Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Also Available For: Game Gear, Master System, and Mega-CD
Shortly after debuting in the pages of Amazing Fantasy, Peter Parker/Spider-Man graduated to his own solo title and quickly became Marvel’s most popular comic book character. Accordingly, Spider-Man was one of the first of Marvel’s superheroes to make the jump to videogames. In the early nineties, SEGA held the licensing rights to produce home console games based on Marvel Comics characters and one of the first, and most popular, of these was Spider-Man (also known as Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin), a game I first played on the Master System before switching to the 16-bit version after being won over by the superior graphics.
Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City that is set to explode in twenty-four hours, distributed the keys to disarming the bomb to some of Spider-Man’s most lethal foes, and has even framed Spidey for the crime! And, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, Eddie Brock/Venom is stalking the city, further stacking the odds against the web-slinger.
Spider-Man is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer with an emphasis on exploration and combat; given the nature of the plot, players have just twenty-four in-game hours to complete the game. Dawdle too long in the game’s locations and you’ll doom the entire city to destruction, which places a real anxiety into the gameplay which is, sadly, not reflected in the game’s mechanics.
Obviously, you take control of Spider-Man, a clunky, stilted, and awkward character who displays all of Spidey’s trademark abilities: he can punch out goons with B, jump with C (be sure to hold the button for a higher jump), and cling to walls, ceilings, and backgrounds by pressing jump twice. He can also shoot webbing with A, which is perfect for taking out goons from a distance or up high as you can diagonally direct Spidey’s web; while you can’t shoot upwards, you can shoot a web out while jumping to swing along horizontally but, while this is great for covering large distances quickly, it’s not so great for the many instances of vertical movement.
From the pause menu, you can select between two webs: a sticky web projectile and a web shield to help protect Spidey from damage. However, Spidey has a finite supply of webbing and, when he runs out, you’ll have to rely on your punches and jump kicks. After retrieving Parker’s camera from the Daily Bugle though, you can select his camera from the pause menu and take pictures of goons and bosses to earn cash and refill your webbing, but you only have a limited number of shots available so it’s best to save these for getting pictures of Spidey’s more recognisable enemies.
Control is a major issue in Spider-Man; Spidey is slow moving, his punch doesn’t have a lot of reach, and not only is his hit box quite large but so are the ones of his enemies. You can get around this a bit with his webbing, jump kick, and crouching kick but, more often than not, you’ll clip through enemies and fly backwards when hit with attacks. However, the most frustrating thing about Spider-Man, and the game in general, is how janky the jumping and wall-climbing mechanics are; some levels, such as the city streets, easily allow you to climb walls in the backgrounds but others, like the caverns, don’t. In the warehouse and sewers, you’ll need to climb up vertical walls and ceilings to get through air vents and tunnels and navigate past crates and such, but you need to keep C held down to stay attached to the surface. Nowhere is the control more annoying than in the caverns level, a cramped and maze-like environment that restricts your movement and requires you to perform some tricky web-swings and jumps to progress, which can be frustrating to pull off as Spidey prefers to either just drop off ledges or bump his head on ceilings (or just get shot when he finally makes the jump).
Graphics and Sound:
Spider-Man is a bright and relatively detailed videogame; it was, however, an early release for the Mega Drive so it’s not exactly making the most of the 16-bit machine’s “blast processing” power. Spider-Man and his recognisable villains all look pretty good, especially Venom and Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, but the regular goons and enemies leave a lot to be desired.
Where the game’s graphics really fall flat, though, are in the environments; New York City looks pretty good and you can clamber up the sides of buildings, stop a random street mugging, and even encounter J. Jonah Jameson on the streets but the warehouse isn’t exactly exciting or impressive. Central Park is quite dynamic, with benches, trees, water fountains, and an intractable fire hydrant but, like all of the game’s locations, it’s surprising barren in the background and lacking in depth. The power station tries to make up for this but ends up being more of a mess of greys and yellows, though there are, occasionally, some interesting elements to some levels (debris floating in the polluted sewer water, for example).
