Monday, July 1, 2019

The Ten Greatest Spider-Man Video Games of All-Time!

From the 2600 to the PlayStation4, we count down Old Webhead’s greatest forays into the interactive medium!

By: Jimbo X

There are two people in this world: people who consider Spider-Man to be the greatest superhero character of all time and people who are some wrong-ass motherfuckers. And as with all popular licensed characters that appeal to both young children and autistic 20-somethings, Spider-Man was adapted to the interactive medium pretty early on, and unlike characters like Superman, Aquaman or the Hulk, the lion’s share of his video games have actually been fairly solid, if not consistently above average since the early, early 1980s.

Of course, Spidey’s forays into the digital realm haven’t been without their hiccups — remember, LJN did have the license for several years — but by and large, Spidey’s games have certainly been better than the norm when compared to other superhero brands. And with a new Spider-movie hitting the cineplexes — as well as some new Spider-Man Pop-Tarts, which almost certainly will be better than Far From Home (or, at least, more faithful to the character) — what better time to reminisce on the best of the best when it comes to Peter Parker’s virtual sojourns?

To make things interesting, I tried to keep each entry on the countdown limited to one console outing at a time — which, if nothing else, shows just how diverse the Spidey mythos is in video gaming lore. Shit, sticking to my own self-imposed rules I still didn’t have to bring up the 32X, which means Old Webhead has definitely had some memorable outings across the console cosmos over the last 35-plus years.

So what are you waiting for, Holmes? Pour you a nice, cold Mysterio-flavored blueberry Dr. Pepper, get you a handful of Spider-Man-colored vanilla cupcake fudge stripe cookies and get ready to weave your way through a most wonderful web of memories, folks, as we count down what are unquestionably the 10 greatest Spider-Man video games EVER ...

Spider-Man (1982)
System: Atari 2600
Developer: Laura Nikolich
Publisher: Parker Brothers

That’s right, we’re going WAY back to the Atari 2600 to get this countdown rolling. Sure, compared to today’s technological standards, this Parker Brothers release is preposterously primitive, but — from an objective standpoint — it’s certainly worthy of inclusion on the list. Why? Because unlike a lot of superhero-branded Atari 2600 games (or hell, a lot of Atari 2600 games in general), this game actually holds up as a halfway decent little arcade time-waster, complete with smoother controls than the platform norm and basic gameplay components that actually do a pretty solid job of recreating Old Webhead’s iconic comic book adventures (and for all of you zoomers, yes, comparatively, the graphics in this one ARE above-average for the system.) It’s certainly not a game you could play for hours on end, but if you’ve never given it a spin before, I think you might be surprised by just how solid the whole package is. An engineering marvel this may not be, but for its time, it’s certainly an aberrationally enjoyable licensed product.

Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six (2001)
System: Game Boy Color
Developer: Torus Games
Publisher: Activision

Longtime IIIA readers know we’ve already taken a gander at the slate of Spider-games on the original, monochrome Game Boy. While those titles ran the gamut from just OK to ALMOST good, this portable gem released WAY late in the GBC lifespan stands out in my mind as the best pure handheld Spider-Man offering to date (although keep in mind there’s a whole shit load of 3DS and Vita games I haven’t gotten around to playing.) The Sinister Six keeps things straight-forward, with simplistic brawling and web-slinging controls and semi-exploration-based gameplay that is enhanced considerably by some very well-designed levels. At times, this almost feels like a pared back version of the classic The Amazing Spider-Man on the Genesis, with a little bit of Mega Man Xtreme thrown in for good measure. With colorful, comic-book-like visuals, a much-better-than-average soundtrack for the GBC and plenty of cool nods to the source material (including a rare video game appearance by Kraven the Hunter), this is definitely an early aughties handheld gem worth perusing the flea markets for.

Spider-Man: The Video Game (1991)
System: Arcade (Sega System 32)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

Yeah, we’ve already covered this one in-depth, so I reckon there’s no need to restate what’s already been stated. A solid coin-op beat-em-up from an epoch just glutted with ‘em, Sega’s four-player Spidey button-masher kinda’ fell to the wayside way back when, especially compared to the holy trinity of Konami licensed brawlers. While it doesn’t have the most fine-tuned belt scroller controls and mechanics, it’s nonetheless a solid left-to-right asskicker, made even more enjoyable thanks to a few pseudo-platforming sequences sprinkled in the gameplay here and there. Late ‘80s/early ‘90s comic fans DEFINITELY need to give this one a playthrough, if just to experience the awesome boss battles against the likes of Venom, The Scorpion and Hobgoblin — and yes, it IS surreal being able to tag team with a buddy and beat the shit outta’ Dr. Doom as The Black Cat and Namor the Sub-Mariner … thank you for asking.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes (1995)
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Argent, Epoch Co.
Publisher: Epoch Co.

