Get Me Off of This Building
As I've been going through and seeing all the old games that people have long forgotten about I was reminded of a superhero title that I played way back when... and then no one really should have had to suffer through. It's easy to see why games like these were made: a kid might pick up a racing game or a little simple shooter or whatever, but when a title has the name of a character they recognize in it, that's instantly going to get their attention. Superman was a fine little game for what it was, but it absolutely was a game from 1979 and now, all these years later, you can feel it. I can see how kids might have been able to get into the game back in the day (I was one of them, after all), but now I doubt anyone really wants to go back and revisit that title (other than me, for this site).
With that said, I can't even give that level of faint praise to 1982's Spider-man. Developed by Parker Brothers (who released a ton of Atari games back in the day), this game feels like a sad, shallow effort to get some money out of the Spider-man name. Parker Brothers did release some okay games back in the day (The Empire Strikes Back was fine for what it did, for example), but they also had some absolute crap (Jedi Arena comes to mind). This SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. title, despite lengthy stages and interesting ideas, certainly veers far closer to the "crap" side of the good-to-crap ratio of games from the company.
In Spider-man '82 you play, of course, as Spider-man, the web-slinging superhero we all know and love. Green Goblin has dropped bombs on top of various skyscrapers and, as Spider-man, you have to climb the towers, saving people along the way, defusing bombs when you see them, all on the course of reaching the top of the tower and... well, that's about it. Reach the top of the tower, move to a new tower, do it all again. Like with many games of the era, the one thing you see is all you really get.
On the plus side for this game, there are some basic ideas that show that the programmer for the game, Laura Nikolich, put some thought into how the character would work. As Spidey you have your web shooter, which you can use to scale the building. You can shoot it straight up, or at an angle, and if you shoot it at an angle you can swing from it. With a button press you shoot the web, and it will go farther and farther until you let go of the button. Another button press will then pull you up the web, scaling the building. But you have to be careful because you have only so much web fluid (presented as a meter at the bottom of the screen) and when you run out, Spider-man falls all the way down to his death.
Falling, in fact, will happen a lot. You have to be careful with where you place your webs because if you shoot them off the building, or onto a slick window, the web won't connect and Spidey will fall down the building. You can shoot another web to try and stick back onto the building, but if you fall all the way down, you die. As a kid, I fell a lot. Falling was more common for me than actually scaling the building, and frankly I feel like the building was designed to make you fall.
It gets even worse once you reach the top part of the building. There then basic wall and window construction gives way to angled scaffolding, which is even harder to aim towards. The bombs also show up here, and if one of them blows up on you (which they will quickly go from black to orange before exploding) you'll get set back down the building (as happens with every action you take). If, somehow, you manage to get to the top of the tower you still have to deal with Green Goblin... by avoiding him. He'll move back and forth along the top and you have to sling past him and reach a specific vent at the top to save the day. Somehow that defeat's Goblin's nefarious plans, right up until he does it all again on another tower.
Now, note that as Spidey you can collect people from their windows for points (they disappear the second you touch them). You can also collect the bombs for points (assuming you touch one before they explode). But technically collecting people and stopping bombs isn't necessary at all -- there's no penalty for skipping them, the building won't explode if you don't get the bombs, and no one yells at you for leaving people to potentially die when the building explodes. You have one goal: reach the vent, get to the end. That's it.
Although this is just supposition, I do have to wonder if the Washington Monument sequence in Spider-man: Homecoming, was inspired by this game. Spidey had to climb quickly to the top of the monument to save a bunch of people trapped inside, and at the top he had to get into a small window all while a helicopter hovered around nearby. It's not a perfect parallel but it also wouldn't surprise me if someone put that sequence in there to be like, "hehe, I wonder if anyone will notice..." Just a thought.
The game, frankly, does need more. A counter of saving people would provide some onus to actually, you know, save them. A similar counter for bombs would make it feel like the building was actually in danger of blowing up. And, really, I would like some kind of basic boss fight against the Green Goblin. Clearly that couldn't happen in the building scaling part of the game because Spidey's webs will break if they touch anything that isn't hard cement (so shooting them at Green Goblin would kill you), but a second screen where Spidey has to shoot his webs at the Goblin whole dodging dropped bombs would have added some basic, but needed, variety to the game.
And I wish the controls weren't so frustrating. The first part of the game isn't so bad when you can just shoot vertically up the wall, on and on, ignoring everything except that long line of cement. But once you reach the girder section, man, the game becomes a real pain. I struggled with these area as a kid and I still find myself suffering (and getting annoyed) with the top part of the buildings. Spider-man lacks maneuvering abilities. He feels weak and powerless against a basic building which, come on, he should just be able to walk up. The game punishes you if you can't aim perfectly, but when you're doing it with a crappy one-button joystick, aiming is hard.
I can appreciate the idea of Spider-man '82, don't get me wrong. I do feel like Laura Nikolich really tried, and that's not nothing. But end of the day, this is a shallow and punishing experience that quickly loses any illusion of fun. This is basically the low bar for Spider-man games and while some future titles would somehow manage to be even worse, most saw this game and said, "yeah, even we can do slightly better than this."