It’s a really fun beat-em-up from 1991, featuring a star-studded line-up of villains, some inventive platforming sequences and some really odd choices for supporting cast members.
The early 1990s were really the heyday of the side-scrolling-beat-em-up genre. What started with “Double Dragon” and “Bad Dudes” blossomed into an array of all-time arcade classics, including Capcom’s “Final Fight” and “Captain Commando,” Konami’s “The Simpsons” and “X-Men” and SNK’s “Burning Fight” and “P.O.W.: Prisoners of War” -- and that’s not even taking into consideration all of the weird-ass, one-off coin-op brawlers, like “Night Slashers,” “Ninja Baseball Bat Man” and both “Sonic Blast Man” games.
While Sega released arguably the most iconic console beat-em-up series of the 1990s, they sadly had few forays into the arcade brawler market. While most of their genre offerings were fairly forgettable (anybody remember “Arabian Fight?”) they did wind up releasing at least one really memorable beat-em-up title in 1991 -- and seeing as how it starred arguably the greatest comic book character of them all, you really have to wonder why it never gained the widespread popularity of some of its contemporaries.
Released in 1991, “Spider-Man: The Video Game” was a very well-made little side-scroller, with a ton of things going for it. Obviously, it had the Spidey license, and it is clear that the designers of the game held the property in high-esteem. It’s filled to the brim with iconic villains, there are a ton of neat little nods to the comics (Spider-Man’s webbing comes complete with a corresponding “thwikt” sound effect bubble) and it even incorporates some inspired platforming levels into the mix for good measure. Outside of the fact that the game just wasn’t as ubiquitous as its more famous genre kin, I just can’t figure out why this one isn’t universally hailed as a mini-masterpiece.
|A perfectly reasonable retort when goosed by a Putty from|
After you watch the character bios scroll in attract mode, the first thing you will probably notice about the game is the faithful-to-the-comics aesthetics. The backgrounds have a very pulpy, washed out texture to them, and the characters speak in text bubbles -- heck, you even get some very melodramatic cut-scene intros before each stage! Much like the iconic Genesis “Spider-Man” game from Sega (which was made even better in a criminally underappreciated Sega CD port), this is definitely a game made by people with a reverence for the source material, and their attention-to-detail is to be lauded.
Chapter One (i.e., the first level in the game) is titled “The Mystic Power Stone.” As does 90 percent of all 2D beat-em-ups ever made, it begins on a city street, which is suspiciously devoid of pedestrians … and even more suspiciously, populated solely by ninja warriors in matching robes. After being taunted by the Scorpion, you make your way to the right, beating up assorted no-goodniks, including purple and blue glad henchmen carrying stun guns who look like Putties from “Power Rangers” and coo like quails when you hit them and really, really fat dudes with mohawks who literally roll at you like boulders. After pummeling 1,500 of them into submission, you engage in fisticuffs with the Scorpion, in front of a gigantic semi-truck. After besting him in battle, the tractor trailer collapses and reveals none other than Eddie Brock in a hyperventilation chamber. This being a video game, of course he escapes from the containment unit and emerges as Venom.
|It's not everyday that you see a guy with a starfish head zapping a|
naked dude with electricity. Even if you live in Venice Beach.
Once Venom is bested (and you can tell, because he makes this really weird, garbled noise that sounds like a duck quacking) we head to chapter two, titled “Big Brother Kingpin.” The stage, which takes place primarily on a green and grey metal catwalk thingy, immediately throws the Green Goblin at you, who quickly flies off-screen almost as quickly as he enters it. Once you make it through the next wave of rank-and-file, non-canonical cannon fodder, the metal platform beneath your character’s feet starts moving. You get an opportunity to pick up some health (taking the form of red hearts in mustard-colored jars), and then you encounter a dude in a white lab coat, who is violently shaking. Why, who would have guessed, it’s the Lizard, and you have to fight him, too.
|Are Hawkeye and Kingpin still refusing to speak to one another?|
Next, you climb abord Kingping’s zeppelin, and the camera zooms back into beat-em-up-a-vision. Much like Konami’s “X-Men” arcade game, the playable characters in this game also have a finite number of “super-attacks.” Hawkeye launches arrows, the Black Cat swings a grappling hook, Spidey shots a big web blast and Namor hits people with lightning. They are quite useful for getting yourself out of jams when enemies swarm on you, but more importantly? They also look cool as fuck.
A boss battle with the Green Goblin ensues. As you’d expect, he chunks pumpkins at you and zips around on his glider, meaning you can only damage him with jump kicks. He also has this really weird glowing orange-arm wrist-flick attack, which to the best of my knowledge, I have never seen him actually do in the comics.