Forget Maximum Carnage, forget Separation Anxiety and DEFINITELY forget that one game based on the Saturday morning Fox Kids cartoon, this was far and away the BEST Spidey game released on the SNES — even though, technically, it was never actually released stateside. Yes, Lethal Foes remains one of the more inexplicable Super Famicom exclusives, and it’s a shame, really, considering how enjoyable this little action-platformer-brawler is. With bright visuals and super-detailed sprites, this is one of the better animated comic-book-based games on the system, complete with a tempo that almost feels, dare I say it, Genesis-esque? The web-slinging controls are very well-done and the combat system, while rudimentary, definitely feels solid, while the level design offers just enough nuance to make each stage worth exploring. That, and it’s definitely worth ROM-ing just to see the extremely rare video game appearances from such long-time Marvel C-listers as Iron Fist, The Beetle, Alistair Smythe and goddamn motherfuckin’ Speedball. ‘Tis a pity they never gave Epoch an opportunity to make a sequel — something tells me these are the kinda’ programmers who were just itching to animate Rocket Racer and The Human Fly in glorious, glorious 16-bit.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010)
System: PlayStation3/Xbox360
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision

Now here’s a rare high-concept somewhat modern superhero gimmick that gets fanservice RIGHT. Effectively four Spidey games in one, players take the helm of no multiple incarnations of Spider-Man — the mainline Earth-616 iteration, Spider-Man 2099, Ultimate Spider-Man and (the obvious weak link) Spider-Man Noir. Even better, each version is actually voiced by somebody who portrayed Spidey in a cartoon, including the dude from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, who somehow, was still alive in the late 2000s. While the Dan Slott-engineered story isn’t without its faults and flaws, the core gameplay here is just spot-on, with excellent web-slinging and melee combat controls throughout (although, again, the Splinter Cell-lite mechanics for Noir are considerably less enjoyable/intuitive.) Featuring an all-star assortment of Marvel icons (among others, you’ll be doing battle with the likes of the Juggernaut, Deadpool and, uh, Hammerhead?), this thing is just an absolute blast to play from start-to-finish. One word of warning for those of you who like to haunt the bargain bins at Gamestop, though — the versions of this game on the Wii and DS are both hot trash and should be avoided at all costs.

Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018)
System: PlayStation4 
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

I haven’t owned a “modern” video game console in over 10 years, but with games like this and all of those hyperrealistic Forza titles, I can safely say my ass is REALLY tempted to fork over a wad of hundreds and pretend I’m a college kid with too much free-time on my hands again. The same folks who gave us Spyro and Ratchet and Clank spent four years working out the kinks on this mesmerizing, cinematic, practically photorealistic action-adventure game, which, at times, feels like a super high-tech amalgamation of Jet Grind Radio, Splinter Cell and Final Fight in a TRUE open-world sandbox. Of course, the controls are rock-solid and the gameplay is as polished as you’d expect from a developer with such a fine pedigree, but one thing that really surprised me was how good the story was — in fact, if it were a movie, it’d probably be second beyond Spider-Man 2. From the boss battles against the likes of The Kingpin and Screwball  to the plot twists involving Harry Osborn and Miles Morales to the podcasts from J. Jonah Jameson to all of Peter’s goofball jokes with M.J. (who, as a pleasant surprise, actually LOOKS like M.J. this time around), this is definitely a multimedia adaptation that just plain gets what makes the Spidey lore successful … man, if only we could give the reins of the movies over to the guys at Insomniac, huh?

Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (2000)
System: Arcade / Dreamcast
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Yeah, some might say I’m cheating a little bit here, but if we’re running down a list of Spidey’s greatest moments in the interactive medium you’d have to be plum goofy to overlook the crowning achievement of Capcom’s vaunted MvC franchise. While I’ve been reliant on the three-piece of Venom, Iceman and Cable as my main trio for the better part of 20 years now, Spider-Man has always been my fourth man out in MvC2 play — yes, even ahead of Captain goddamn motherfuckin’ Commando. I guess most people would consider Spidey a mid-tier (at best) character in the game, but man, was it fun as shit regardless spamming the Web Ball and Ultimate Web Throw attacks over and over again. I can’t tell you how many hours of joy this thing provided me on the Dreamcast, and one of these days I REALLY need to tell you about the time I spent a week in Daytona and hustled a shit ton of people out of their money back in the eighth grade on the original arcade board. Sigh, take me for a ride, indeed — one down the bittersweet roads of memory lane.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
System: PlayStation2/Xbox/GameCube
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision

