The Evolution of Spider-Man in Gaming: Swinging In and Out of the Gaming Scene
Spider-Man is to Marvel what Batman and Superman are to DC. He is one of Marvel’s biggest and most notable characters, and as such, has received many a game adaption. Ever since the early days of gaming, people have been making games featuring everyone’s favorite neighborhood web-slinger. Throughout the years, the various incarnations of the character have swung (pun intended) in and out of prevalence in the gaming scene. While he is currently dormant, Peter Parker is poised to make a comeback when Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man PS4 title releases in the near future. Here, I give you the history of Spider-Man in video games, and it is definitely a long and wild ride.
The first Spider-Man game, which released for the Atari 2600 in 1982, was simply titled Spider-Man. Ironically made by Parker Brothers, this game had him scaling a building to defuse bombs and stop the Green Goblin. The player has a limited amount of web fluid to use, which acts like a timer for the level. When the player reaches the top of the skyscraper, they fight the Green Goblin and defuse a bomb, resetting the game, but making it slightly more difficult the next time through. The game has not aged very well, but it has still gained recognition for being both the first Spider-Man game, and for being the first game based on a Marvel Comics property.
Spider-Man would then be featured in Questprobe: featuring Spider-Man, which was a graphical text adventure. The Hulk and Fantastic Four members Human Torch and Thing also got Questprobe games. These were all developed by a man named Scott Adams, and have gone largely unnoticed since their release due to their simple nature and lack of coverage since their release.
The character’s next appearance would be in a superhero team-up game called Spider Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom’s Revenge which was developed for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, and ZX Spectrum by Paragon and Medallist. The game was an early example of a sidescrolling beat ’em up and had the titular character face off against a variety of notable Marvel Comics villains, with the player controlled character switching to Captain America in every other level. The title garnered mixed reception. While its graphics were good for the time, the game was still very linear and the controls were very clunky.
In 1990, the infamous game publisher LJN got a hold of the Spider-Man license and published a series of The Amazing Spider Man games for the Game Boy. The first was actually developed by Rareware. In this game, the Sinister Six have kidnapped Mary Jane Watson, so Peter Parker must go on a quest to save her.
The Amazing Spider-Man consists of two different level types: one which plays out like a 2D beat ’em up, and another kind which plays as vertical wallcrawling levels. The game was followed by two sequels, which were developed by Bits Studios. While the first game was received well, the latter two were not as highly praised or as noticed.
Spider-Man’s next appearance in a game would be The Amazing Spider Man vs. The Kingpin for Sega Genesis, Master System, and Game Gear which was developed by Technopop and Sega. While it was a simple sidescrolling platformer, the game garnered great reception. The graphics, sound, and the accuracy of the characters and story to the comics were all praised. The Sega CD version of the game which released two years later added new levels, music, attacks, bosses, and collectibles. SEGA would then also end up producing another game for arcades.
After that successful release, LJN once again tackled Spider-Man with a plethora of new games, starting with Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six for the NES in 1992, which was developed by Bits Studio. This game was a basic 2D sidecrolling platformer which had Spider-Man travelling through six levels and fighting villains from the titular Sinister Six. The NES version of the game is very hard, as the player only has one life and one continue. Critics praised the game’s graphics, but criticized it for lackluster gameplay.
The character would then appear in another team-up game in Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge for the SNES and Genesis. In this 2D action platformer, players were split between playing Spider-Man and X-Men members in various levels in order to stop the evil Arcade. The game was fraught with development problems, as LJN was rushing the developer, Software Creations, to finish the game quickly. The game received mixed reception upon release due to having frustrating and imprecise control.
Spider-Man would be featured next in two beat ’em up LJN games on the Sega Genesis and SNES: Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, and Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety, which were also developed by Software Creations. In Maximum Carnage, which released in 1994, players control the character and Venom and try to stop the villain Carnage from taking over New York City. It received mixed reviews, with critics citing “sloppy” graphics and gameplay. The sequel, Separation Anxiety, which released in 1995, was very similar to the first game, and was panned by critics for similar reasons.
Epoch Co. and Agenda would tackle the character in 1995 with The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes for the Super Famicom. The game never came to North America, despite using a very popular western character. The game, like many other Spider-Man games, was a 2D sidescrolling beat ’em up in which players would beat Spider-Man’s foes and get to the exit within a time limit. The game received mixed reception in Japan, which may be why it never came to North America or Europe.
