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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Memories #16: Spider-Man

Superman is the mighty man of steel. Batman is the world's greatest detective. But my favorite super hero will always be the one and only, the amazing, the spectacular, the sensational Spider-Man. My interest for Spider-Man began during my childhood years. Every Saturday I would tune into NBC and watch the Marvel Action Universe, a block dedicated to showing off animated properties that were owned by Marvel. Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends was my first animated introduction to the wall-crawler.

Being an avid fan of Spidey and an even bigger fan of the video game medium, you'd think I would have played a game starting my favorite web-head sometime before the 1980s had ended. However, this was not the case, although in hindsight, that was probably a good thing since Spider-Man on the 2600 was nothing to beg your parents to get you for your birthday. Though I'm sure this didn't stop some unsuspecting children from doing so and to those that did and had a crappy birthday present as a result, well, hey, at least you got something.

I may have missed out on some of the less than spectacular Spidey games, but I was still exposed to several of them. The first was Spider-Man & X-Men: Arcade's Revenge. Released on the SNES in 1992 and later ported to the Genesis a year later, Spider-Man & X-Men was one of Acclaim's baby's. At the time, I thought it was so cool to wall crawl and swing around as Spider-Man. Even his Spider Sense had a function on the game's first level, alerting you not to danger, but to these computer terminal like things that had to be activated in a specific order. These days, I now recognize the game for the unbeatable mess and avoid it like a girl that's no good for me. Age truly does bring wisdom and I have no problem admitting to being something of a stupid kid on certain things back in the day.

The second Spider-Man game I encountered was the Genesis game simply titled Spider-Man and this was by mistake. I wanted to rent Spider-Man based of the Fox 1994 cartoon series but since it's also called Spider-Man like the early Genesis release, I ended up taking that game home instead. After a return trip to Block Buster Video, I got the game I wanted. In the end, neither game left me with good memories.

You might be wondering when I'm going to get to the 2000 Spider-Man video game, the center piece of this installment of Memories. I know that I'm taking a while to get there and that's because the road to 2000 Spider-Man was a long one traveled for me.

As I mentioned above, I've played my share of sub par Spider-Man games but before this, I came in contact with some high quality licensed titles. When you've been spoiled by games like DuckTales and Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers from the NES era, it's not hard to see why someone would approach a licensed game with a positive outlook. What's more, the Dark Knight treated me to some of the best Batman games long before he really stepped things up in his HD outings. Sunsoft's Batman based of Tim Burton's 1989 film, in spite of the difficulty is widely regarded as a good game as is Konami's Batman Returns on the SNES.

In 1995, my viewpoint of the licensed game would shift dramatically. Spider-Man '94, Genesis Spider-Man and Spider-Man & X-Men weren't anything special to be sure, but they weren't enough to sour me on super hero games and licensed titles in general. No, that dubious honor goes to Batman Forever.

Acclaim hyped this game like it was going to be the best Batman video game of all time and like a stupid fish, I feel for it, hook, line and sinker. The magazine ads, the TV spots, I ate every bit of it up. I rented the game from Block Buster, popped that sucker into my SNES expecting to be blown away only to be met with bitter disappointment. I was no genius at the age of fourteen, but one thing that was immediately clear to me is that Batman Forever was a not-even-thinly disguised version of Mortal Kombat. The motion of Batman and Robin's uppercuts, blocking with the L and R buttons. Even digitized actors were used just like Mortal Kombat. What pinhead thought the Mortal Kombat engine would work well in a beat 'em up format? The game was also painfully sluggish with annoying precise, outlandish button inputs. Thankfully, I also rented Lufia & the Fortress of Doom so my weekend wasn't a complete disaster, but as far as licensed games went, the damage was done.

Bad games can have lasting affects just the same way good games do. For me, Batman Forever killed licensed video games for a good, long while. This game was the reason I thought GoldenEye 007 on the N64 would tank but I a 1998 rental showed me just how wrong I was. In 1999's August issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, I saw the first screenshots of  a 3D Spider-Man game simply called Spider-Man. The screens showed Spidey web swinging through a city and EGM actually got some hands-on time with the game and they had good things to say about it. I may have welcomed Bond with open arms after playing it and snatching it up on my 18th birthday that same year, but I had my arms crossed and a scowl on my face for Spidey. After the train wreck that was Batman Forever, not even my favorite super hero was getting cut any slack, and I didn't care if a few members of the video game press had some positive things to say.

