider-Man 2 by simply shoe-horning in the web-slinging instead of making it an essential part of the game play. It is fun to use to get from one point to another, but outside of transportation, the games don’t utilize it properly. Web of Shadows probably came the closest, but there were a lot of other things wrong with that game. Surprising, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick recently admitted that ever since the games moved away from web-slinging, they have become progressively worse.
Though no one is sure what the recently announced Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions holds, it’s a safe bet that we will see a return to form for Spidey. While the previous games were developed by Neversoft, newcomer Beenox has taken the reins and they may give the franchise the kick in the pants it needs.
So what about you guys? With such a storied past, surely you’ve played some Spider-Man games in your years as a gamer. What games have made the biggest impression on you, and which ones have soured you? Are you looking forward to Shattered Dimensions?