Spider-Man’s story is told through the use of various different types of cutscenes: one is simply the Kingpin making spurious claims through news reports, another is simply the Spider-Man sprite walking in a black void while text scrolls on screen, another uses comic book-like panels and text to show Spidey interrogating his foes, and another use in-game sprites and a bit of text. As you might expect, the comic book panels and sprite-based cutscenes are much more interesting to look at but, even for an early Mega Drive title, they’re very basic. The music is even worse, being bland and uninspiring and, overall, the graphics, music, and presentation were actually better on the Master System, which also featured additional characters and features.
Enemies and Bosses:
While racing to confront his rogue’s gallery, Spidey comes up against a handful of hired goons; these guys will shoot at you with handguns from a distance and try to knife you when you get up close and, later, switch to using sniper rifles. You’ll also come up against such cliché enemies as bats, snakes, dogs, and rats and, in the first mission, will be attacked be one of New York’s finest as well. Levels also feature more formidable and elaborate enemies as well as alligators and “Mutant Jumpers” await you in the sewer, electrified bats fly at you at the power station, laser-firing turrets and ED-209-like robots patrol the caverns, and a giant ape will randomly show up in Central Park!
The only way to disarm the Kingpin’s bomb is to retrieve five keys from some of Spidey’s most notorious foes; you’ll know when a boss or more powerful foe is near because Spidey’s spider-sense will go off and the music will change. The first you’ll battle (once getting past a rampant forklift truck) is Doc Ock, who awaits you in a dank warehouse and attacks you with his trademark arms. In the Master System version, you could web up his arms to hold his attacks at bay but, here, I found that didn’t seem to work so I just crouched under his attacks to get closer and attacked him that way. In the sewers, you’ll encounter Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, who scrambles about the place and whips at you with his tail; however, he also has a tendency to just crouch there looking scary so it’s pretty easy to fire webs at him and jump kick him into submission.
As you navigate through the power plant, you’ll be attacked by annoying bolts of electricity that, as you might expect, come from Max Dillon/Electro; Electro flies about the place on a cloud of lightning and shoots thunderbolts at you but his true threat comes from his ability to electrify the girders that you’ll no doubt be standing on so…make sure you’re not on them when that happens! Easily the most unique of the game’s bosses, though, is Flint Marko/The Sandman, who emerges from a sandpit in Central park, turns into sand to avoid your attacks, and attacks with extendable arms and by shooting sand-fists your way. He’s also invulnerable to your attacks so you need to turn around and web-swing back to the start of the level and use the fire hydrant to douse him in water and put an end to him.
One of the game’s more persistent bosses is Venom; Venom often shows up at the worst possible moments, such as during other boss fights and at the beginning of the street level (where you’ll also have to watch out for Jameson, who berates you and hurts you if you get too close). Each time you fight Venom, they bound overheard, fire webs at you, and punch you in the face but, generally, the best method of attack is to let them jump over your head, fire your own webs, and punch them whenever they come close. These fights get more difficult as the game progresses thanks to the presence of other enemies and bosses but, in the caverns, I found Venom got a bit stuck on a ledge just out of reach so I could just finish the level without fighting them.
The main enemy of the city level, though, is Jason Macendale, Jr/Hobgoblin, who flies around the rooftops of the city on his goblin glider and tosses a bunch of explosive pumpkin bombs down at you. Luckily, your diagonal webbing can make short work of Hobgoblin but his threat is magnified when you reach the Kingpin’s bomb, which is protected by all the bosses you’ve fought so far (with the odd exception of Doc Ock). Thus, you must battle the Lizard, Electro, Venom, and the Hobgoblin all at once, which is an impressive sight but extremely chaotic. It’s best to try and focus on one at a time, if possible, and take out guys like Hobgoblin and Electro because they can cause major headaches from the air.