In 1994, Spider-Man got a very popular animated television series, which spawned a game simply titled Spider-Man. Once again made by LJN, the game was a 2D sidescrolling platformer in which Spider-Man had to defeat his enemies in up to six levels (seeing the trend?). This game was not received well due to having limited animation, poor sound, and uninteresting character abilities.
In 1996, BlueSky Software and Sega would release The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire exclusively for the Sega 32X. It was actually the last game released for the system add-on in North America. Like many other Spider-Man games before it, Web of Fire was a sidescroller with six levels in order to stop his enemies. In this game, Spider-Man fights H.Y.D.R.A., and players could also get assistance from Daredevil if they collected enough DD tokens. This game received minimal press coverage and did not sell well at release because Sega had already announced that they were discontinuing the 32X before the game came out. Those who did review it praised the gameplay and graphics, making it one of the better received Spider-Man games thus far.
The character’s next appearance in a game would not be until Spider-Man, which released in 2000 for the original PlayStation, N64, Dreamcast, PC, and Game Boy Color. It was developed by Neversoft and published by Activision, who had acquired the license for the character in games. Spider-Man was different than any other of the character’s games before it, as it was a 3D action game in where Spider-Man had to make his way through levels while completing objectives. The game used the same engine as the early Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games.
The PlayStation version of the game received critical acclaim due to its enjoyable gameplay and innovation for the character in games. The game would recieve a sequel in Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro. However, this series of Spider-Man games would end once Activision started making a game based on the new Spider-Man movies.
Activison also brought Spider-Man onto handheld systems with Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace in 2001. Due to being on a handheld, the game was a 2D platformer/beat ’em up. Players could web swing, attack with punches and kicks, and shoot web at foes to capture or attack them, all while progressing through levels and avoiding obstacles such as razors and fire. Players could also upgrade their suit to increase Spider-Man’s health and strength. The game got good reviews, with many complementing the fun gameplay.
In 2002, Marvel’s first Spider-Man movie, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby McGuire, released to critical and financial success. Activision jumped on this opportunity with a movie tie-in game, titled Spider-Man: The Movie. This game was a 3D level-based beat ’em up that followed the plot of the movie with a few deviations. The game garnered decent reviews; reviewers praised the gameplay, but criticized the poor camera and the game’s short length.
Two years later, Spider-Man 2, based off the movie of the same name, was released and is considered by many to be the best Spider-Man game of all time. This is partially because it was the first Spider-Man game with a true open world, allowing players to explore New York City like never before. Another reason it was revered was the game’s physics-based algorithms that simulated Spider-Man’s web swinging in three dimensions, creating a new game mechanic unlike the traditional jumping or flying of previous Spider-Man games, thus making players truly feel like Spider-Man. Spider-Man had to be near a building in order to webswing practically, adding to the game’s immersion. No Spider-Man game has done this as well since then, although Insomniac’s Spider-Man (which we will get to later) might be changing that.
Following Spider-Man 2, Treyarch and Activsion released Ultimate Spider-Man in 2005. It was based off the Spider-Man from the “Ultimate” Universe from the comics, instead of the mainstream version seen in there games. It employed a cel-shaded look for its graphics, making it look different than the other Spider-Man games before it. Ultimate Spider-Man was an open world game that allowed players to control both Spider-Man and Venom. Spider-Man played like he did in the previous 3D game, but here Venom’s health slowly drained over time, and had to be restored by leeching life from enemies and civilians in the game world. The game got decent reviews, but did draw some criticism due to its repetitive gameplay structure.
Spider-Man would be featured next in Spider-Man: Battle for New York, which was developed by Torus Games and released for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. Battle for New York is a sidescroller where players are able to control both Spider-Man and the Green Goblin as they fight for control of New York. The game received negative reception.
In 2007, the film Spider-Man 3 came out, as did a game of the same name. While the game was made by Treyarch on PS3 and Xbox 360, it was developed by Vicarious Visions for the DS, GBA, PS2, PSP, and Wii, and by Beenox for PC. The game was criticized in all of its versions for being so different from each other because of the different developers. Many were also disappointed by this game, as it had a worse physics-based web swinging system than the one present in Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man, even though it had the same kind of open-world. All versions of Spider-Man 3 received mixed-to-average reviews upon release.
