Four Player Superhero Action

Spider-man: The Video Game

Marvel has a solid history in the arcade sector. Certainly most gamers remember X-Men from 1992, the massive, six-player arcade beat-em-up that wowed everyone that played it. That was developed by Konami, but then soon Capcom swooped in grabbed the the franchise rights, creating their X-Men vs. Street Fighter title while then lead to the long Marvel vs. Capcom series, and, well, that's been a favorite of the arcade scene for years.

Spider-man: The Video Game

Before all that got going, though, there was Spider-man: The Video Game, a 1991 title that, too, featured beat-em-up action for the arcade scene. This one was developed by Sega, but you can feel the design inspiration from Konami's earlier work (i.e., the two Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. arcade titles) at work in this venture. It's a solid, speedy little four-player game featuring some of Marvel's heroes, and while not perfect, it is a fun way to waste a few quarters, and an hour of time, on some solid brawling action.

Despite being titled Spider-man: The Video Game, this is not solely a 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. adventure. Spidey is teamed up with three other heroes -- Black Cat, HawkeyeSeemingly created in answer to DC's Emerald Archer, Green Arrow, Hawkeye is the resident archer/sharpshooter of the Marvel universe. Although he started as a villain in the comics Hawkeye quickly became a hero before cementing his place as a regular member of the Avengers., and the Sub-Mariner -- to take on the Sinister Six, Kingpin, and all the goons of Doctor Doom. A magical artifact has fallen in New York city and the various villains scramble to get it and control the power it may wield. Spidey and friends have to stop them, and retrieve the artifact, before all hell breaks loose.

The game is primarily a beat-em-up adventure. The four players, rendered in bright, large, chunky graphics, take on waves of enemies going from left to right, fighting and brawling their way through foes. The various heroes all functionally control the same, with the same basic moves at their disposal: punch, kick, jump, jump kick, flying kick, and throws. They each can also expend a little but of health to throw out a more powerful projectile attack. With all of these moves, the heroes have to take out all the enemies on screen before they can proceed to the next set piece.

The basic combat feels solid, and the characters are lithe and responsive. With that said, there are some flaws to the combat that are hard to ignore. For starters, their hit boxes aren't very bit. While I could easily get in and throw all manner of combos as the heroes, I found that my placement had to be pixel perfect; it was far to easy to think I was close enough but only whiff a air even when I was within spitting distance of the bad guys. Of course, the computer controlled foes do not have this issue at all, and can easily hit you without any worry about distance or hit boxes.

The other major issue is that, especially as you venture deeper into the title, the game loves to rely on enemy spam for difficulty. Keeping control of the terrain, and actually having the room to take out guys, can prove difficult and annoying. You would think having four players would help this, but any of the move powerful moves you can perform (like flying kicks, throws, and special moves) can cause friendly fire damage on the other heroes. A big enough pack of enemies will lead to nothing by carnage and a lot of damage for the heroes.

Naturally, of course, this was by design. The programmers wanted you to have fun, sure, but they also wanted to ensure the dynamic of one quarter buying three minutes of game time. That would keep you shoving quarters in, making the game more money. The balance of this game strikes that timing just right, with heroes having just enough health to last about three minutes before another quarter is needed to boost them back up again. If you're used to quarter munching games then this won't be surprising at all. That's just par for the course in these kinds of adventures.

I will also note that as the game proceeds, you'll see a lot of the same basic enemies and bosses. The game reuses a lot of characters, making the later stages feel a little repetitive, the action a tad mindless. It's a brawler so there's a certain mindless quality to the action -- hold right and punch, over and over -- but it gets really bad in the late game. When you're punching and kicking endlessly for stages, you need something to help break up the time or it will all feel like a slog.

In fairness, the designers did realize this. Every stage is broken up into (at least) three phases: a brawling section, and then a platforming section, and another brawling section. The platforming is interesting because the game zooms out until the characters are half-size, and then they have to jump and climb and platforming their way through the section, throwing out projectiles (for free, note) to take out the bad guys. These are fun diversion areas that don't feel entirely out of place and at least add something new to the action. Essential they are not, but they are fun.

Most of these complaints are just par for the course with the brawling genre in general, especially circa 1991. Konami's TMNT titles (and Simpsons, and soon X-Men) reigned over the genre, and everyone else was trying to play like Konami's efforts. What Sega did was copy the formula pretty well, while adding in a dash of new stuff, all with an fairly fun grind to it. It's not perfect in its action, but it does a respectable job and kept me entertained enough for the hour I played it.

If I have any real gripe it's that the game doesn't really feel like an essential Spider-man title. Yes, many of the bosses are Spidey foes, plucked from the Sinister Six, but Doom is a foe for the whole of the Marvel universe. Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Namor aren't really Spider-man associates in the strictest sense. A four-player Spider-man game really should put the focus on Spidey, through and through, and the four players should all be Spider-man characters. Black Cat is a good inclusion, but what about Scarlet Spider, or Silver Sable, or Firestar. And why, of all heroes, Namor? A fish guy, fighting on land the whole time in this game? That seems really weird.

I get it, Sega had the license and they had to do something, and they deserve some credit for making for distinct heroes for this game. But the construction and setup is very weird and doesn't feel like it uses the Spider-man license as well as it could. It's a solid Marvel beat-em-up and I enjoyed it for what it was. But if you're here specifically looking for a Spider-man game above all else, this weird mash-up title might not be exactly what you were hoping for.