This brings us to chapter three, “The Lair of the Kingpin.” After crashing into a casino, you fight more fat dudes and guys who look like Mitt Romney, before facing the Scorpion yet again. He’s a lot harder this time, swinging his tail at you like a helicopter propeller and ensnaring you in his vice-like grip. Fortunately, he’s pretty predictable, and you can probably beat him just by spamming him with the jump kick. Interestingly enough, all of the playable characters have their own “swinging attack” and at least one throw -- for an arcade brawler, they really do give you a surprisingly high number of attacks to monkey around with.
|Forget the pumpkin bombs ... those carbon monoxide fumes will|
kill you just as fast.
Once you cross lava pits, laser traps and rising platforms trying to crush you, the camera zooms back in and you fight the Kingpin in his office (you can tell its his office because he has a gigantic portrait of himself hanging over the desk.) A platoon of multi-hued fat people (Fisk’s illegitimate children, maybe?) roll at you while the Kingpin himself charges at you, laughs, and chokes you, Homer Simpson-style. By the way, the animations in this game are just tremendous. Every character walks with a different hunch (they even appear to breathe differently) with enemies dropping their weapons in all sorts of weird ways once you knock them out (for extra LOLage, some of them even lose their hats once getting punched unconscious.)
|There are a lot of things you expect out of a Spider-Man game. Namor|
fighting the Lizard and monkey people in hell probably isn't one of them.
Another platforming sequence follows. After climbing up some metal girders (they even have these faint little support pillars, explaining how they can appear suspended in mid-air), you hop aboard a green helicopter with a fa-jillion blades and BAM! Sneak attack from the Hobgoblin!
|Good old Spidey, spraying volatile chemicals on minorities before |
it was the trendy thing to do.
The final chapter, “Doom’s Day!” takes place in Latvia … or whatever the hell Dr. Doom’s country is called. After working your way through an underground cavern (complete with lava pits and an armada of half-man, half-monkey abominations wearing teal pants) you fight the Lizard once more.
I guess now is as good a time as ever to discuss the game’s biggest flaw -- the audio. The music, while decent, seems really out of place (it’s this weird jazzy stuff that feels more at home in the stage select menu of a racing game) and it is quite repetitive. Furthermore, the audio samples are used over and over again, so if you are playing as the Black Cat, you will literally hear “you’ve hit the jackpot!” every five seconds. Since arcades were usually a cacophony of noises and bleeps anyway, I suppose that’s an issue you could’ve written off in 1991, but when you are ROM-ing this shit on your laptop? Trust me, it gets annoying fast.
|The final battle plays out exactly as you'd imagine -- with Dr. Doom|
trying to find his contacts.
This leads to our first battle against Dr. Doom, who has this really annoying “Psycho Crusher” type attack that’s really hard to avoid. After you beat him, however, he explodes, as another Doom hologram appears in the background to taunt you.
We go into platform mode, as we make our way up a huge staircase while evil cow skulls puke magma and the soundtrack turns into a really bad variation on the casino level theme from “Sonic 2.” You jump over some more mines, and you fight Dr. Doom in mini-sprite mode again, this time while he commandeers a very Dr. Robotnik-like flying device. Then things go into full-sized brawling mode, as you go toe-to-toe with Dr. Doom inside his murky chambers. Avoiding his mean backhanded slap and jet-propelled clothesline tackle of death, the background eventually crumbles, revealing a lab with electric bursts going everywhere. Now he has this powerful orange-pink laser attack … and its revealed he’s just another damn Doom bot! You step aboard a moving platform, and we come to the game’s grand finale … a climactic boss fight against not one, but three different Venoms, who keep re-spawning after you kill them. Hang in there long enough, though, and eventually, the last Symbiote will go down (you are notified of this by a mean electric guitar shriek and the quacking duck death gurgle from earlier.)
And the game formally concludes with all four playable characters watching Castle Doom implode from a safe distance, with the ominous post-script suggesting that Victor is still out there somewhere, probably plotting some mean Hitler-caliber shit.
Clearly, there is a lot to like about this game. Yeah, the visuals may not be as good as some of its genre competitors, and the music definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but in terms of presentation and sheer gameplay, this one is just a hoot and a half to slog through, especially with an amigo or amiga or two. As has been the fate of most licensed arcade games from the era, the title never had a shot at an official re-release on the newer home consoles, and it never actually made it to the 16-bit consoles from its own timeframe. Alas, the unique blend of platforming and brawling, in tandem with the excellent license use, has made this one something of a retroactive classic, an unsung gem from the George Herbert Walker years that's definitely striking a chord with fans today -- many of whom were not even born when the game first came out!
As good as the game was, you really have to wonder what Sega would have been able to do with a follow-up. Imagine, a six-player cabinet sequel, with Nova and Speedball joining the fray ... or possibly even the Prowler, or Power Fist! Oh, my goodness -- what dreams could have come, no?