After defeating them all, you must select each of the five keys you’ve collected from the pause menu and insert them into the bomb in the correct order; each time you put a key in wrong, you’ll lose a chunk of time but, as long as you get it right and avoid a game over, you’ll be spared the constantly timer counting down. Next, you can pick up some health from the air vents and go one-on-one with a very squat and hunchback-looking Kingpin. This is easily the game’s toughest boss fight as the Kingpin deals massive damage with his big, meaty fists and it’s hard to tell when you’ve actually hit him. To make matters worse, Peter’s wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker (who was kidnapped by Venom earlier in the game) is suspended over a fiery pit and you must web her chains to keep her from being lowered to her death. This is really tricky to do because your target is just off-screen and it’s hard to get the angle right to web her chains, to say nothing of the Kingpin’s persistent attacks. If M.J. is lowered into the pit, then it’s an instant game over…which is always fun.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Scattered throughout many of the game’s levels, you’ll find little Spider-Man icons which, when collected, will refill your health. From the pause menu, you’ll also see a little head icon; this is Peter’s head and selecting it will instantly teleport you to Peter’s apartment, where his health bar will slowly refill at the cost of your precious time. This is somewhat pointless as, when you return to the game, you have to start the level from the beginning again but you may have to sacrifice time for health in the game’s tougher moments since you only get one life to finish the game. You can continue if you fail but, again, this will cost you precious time. Otherwise, that’s it; the only way to refill your webbing is to take pictures of Spidey’s famous foes and there are no temporary power-ups or abilities available throughout the game.
From the main “Options” menu, you can select from four different difficulty settings: Practice, Easy, Normal, and Nightmare. Be warned, however, as while these will, obviously make the game easier or harder depending on your choice, you can’t progress beyond the sewers if you play on “Easy”. From the same menu, you can also set your stamina level and the amount of web cartridges you carry, which can be beneficial to keeping you alive and in the fight on the game’s more challenging levels.
Sadly, that’s technically as far as it goes; in the Master System version, you could perform a trick to have Spidey wear his black suit and even play a cheeky mini game but you can’t to that here so the only other benefit available to you are the cheats. While in the “Options” menu, place your cursor on the “Difficulty” option and hold Start on controller two; hold A, B, and C and controller one and press up/right and you’ll see a !!! icon appear in the menu. Once you start the game, if you pause the action and press A, you’ll completely refill your webbing; B will refill your health, C will grant you a few seconds of invincibility, and pressing A, B, and C will skip you ahead to the next level. This is useful to progress you through the game but means nothing if you screw up with the bomb or in the final battle as you’ll still fail the game if you don’t defuse the weapon or keep M.J. safe.
I really enjoyed the Master System version of Spider-Man; I never finished it in the years when I owned it and stupidly sold it some time ago but it was bright and entertaining with some detailed sprites and backgrounds. As a result, I was really excited to play the Mega Drive version of the game, having been won over by screenshots of the game’s superior graphics. However, graphical superiority doesn’t actually translate into a better game; yes, Spidey and his villains look great but the game is a slow, plodding, awkward experience. Climbing walls and navigating through the game’s unfortunately cramped areas is a pain, the lack of viable health power-ups and extra web abilities is disappointing, and the challenge on offer is artificially high and ridiculously unfair at times. It’s a shame as it wouldn’t take much to make the game a bit more enjoyable; upping Spidey’s speed a bit and giving him a vertical web shot would have been a big help but, in the end, it’s a decent enough title but there are definitely better Spider-Man games to play on the 16-bit consoles.
Could Be Better
Have you ever played the Mega Drive version of Spider-Man? If so, what did you think to it? How do you feel it holds up compared to the other versions of the game? How did you find the game’s controls and mechanics? Which of the bosses was your favourite? Did you ever defuse the Kingpin’s bomb and save M.J. or did you fail at the last hurdle? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment down below.