In late 2000, Spider-Man released on the PlayStation. EGM gave the game a positive review but since they had good things to report on the wall crawler a year ago, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. But as more reviews popped up, I found out that it wasn't just EGM like liked Spider-Man. Game Informer, GamePro, GameSpot, everyone was impressed with what was the best Spidey game in a long time. It was hard for me to keep looking at Spidey all grim faced. Yeah, Batman Forever sucked and the press rightfully panned the game, but Spidey was getting good reviews. During this time, I was working at Toys 'R Us in the electronics department, so my access to video games had never been higher. With the coming of the PlayStation 2, lots of new PS titles were being released at $40 and Spider-Man was among those titles.

When I saw the title screen, a huge grin was already plastered across my face. They took the classic 1967 Spider-Man theme song and remixed it. This made it difficult to quickly bypass the title screen whenever I turned the game on. Of course this was just the first sign of many good things to come. After some quick practice in training mode, I dived into story mode.

As I played through the rooftop section of the first level, I couldn't contain my excitement. I'd read that this game captured what it felt like to be Spider-Man, but actually experiencing the feeling was just amazing. Spidey could crawl on walls, swing from building to building, web up bad guys. OK, so he could do these things in previous Spider-Man games, but not like this. Neversoft truly understood Spider-Man and his world better than any game company that ever had the chance to handle the character.

While the game was mostly a 3D beat 'em up action game, there was some variety in the levels. Not much, but the fact that it's there helped a lot. The second chapter was a racing level of sorts. You had to hurry to the Daily Bugle before the Scorpion reached J. Jonah Jameson and killed him since he blames JJ for being stuck in his Scorpion suit. One of my favorite sections that I would replay over and over has Spidey running from the cops as he races through the city. These guys mean serious business and they fire off machine gun ammo and missiles at Spidey through each portion of the level. You have to move fast, crawl and swing from building to building to keep from getting blown up. It's such an intense level and I love it for that.

The third chapter was on the short side, consisting of nothing but a boss battle against Rhino, one of Spidey's not-so-bright opponents. The whole fight hinges on Rhino'stupidity as all you have to do to beat him is jump when he charges at you and make him fry himself on electrical power generators. Super simple fight but it's still nice that the developers recognized Rhino for the fool that he is.

Venom, being one of Spidey's bigger threats got ample screen time. Not only did he have a chase scene but he had two separate boss fights. In the first fight, you simply had to defeat him but since Venom blocks Spidey's spider-sense, you had to rely on your own eyes to see where Venom would attack. This could get tricky since one of Venom's ability is camouflage to blend in with the environment, effectually making him invisible. Venom fights the same way during your second encounter with him, but things are much more complicated since he's got Mary Jane hostage and is threatening to drown her. You had to keep the water level from rising and fight Venom off at the same time. A fight befitting one of Spidey's greatest villians, regardless of whether you think he belongs up there with the likes of the Green Goblin and Doc Ock.

Speaking of Doc Ock, his merger when the Carnage symbiote had to be one of the creepiest things I'd seen in a video game at the time. During the game's climax, you had to flee for your life through a huge series of twisting, turning tunnels to reach the surface as Carnage Ock chased you the whole way, chanting in that disturbing voice "DIEEEEEE!" I failed that section several times due to the screwy camera. Yeah, it's bad in other portions of the game, but in confined areas like this one, it really bites you.

Not only was the gameplay very faithful to the source material, there were tons and I mean TONS of extras. You could collect comic book icons that gave information on certain issues throughout Spidey's history like Amazing Spider-Man #3, which was all about Spidey's first clash with Doc Ock. By meeting certain requirements, you could also unlock special costumes that were used in the comics, like the Alien Costume, which granted infinite webbing, Amazing Bag-Man, a joke costume, the Scarlet Spider costume, the Captain Universe costume and plenty of others. There were even story boards for each cut scene in the game. This was especially interesting for me because up until this point, I had never even heard of the term "story board." It was a real eye opener to see these scenes in draft from. This was the first game I play that went so far as to include some behind the scenes material and sparked my interest in bonus content on DVD sets and games.

There have been a plethora of Spider-Man game since this one like Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension and Spider-Man: Edge of Time. But for years, this was the definitive video game version of the wall-crawler. Sure, the camera got on my nerves on more than one occasion and the story and dialogue were wonky at times, but this was a solid Spider-Man experience and was the reminder I needed that good super hero games could exist.


Adam said...

I had the N64 version, they took out the lizardman level I think

Reggie White Jr. said...

I wasn't aware they took anything out of the ported versions of the game.