In 2007, Next Level Games and Activision released Spider-Man: Friend or Foe for PS2, Xbox 360, and Wii. DS and PSP versions were also developed by Artificial Mind and Movement. This was a 3D action game that took major inspiration from the Spider-Man movies of the time, and had players take control of Spider-Man as he fought his enemies (such as Green Goblin and Lizard) and turned them into allies in order to combat a mysterious bigger threat. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe was criticized by critics for being repetitive and boring, at the time.
A year later, Shaba Games and Activision would release Spider-Man: Web of Shadows for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. It was an open world game that let players choose between good and evil paths for Spider-Man through an original story. The good path saw Spider-Man stay benevolent, while the evil path let players get consumed by the Symbiote and become a villain. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows got pretty good reviews upon release, with many praising its original story and gameplay, but criticizing its camera and use of the choice system.
Then, in 2009, Marvel Comics and Gameloft would partner to bring Spider-Man: Toxic City to mobile phones. It was a simple 2D beat ’em up that used 3D backgrounds and consisted of a total of 13 stages. The game’s graphics were praised, because they were much better compared to most games for mobile phones at the time, but it was criticized for its awkward controls and short length. The game was followed up a year later with Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem for iOS and Android, and received great reviews.
In 2010, Beenox switched from doing ports of Spider-Man games to an entirely new one of their own, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. While the game was criminally short, it had engaging gameplay. It was a 3D action platformer where players controlled four different Spider-Men (The Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider Man Noir, and Spider-Man 2099), and must defeat some of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies in order to save their respective dimensions. Each Spider-Man plays slightly differently, with Spider-Man Noir being the most drastically different, opting to focus on stealth that plays similar to games like Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was received well, and cemented Beenox as the premier Spider-Man game developer for the next few years.
Shattered Dimensions would be followed up in 2011 with Spider-Man: Edge of Time. This game, which plays similarly to Shattered Dimensions, only features The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 as they fight the evil Alchemax Corporation, led by Walker Sloan (who is voiced by Val Kilmer). The game received mixed reviews, as the story did not make much sense to most people and the gameplay was very repetitive.
In 2012, the Spider-Man movie series would be rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man, and with it came another game from Beenox with the same name. This game doesn’t actually take place during the movie, but opts to tell a new story that takes place afterwards. This game is once again open-world, the first to be so since Web of Shadows, and it has a combat system similar to the one found in the Batman: Arkham series. The game received decent reviews due to its fun gameplay, but it was criticized for a poor story and underwhelming graphics.
Two years later, Beenox released The Amazing Spider-Man 2 alongside the newly-released sequel. This title played similarly to the first one, but also attempted to add a morale system similar to that in Red Dead Redemption, and it brought back the physics based swinging from Spider-Man 2. It received poor reviews at the time due to mixed graphics, gameplay performance, and repetitive gameplay. The physics swinging system also didn’t work as well as it did before, which disappointed many (we gave it a 4.0 as a result). This game’s poor response would force Spider-Man to be dormant on consoles for some time, and we wouldn’t hear about a new Spider-Man game for another two years.
During this console silence, Spider-Man was featured in another mobile game called Spider-Man Unlimited, based off the TV show of the same name. Developed by Gameloft, it is a 3D endless runner that actually gives players specific goals to complete, such as defeating a certain number of enemies or beating a boss. Spider-Man Unlimited garnered positive reception from both critics and fans alike, and has amassed over 30 million downloads since release.
Luckily at E3 this year, Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games announced that they were working on a brand new Spider-Man game that will come exclusively to PS4. Only a very brief trailer was released for the game then, and Insomniac opted not to showcase the title at PSX this year, leaving the door open for more speculation.
We have not seen much gameplay yet, but this does seem to be a taking inspiration from some of the character’s best games over the years. Featuring a physics-based web swinging system once again, this game seems like a return to form for the character, who has been ignored and mistreated in the gaming scene for the past few years.
While Spider-Man has had his fair share of games, there is still some untapped potential with the character. With the dawn of VR upon us, it would be great to see a VR Spider-Man game that plays similar to something like Windlands, or maybe even having Insomniac’s Spider-Man be compatible with PlayStation VR, allowing players to swing around New York and be Spider-Man. With today’s technology, New York City could be realized like it never has been before in a game, and could truly make it feel like the player is saving a living, functioning city.
Insomiac’s Spider-Man game seems to be headed in the right direction for the character. After many lackluster entries and a minor hiatus, it seems like Spider-Man is swinging back (pun intended) into gaming, and will be stronger than ever.