To this day, I’ve yet to play a game where the web slinging mechanics felt this good. Released at the apex of Grand Theft Auto-mania, the second Spidey movie-game was one of the first truly open-world superhero games to get the concept right, with an expansive simulacrum of New York City that — as far as I’m concerned — did a much better job of mirroring the Big Apple than contemporaries like True Crime, or even GTA III, for that matter. While the game does take some pretty big liberties with the source inspiration (i.e., before you do battle with Doc Ock, first you’ve got to plow through some B-stories with the Black Cat, Mysterio, Rhino and Shocker, among others), there’s just so much to do and explore that it’s hard to not find yourself wandering the virtual streets, pursuing all sorts of random side quests … and, of course, just goofing off and seeing how long you can keep a web slinging session going before you run out of buildings to latch onto. Admittedly, the graphics haven’t held up that well, but the core gameplay is just so damn satisfying that you can easily overlook the fugly visuals … and if any of you assholes have found any cheat codes to unlock Governor’s Island, please, do tip me off.

Spider-Man (2000)
System: Playstation
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision

While most properties had a rough time in the transition from 2D to 3D, Spider-Man is one of the rare licenses to hit it out of the park on its very first foray into three-dimensional gaming. The fine folks behind the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games were smart enough to realize Spider-Man was all about fluidity and movement, and the core controls in this one feel about as comfortable and accessible as they probably could’ve made ‘em using contemporary technology. Simplistic visuals aside, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of presentation, from Tommy Tallarico’s awesome soundtrack to the superb voice acting to the way better than it has any right to be story, which manages to wedge in appearances from Daredevil, The Punisher and Captain America WITHOUT the whole thing turning into a clusterfuck. Gameplay-wise, Neversoft did a great job of balancing its freewheeling-exterior action components with its more confined, closed-quarters exploration-based elements, ultimately providing players with a rock-solid combat system and some very well-designed boss fights (the one against the gigantic Mysterio is probably my favorite.) Factor in a ton of unlockable costumes and other goodies and the replay value on this sucker is positively off the charts. While I’m personally fond of the Treyarch-developed Dreamcast port that came out in 2001, its PS1 predecessor — arguably — accomplishes just as much with lesser hardware, which in my eyes makes it the go-to iteration of the game. And while comparatively inferior, the Nintendo 64 and GBC iterations of the game ain’t all that shabby, either … meaning no matter which late ‘90s retro console you own, there’s bound to be a way to get a solid dose of this outstanding action-platformer, in some manifestation or another.

The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (1993)
System: Sega CD
Developer: Technopop
Publisher: Sega

The Amazing Spider-Man on the Sega Genesis was one of the first games I ever played on the console and, by default, served as my introduction to the character. Well, the same way Tecmo Super Bowl and NHLPA Hockey '93 made me a hardcore football and hockey fan in real life, the beloved Genny action-platformer turned me into a Spider-holic for life. Yes, the controls may take some getting used to and the in-game timer may perturb all of you zoomer gamers, but for its time, that 16-bit cartridge was an absolute miracle. There’s just so many things to love about that game from 1991 that it feels like listing anything else in the No. 1 slot is an affront to the whole idea of doing a Top Ten Spider-Game countdown. But from a sheerly objective standpoint, I’d have to say the criminally unsung re-release of the game on the Sega CD that came out two years later is an even BETTER version of an already top-tier superhero game — and considering so few people even played it back in the day, it DEFINITELY deserves top honors as far as I’m concerned.

Anybody who says this is just a half-hearted port, quite frankly, can blow me. While it’s essentially the same game we played on the Genesis, so much has been added — and so much of the core gameplay has been refined and repolished — that it’s really a disservice to call it a mere do-over. Presentation-wise, this thing is astounding; not only does it include an all-new soundtrack performed by ‘80s hair metal kingpins Mr. Big (which, much to my pleasant surprise, DOESN’T suck), the game also includes all-new animated cutscenes — complete with some awesomely-awful voice acting — to keep the storyline drifting along. And speaking of the story, guess what? Instead of the linear structure of the Genesis game, you have an open-world map that allows you to pick and choose levels a’la Mega Man. And did I mention that they added in two whole new levels (featuring Mysterio and The Vulture) and amped up the final boss fight of the game by throwing in opening ceremony battles with Bullseye and Typhoid Mary? Because they totally did, because they love us, that’s why.

With faster and more fluid controls, this is definitely the BEST iteration of the game to play (although I did kinda’ miss having to take pictures of bad guys to buy web juice, though.) Hell, they even managed to boost the replay value by including a couple of unlockable comic books, making this ‘un a title you’d certainly want to play though a couple of times. Considering the staggering amount of content herein and the technological constraints of the timeframe — plus all of the neat nods to mainline comic series itself — it’s pretty much incontestable in my eyes that this is far and away the undisputed king of Spider-Man video games, past, present and mayhap even future.


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